Integrative & Complimentary Medicine

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYoga Compliments Medical Approaches

With changes in health care following the Affordable Care Act, providers will soon emphasize health promotion over disease management. Integrating alternative and complementary approaches to well-being will provide patients with ways to manage their health and provide a foundation for preventing new health problems. Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) has been practiced for the last 25+ years in the United States, but many of these approaches have a much longer history: well over 2,500 years, in the case of yoga. In the last decade, studies examining the effects of yoga have increased substantially—important for yoga’s acceptance as a mainstream treatment.

CAM includes health-care practices that have not generally been considered part of conventional medicine. In 1991 Congress passed legislation to provide the National Institute of Health (NIH) with $2 million in order to study unconventional medicine. Some of the most widely studied alternative approaches to health promotion and maintenance include biofeedback, meditation, dietary supplements, chiropractic treatment, massage therapy, relaxation training, movement therapy, art therapy, and acupuncture, together with spirituality, religion, and prayer. Other approaches, such as hypnosis and bodywork (including Reiki, Hanna Somatic Education, and Feldenkrais), have also been used for several decades. Yoga psychotherapy and yoga therapy in treating many physical and emotional problems have large support in the medical literature.

Of course there are some that would rather take a pill to relax, but that doesn’t change the psychophysiological baseline. Taking a pill or a drink will give temporary relief, but will not lead to lasting changes in how the body handles stress, thereby preventing physical or emotional pain altogether—not treating them once they occur. Implementing positive health behaviors require discipline and consistency. When physicians have 20-minute appointments –once or twice a year—there is not sufficient time to instruct and follow-up on a patient’s exercise or yoga practice. For people who are dealing with significant life stress, medical problems or depression, making life style changes can feel insurmountable. One yoga class will not help an achy back, nor will a meditation class help control anxiety if the home practice component is ignored. Yoga psychotherapy aimed at helping integrate and continue healthy changes can help.

Taking responsibility for health by using both ancient practices and newly emerging technologies and treatments will improve lives and ultimately reduce medical costs. But the most profound outcome is engagement with a life lived fully.