Yoga has long been recognized as healing practice for the body and the mind. Until recently, it sat on the fringes of Western society. Yoga was introduced to the West in the late 1800s by yogis from India. It gained momentum in the 1920s, was practiced by Hollywood in the 40s and 50s, picked steam in the 60s and 70s with the hippies, and by 2012 was practiced by more than 20 million Americans.
Hatha yoga comprised of Pranayama (breathing exercises to move energy in the body), Asana (physical poses), Relaxation and Meditation are the most common styles of yoga practiced.
Yoga Comes to the Healthcare Setting
Although yoga therapy has been offered at retreat centers, Ayurvedic Clinics, and yoga centers in the US, it has been largely inaccessible to patients in the Western healthcare model. Now, we are starting to see a paradigm shift in moving from a biomedical model to a biopsychosocial model of healthcare. In the biomedical model, the focus is on pathophysiology or diagnosing and treating the disease. In the biopsychosocial model of healthcare, the focus is on the whole person and how their biology interacts with their psychological state and social factors to address treating an illness or injury.
Yoga therapy is uniquely positioned to fit right into this whole person model of healthcare. Therapy sessions are typically one-on-one and include lifestyle changes, breathing exercises, and physical postures to balance flexibility and strength in the body and to focus the mind. For example, Yoga Nidra, a practice of taking the brain into a state similar to sleep while maintaining awareness, can be prescribed to improve control of the nervous system. Meditation may be used to train the mind, reduce depression, and improve brain function.
The Science Behind Yoga
In 1991, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) set up an office “to investigate and evaluate promising unconventional medical practices.” These unconventional medical practices evolved into the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), which funds studies in yoga, meditation, and yoga therapy.
We now have studies that show that yoga can improve outcomes for people with chronic low back pain, improve quality of life for cancer patients and people with Parkinson’s Disease, improve management of migraines, and reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. Yoga may increase the size of the grey matter in your brain, reduce stress, and help you control your nervous system and much, much more. The number of studies being produced on yoga is incredible. This is good news as it allows us to examine who will benefit most and which practices are most effective.
Yoga at the UVM Medical Center
It’s not widely known that yoga has been a part of treatment programs at the UVM Medical Center for years.
- Physical therapists have been integrating yoga into treatment programs, first at the Sports and Orthopedic Rehab Center as early as 2002, then at the Spine Institute of New England’s Yoga for a Better Back program, and currently at the Orthopedic Spine Center as a part of individual physical therapy sessions.
- Lucy’s Love Bus has offered massage at the UVM Children’s Hospital since 2011 and yoga and music therapy since 2015.
- Over the years, yoga classes have been offered to patients at the UVM Cancer Center.
All of these programs exist because individuals at the hospital saw the benefits of integrating yoga into healthcare.
The Future of Yoga (and More!) at the UVM Medical Center
The University of Vermont Medical Center is taking the seeds that have been planted throughout the years and funding an initiative to offer Integrative Healthcare across a variety of settings. The goal is to link existing programs at the hospital with providers in the community and to develop new programs that will better serve patients during their hospital stay and during outpatient visits.
Through a joint effort among the Laura Mann Center, the University of Vermont College of Nursing and Health Sciences, The UVM Medical Center and the Larner College of Medicine at UVM, an initiative is underway to develop education for healthcare providers to allow for an understanding of integrative health and how to utilize it in their treatment programs.
Soon, undergraduate and graduate students will have access to courses in yoga, massage, meditation, Reiki, and more. Providers who want to deepen their understanding of therapeutic yoga may take continuing medical education courses at Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga. Specialty courses for the treatment of low back pain and calming the autonomic nervous system through yoga are also being offered.
Even the insurance companies are getting on board. Both MVP and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont have rewards plans where you can earn money on a rewards card for making healthy lifestyle changes, such as getting a physical, getting your teeth cleaned, or getting your eyes examined. You can use your card to pay for yoga classes, gym memberships, massage, acupuncture, and a host of other options.
It’s an exciting time in medicine both for providers and users of healthcare. Who knows, the next time you are at your doctor’s office, or in the hospital you may be offered yoga therapy to help you improve your sleep, reduce your pain or recover from your injury faster.
Janet Carscadden, PT, DPT, OCS, Cert MDT, E-RYT 200, is a physical therapist and yoga instructor. She owns Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga and builds custom yoga programs for her clients to treat musculoskeletal injuries. Dr. Carscadden lectures on the science of therapeutic yoga and how to integrate yoga therapy into healthcare. Evolution Physical Therapy and Yoga offers continuing education courses for healthcare providers in therapeutic yoga. For more information, visit www.evolutionvt.com.