A couple of years ago, I noted that alternative medicine isn’t so “alternative” anymore. Like many other aspects of integrative health care, yoga has become more and more mainstream in recent years. Far from a passing fad, yoga continues to grow in popularity as people discover its physical, mental, and spiritual benefits for any kind of individual. A 2016 study showed that yoga practice in the U.S. nearly doubled from 2012 to 2016. Yoga can reduce stress and, in turn, help with conditions from tinnitus to hot flashes. It improves strength, lung capacity, and posture. Now, yoga appears to be moving to the next stage of its evolution: medicine. Yes, yoga is becoming mainstream medicine, recommended by many doctors.
Health Insurance Takes Notice
You know a practice is becoming mainstream when health insurance providers are willing to cover it. Yoga is still not typically covered, but things are changing. More insurance companies now cover practices previously considered “alternative.” Some subsidize gym memberships. Now, at last, a few help pay for yoga memberships. Since 2012, Medicare has covered cardiac rehabilitation programs that include yoga.
Harvard Health reported on how yoga and meditation save money on health care costs, primarily by reducing stress. Hopefully, as more insurance companies recognize that subsidizing yoga may actually save them money, they will join the bandwagon.
The Rise of Yoga Therapy
The blog Integrative Practitioner reports that, “in 2016, the [yoga] industry changed exponentially with a new international yoga therapy certification. To become a certified yoga therapist takes 800 hours of training above typical yoga teacher training. A therapist completes a yoga therapy program accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). They study anatomy, biomedicine, philosophy, therapeutic skills, and professional practice.
You may do yoga therapy one-on-one with a practitioner, as with physical therapy, or in a small group. The therapist tailors the practice for your individual needs. Here is how Yoga International describes the work of a therapist: “…therapists are trained to assess clients through listening, questioning, observing, and appropriately touching. Therapists look for ways to help their clients reduce or manage their symptoms, improve their function, and help them with their attitude in relation to their health conditions.”
Integrative Practitioner predicts that, with the certification requirement, “we will likely see more regulations from respective health alliances, associations, and, potentially, insurance providers.”
Growing Scientific Evidence
Numerous articles have been published in recent years arguing why doctors should be prescribing yoga for patients. However, tradition changes slowly. Actual statistics are lacking, but it seems most of the doctors who do prescribe yoga do so only in “last ditch” efforts. That is unfortunate since so many modern ailments are related to stress. In addition to stress, yoga has been scientifically shown to address a number of other conditions.
Time magazine reported, in 2015, “Medical institutions are increasingly willing to meet patients halfway with therapies that won’t cause harm, as long as practices are safe and don’t ignore the need for conventional medicine and pharmaceuticals when necessarily.” So, most doctors are not (at least) opposed to alternative therapies, if not yet fully embracing them.
A 2015 study in Diabetology and Metabolic Syndrome described how yoga helped lower study participants’ blood pressure and weight. A study published in the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing showed that people who did yoga improved their memories and decreased depression. The Journal of Clinical Oncology published a study showing that regular yoga practice can lower inflammation, boost energy, and lift the mood of female cancer patients. These are just a few examples. This growing body of evidence should, in time, translate to great acceptance within Western medical practice.
The National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health is currently supporting research into how yoga might address diabetes, HIV, immune function, arthritis, PTSD, and other conditions.
What it Means for Today’s Yogis
If you already practice yoga, you’re on to something! Traditional medicine is slow to adapt but, as I’ve written in the past, it is beginning to accept more and more modalities previously considered fringe. When used in combination with other healthy lifestyle choices, yoga can help you achieve your best overall health. Eventually, you may even find that your insurance will chip in.