THE VALUE OF YOGA IN HEALTH CARE
In recent years the acceptance of yoga therapy has reached a tipping point. A series of small, yet vital changes to the way we view health care has encouraged the proliferation of qualified yoga therapists, yoga therapy training programs and professional yoga therapy associations throughout the world.
While the integration of yoga therapy into modern health care systems is not yet considered mainstream, there are encouraging signs that we’re closer than ever to achieving a truly transformative approach in the provision of global health care.
While there is still much to be done, yoga’s ability to help cultivate physical and mental wellbeing is becoming increasingly accepted, and it’s having a tangible impact on health care systems wherever it’s applied.
The reasons for yoga therapy’s growing acceptance among the medical community can be simplified to the following factors…
The need for a cost effective, alternative approach to help tackle the growing health epidemic across the world
Yoga’s growing popularity among the general public ensure its health benefits are widely recognised and accepted
A wealth of evidence-based research has consistently demonstrated its effectiveness across a variety of physical and mental health conditions
By improving self-reliance, patients can become more responsible for their own health that in turn reduces the demands placed on health care practitioners
1. The growing health crisis: a new approach for a new world
Modern medicine has had an undeniably positive impact on our health and wellbeing, controlling infectious, communicable disease such as tuberculosis, polio and smallpox. However with these diseases now largely controlled or eradicated, they’re no longer the main cause of death worldwide.
Noncommunicable diseases (also known as chronic diseases) are now the greatest threat to our health and wellbeing. They’re responsible for 70% of all global deaths, killing 40 million people every single year.
While the sheer scale of the problem paints a bleak picture for society as a whole, the ray of hope is that they’re largely preventable, caused by four shared behavioural risk factors that include tobacco use, physical inactivity, unhealthy diets and alcohol.
Thanks to a wealth of credible scientific research, it is now widely accepted that by modifying our behaviour and lifestyle choices through yoga, we can start to prevent the majority of disease related suffering throughout the world. If achieved the benefits, both economically and to society, would be significant.
The cost savings
In a review of medical and corporate literature, The Bravewell Collaborative Report demonstrates that changes in lifestyle that focus on exercise, nutritional interventions, and the development of greater love, intimacy, and emotional wellbeing, can not only reverse the progression of many chronic diseases, but could save millions of dollars in reduced health care costs.
- According to the American Heart Association, the cost of coronary angioplasty procedures and coronary bypass operations in 2006 cost the U.S. healthcare system more than $100 billion.
- The INTERHEART study found that a change in lifestyle choices could prevent at least 90% of all heart disease, and if only ten percent of procedures were avoided due to these changes, it would result in a savings of $10 billion dollars annually.
- The Mindful Nation report published by the All Parliamentary Policy Group expounded a strategy for bringing mindfulness into healthcare, estimating that the NHS would save £15 for every pound spent. These figures were calculated based on the expense associated with using mindfulness to treat depression and chronic pain.
While the initial view of integrated health care is that it requires additional resources, the wider context is that by addressing chronic conditions through the improvement of lifestyle choices, the pressures placed on healthcare systems can be significantly reduce
The benefits of yoga on noncumminicable diseases
The increasing demands placed upon the majority of the medical profession has also raised important questions concerning our approach to health care, and how we address the burgeoning incidence of chronic lifestyle diseases that our healthcare systems, and society as a whole, are failing to adequately address.
It’s clear that something needs to change, and while it would be remiss to say that yoga is the sole answer, its been proven that it can play an integral and vital role in addressing the modern health epidemic.
The advancement in both science and research has also enabled us to understand the underlying mechanisms of yoga, and how physical yoga postures, breath regulation techniques and deep relaxation practices can positively impact our health and wellbeing.
This basic research has indicated that yoga has profound effects on:
- Physical characteristics such as flexibility, balance and coordination
- Respiratory characteristics including breath capacities, volumes and gas exchange
- Mental characteristics including emotion and stress regulation, mood and resilience, and cognitive functioning, and even on deeper quality of life characteristics including life meaning and purpose and spirituality.
These overarching benefits are particularly effective for reducing the risk factors associated with noncommunicable lifestyle diseases, including common disorders such as cardiovascular diseases, obesity, diabetes, mental health conditions, and disorders of elderly cognitive decline, which represent the greatest mortality and burden on the health care system.
While chronic diseases undoubtedly need our attention, there’s also the growing global challenge of mental health. According to the World Health Organization, depression recently overtook lower respiratory disease as the most common illness, and is the leading cause of disability, globally. The burden of mental disorders continues to grow, creating significant problems – both health related and economical – for countries all over the world.
Poorly controlled chronic stress can also increase the risk of heart disease, myocardial infarctions, digestive problems and depression, but significantly it can also lead patients to engage in dysfunctional coping strategies, such as smoking, substance abuse and the avoidance of healthy eating and exercise habits.
Yoga’s ability to help manage the stress of modern life is well documented, and it’s frequently cited as one of the leading reasons why people take up yoga in the first place. Considering chronic stress affects almost every biological system in the body, yoga is taking a pivotal role by positively influencing the underlying biological processes, while also supporting the emotional needs of patients at the same time.
2. The increasing popularity of yoga
The increasing recognition of yoga therapy as a therapeutic and preventative medicine is supported, in part, by the explosive growth in the practice of yoga by the general public.
A 2012 survey by the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health indicated that 10% of the U.S. population is actively practicing yoga for health purposes, with a remarkable 50% increase in prevalence from the previous 2007 survey. A UK survey has also reported an increasing trend.
Encouraged by yoga’s popularity among the general pubic, both conventional medical systems and communities alike are increasingly using yoga as a cost-effective, preventive and complementary treatment for a host of non-communicable diseases.
There are now a number of yoga therapy associations internationally, numerous training and certification programs in formalised yoga therapy schools, many books on treatment of specific diseases with yoga therapy, and regular multiple international yoga therapy conferences.
The trend shows no signs of slowing down, and health care services are naturally responding to the changing demands and expectations and that their patients have when it comes to their health. Just as businesses are encouraged to listen to the needs of their customers, the provision of health care is proving to be no different.
3. The growing wealth of yoga research
The relatively new field of yoga therapy began with the first published trials conducted by a UK researcher in the 1970’s. Since this time there has been a dramatic escalation in biomedical clinical research on yoga therapy, reflected in an increase in the evidence base of peer-reviewed biomedical publications.
Our 2015 published bibliometric analysis revealed over 450 yoga therapy research publications in peer-reviewed journals, representing a 3-fold increase from the analysis conducted 10 years earlier.
The scientific rigor of this research is growing apace with the increase in the utilisation of the gold standard randomized controlled trials. Some of these randomized trials have been published in leading journals and have received widespread media attention, such as the University of York’s research on yoga for low back pain.
The growth in quantity and quality of the body of yoga therapy research has grown sufficiently to support the appearance of new yoga research journals, the publication of numerous review papers, and a recent edited medical textbook entitled The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care by a UK publisher.
This evidence base is now being used to justify the inclusion of yoga therapy in a number of clinical venues, especially in integrative medicine centers. Particularly noteworthy is the widespread and growing inclusion of yoga in Veterans Administration medical centers in the U.S., and the decision by Medicare in the U.S. to reimburse the costs of a yoga-based cardiac rehabilitation program.
While there is still much to do, these initial trials and research is demonstrating how yoga therapy can ease the economic burden of long-term conditions that are frequently overwhelming health care services and their budgets.
4. Complementary world views of yoga and modern medicine
Another reason for yoga therapy’s increasing popularity is that its approach is consonant with many people’s values: namely that it’s a natural, low-tech mind-body approach that’s relatively inexpensive, and generally very safe.
Psychosocial and spiritual influences on healing that include forgiveness, acceptance, fulfillment, and a sense of meaning and purpose, are all areas that a yoga therapist can cultivate. While they’re more amorphous and harder to quantify than systolic blood pressure, they’re all vital considerations towards medical care and a patient’s overall health and wellbeing.
In this context yoga therapy can be an effective adjunct to conventional medical treatments. While an integrative approach favours gentle, natural remedies, there are often occasions when pharmaceutical or surgical interventions may be required. The ultimate aim isn’t one of replacing modern medicine, but one of collaboration. Effectively treating the patient with non-invasive procedures where possible, providing them with greater choice, while also reducing the need for surgical procedures or expensive pharmaceutical treatments wherever possible.
The intention is to also provide people with the ability to enhance their own resilience and wellbeing, in whatever form or treatment this may take. For people suffering with anxiety or depression, medication certainly has its place, but it doesn’t always help with the underlying problem.
Through alternative treatments like yoga therapy we can start to not only treat patients more effectively, but we can start to treat the individual, in all their beautiful complexity. With the appropriate guidance and education, patients can become responsible for their own health and wellbeing, increasing an individuals capacity for self-care, self-regulation and self-healing.
It’s this ability to feel empowered and in control of their own health that can fundamentally change the patient/doctor relationship. Rather than being passive, patients can take responsibility and work with medical practitioners towards a state of true health and wellbeing.
In time patients may naturally become more aware of our bodies, and the cultivated perceptual abilities can act as an early detection on of both disease symptoms and risk factors. Just as a trained musician can detect and out of key string, someone trained in yoga could detect any imbalances before full-blown disease manifests.
Ultimately, yoga therapy has shown in numerable cases how it can benefit, and compliment modern medicine. If we can continue to change perceptions, then just as small pox has been resigned to the history books, then hopefully the prevalence of chronic conditions throughout global society can join it.