Yoga therapy aligns with a biopsychosocial-spiritual approach to wellness and is increasingly included in university and continuing education curricula for healthcare providers.
Many practicing yoga therapists also hold licenses in other health fields. Yoga therapy can complement physical, occupational, and massage therapy; psychotherapy; and more. Although they do not diagnose or treat diseases unless they are otherwise licensed to do so, IAYT-certified yoga therapists are trained in anatomy, physiology, and mental health; this allows them to interact with clients’ other healthcare professionals effectively and to competently suggest referrals when needed.
In “Recommending yoga to your patients? Consider this first,” Jaime Lewis, MD, explains why physicians should specify therapeutic yoga over general practices focused on physical postures:
“[F]or the purpose of reducing symptom burden, alleviating suffering, and improving quality of life in the midst of chronic conditions resulting in persistent pain, medical providers should instead consider recommending therapeutic yoga for their patients, as the intent and scope of practice differs significantly from contemporary yoga.”
Despite inherent challenges that include creating appropriate controls and accurately separating yoga’s interconnected components for study, randomized controlled trials are yielding promising results on some areas of yogic practice. Meta-analyses and systematic reviews on yoga as a therapeutic practice are also emerging.
Find a sampling of good-quality studies here, and learn about yoga therapy’s potential roles in comprehensive, integrative pain management.
As Dr. Wayne Jonas, integrative family physician and former president and CEO of the Samueli Institute, notes, “Some of the best medical centers in the country now offer yoga therapy, including the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics.” (For example, read more here and here.)
In this study, all of the U.S. physicians surveyed in a large sample were recommending some form of complementary healthcare to their patients. The data were collected in 2012, so the current totals may be higher, but back then more than a quarter of these doctors were specifically recommending yoga. The biggest predictor of whether a doctor prescribes yoga is their own practice, meaning that once they experience its benefits for themselves they’re more likely to suggest yoga for others.
Yoga therapy and yoga are being included in university curricula, including as education for healthcare providers themselves. Learn more here.
“Yoga is strong medicine but it is slow medicine. Don’t expect overnight cures with yoga (though for many people it does start to yield benefits right away). One major difference between yoga and many other approaches to healing is that yoga builds on itself, becoming more effective over time. This is not true of most drugs or surgery, which often gradually diminish in effectiveness. In this sense yoga is something like learning to play a musical instrument: the longer you stick with it and the more you practice, the better you get and the more you will get out of it.”
—Timothy McCall, MD, C-IAYT, Yoga as Medicine
Our blog offers a brief history of contemporary yoga therapy that includes a few key reasons the practice reaches well beyond simple prescriptive approaches. We’ve also got a note about the potential cost savings of integrating such care into hospital settings.