doctors practice yoga
Yoga - Improving Integration of Therapies

Integrating complementary treatments, therapies and activities into a patient’s treatment mix seems to be an uphill struggle. Most doctors do not seem to feel it is their job to suggest the integration of other therapies. Most doctors do not have enough knowledge on the subject and do not have the time. Patients are invariably left to fend for themselves when it comes to finding other therapies that might help them.

Yoga is fast becoming one of the more acceptable activities that patients can add into their treatment mix.  This has been aided by some high profile people openly discussing the merits of yoga, everyone from Oprah to Dr. Oz and even the Mayo Clinic has acknowledged substantial benefits of yoga practice. Nearly every health club and community center across the United States offers a yoga class. So, with so much positivity, and very little negative effects, yoga could be the flagship therapy that leads the way in integrative medicine. It is just a matter of convincing doctors and other health professionals to consider yoga as a viable therapy option.

Access and Understanding of Yoga

Getting patients to practice yoga must start with health professionals. Studies have shown that if a particular health professional practices yoga, they are more likely to recommend that their patients practice it too. Researchers emailed nearly 1,600 medical students a survey to explore the reasons they do or do not practice yoga. From the 478 usable responses, researchers were able to compile a list of common barriers and motivators. Barriers included time, cost, the lack of solid information about access to classes, and negative outlook on yoga as a whole. Motivators centered on improved athleticism, better health, and an overall greater emotional well-being. They noted that one of the least quoted motivators was a medical referral.

The study concluded that if a plan could be developed to encourage health care professionals to practice yoga they would be more apt to recommend it for their patients. They offered a three-fold plan, almost like a marketing strategy, that included suggestions such as integrating yoga research into student curriculum, creating more yoga classes to improve availability, and to represent yoga as a healing art and science rather than an activity for losing weight or athletics.

More than Just Exercise

Yoga has gained popularity in over the last couple of decades, but little evidence exists concerning the full benefits of yoga. A group of researchers sought to compare the physical and mental benefits of exercise-based program with one that incorporated an ethical and spiritual elements, the traditional approach. Participants in the study were split into a control group, an exercise-only group, and one that added traditional elements. Over time, the latter two groups showed improvements in depression and stress, had a higher sense of hope, and gained flexibility when compared to the control group. The group that practiced traditional yoga also experienced less anxiety and had less salivary cortisol (a measure of stress hormones) than the other two groups. The results suggest that there is much more to yoga than just exercise.

Yoga or Exercise: A Comparison

With all the mounting evidence that shows that exercise and yoga are both good for promoting physical and emotional health, which one is better? A scholarly review of all the research studies that compared the benefits of exercise and yoga was published not long ago in order to answer that question. According to 81 studies, the learned that yoga was either equal to or better than exercise in almost every aspect except for physical fitness. They concluded that even though yoga scored much higher in these areas, future testing was required to understand exactly what effects both exercise and yoga have on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (our stress response system) and the sympathetic nervous system (which controls heart rate, blood vessel constriction, and blood pressure). Also, they suggested that the various types of yoga should be scrutinized. This further testing would offer a better understanding of short and long-term effects on the body.

Brems et al. Improving access to yoga: barriers to and motivators for practice among health professions students. Adv Mind Body 2015 Summer

Smith et al. Is there more to yoga than exercise? Altern Ther Health Med. May/Jun 2011.

Ross et al. The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. J Altern Complement Med 2010 Jan. 






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