Why is yoga therapy at the Cleveland Clinic?

By Judi Bar

Before I answer why yoga therapy is at the Cleveland Clinic, I need to tell you why it’s in my own life: At the age of 45, I was diagnosed with a chronic back condition and told that my prognosis was bleak. Doctors said I’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life! It was difficult to accept, so I decided to be proactive in my journey toward health by adding complementary therapies to my treatment.

I didn’t have access to a yoga therapist, so I adapted a practice for myself. When I began, I couldn’t get on the ground or move without a surge of nerve pain. Living a complete yogic lifestyle, I teamed with traditional allopathic medicine caregivers in support of my healing. Ultimately, I did not need surgery, medications, OR mobility aids to live an active life with full range of motion and complete freedom from pain.

Based on my own experience, I realized that the simple, accessible tools I used might be equally effective for others. I knew then that my mission was to find a way to integrate yoga into traditional healthcare.

Through the years, I built a successful yoga therapy practice with a focus on helping others with debilitating back pain. I joined Cleveland Clinic’s Integrative Medicine team and ultimately became the full-time yoga Program manager with the responsibility to create and direct yoga programs for patients and employees.

Our program offers ongoing group classes and private sessions, and we participate in ongoing research. Trained yoga teachers and yoga therapists teach classes throughout the Cleveland Clinic health system. A growing number of these teachers have completed our in-house 200-hour yoga teacher training, where we teach our gentle form of yoga as well as traditional hatha yoga.

Several factors are behind the success of our program:

  • Cleveland Clinic leadership supports wellness.
  • We are innovative in our approach to provide yoga and other complementary therapies, directed by a physician. We measure and study the effect of our therapies on patient outcomes and educate physicians on these effects, in particular for management of chronic conditions.
  • Our yoga offerings are accessible to anyone and geared to our patient population. A welcoming basic chair class combines breathwork, postures, meditation, and mindfulness, so that participants can enjoy feeling a sense of accomplishment and empowerment.
  • We work as a team with other departments such as nutrition, physical and occupational therapy, and behavioral health.  

The increasing incidence of chronic pain and disease, which is fueled partly by poor lifestyle choices, plus rising healthcare costs are prompting change. According to the Global Wellness Institute, the international market for “complementary and alternative medicine” increased by 65% between 2010 and 2014. Growing data substantiate the efficacy of yoga, and more physicians are looking for other tools to assist patients, especially with alternatives to opioids. We are at a pivotal time in healthcare, and yoga therapy is in the right place at the right time.  

Judi Bar, C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, is the yoga program manager for Cleveland Clinic Center for Integrative and Lifestyle Medicine.