Yoga therapy finding a place in U.S. military healthcare

By Lynne Valdes

Image courtesy of Yoga Joes

You might be surprised to learn that the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) has been at the forefront of integrating complementary modalities into patient treatment. In fact, the VA has an office dedicated to implementing integrative health initiatives throughout its system: The Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation was created with the vision of transforming the delivery of healthcare from a disease-based model to one of proactive patient-centered care. Practically, this means offering evidenced-based practices—like yoga—for increasing self-awareness, building self-efficacy, and empowering patients to move toward improved health and well-being. This is a major reason yoga classes can be found in VA facilities across the United States.

The VA actively integrates yoga into patient care, but it is not alone. Military healthcare—the medical treatment facilities that are part of the Department of Defense healthcare system—is following suit. It’s not unusual to find yoga practices in inpatient and outpatient programs focused on pain management, psychiatric and behavioral healthcare, and in support of multidisciplinary care for wounded personnel. Most yoga programming is delivered as part of a general approach to holistic care, but as the awareness of yoga therapy as a viable treatment modality grows so do the professional opportunities.

I work full-time as a yoga therapist at a major medical treatment facility. In support of the “patient-centered medical home” approach to primary care, I work with active-duty military, dependents, retirees, and veterans. Most patients are referred by their primary care doctor or a specialist for help managing symptoms related to stress, chronic pain, insomnia, and anxiety and depression. Patients also have the option to self-refer and schedule their own appointments. My daily template allows for eight individual sessions, each 45 minutes long. In addition to providing patient care, I lead workshops and seminars for hospital staff and take part in orientation for medical residents in the internal medicine clinic.

Although there is still much work to be done regarding education, advocacy, and recognition for the profession of yoga therapy, the mission to “bridge yoga and healthcare” is gaining strength.

Lynne Valdes, MS, C-IAYT, is a former Director of the Master of Science in Yoga Therapy program at Maryland University of Integrative Health. She has a wide range of experience working with individuals with behavioral health disorders, chronic conditions, and disabilities. She lives in Washington, D.C.