Holistic Medicine – Yoga as Primary Care
I was in St. Louis last week attending a Yoga Training conference where the topic for Thursday was Holistic Medicine – Yoga as Primary Care. The presenter was a doctor who utilizes yoga in his own life and in his medical practice. He talked about how much he has reduced his writing of prescriptions for drugs as he has guided his patients into their own yoga practice. His hope is that through a grass roots effort to bring yoga to the Primary Care Physician’s attention and office, this wonderful holistic alternative to drugs can become better known and more widely utilized.
He first presented the history of yoga and then the history of Primary Care Physicians. In the 1960s there was a demand for Primary Care or Family Care Physicians due to the high cost of medical care, the increased fragmentation and depersonalization of medical care, and the shortage of physicians, especially in rural and inner city areas. In 1969 the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) was approved by the AMA. However, it has only been in the past year that Yoga in Family Medicine has been openly discussed and Yoga presenters allowed at the Family Medicine Practitioners’ conferences. There is a rapidly growing interest to match the rapidly growing need.
Since Primary Care Physicians are meant to be the initial contact a patient has when they have a health complaint, they are the best provider of information about alternative holistic care modalities. Ten of the most common complaints Primary Care Physicians receive have been shown to be effectively treated with yoga:
If only these ten complaints could be treated through movement and education, this would make a huge impact on our health care system.
This impact is also needed in the community of physicians themselves. There is a growing problem of burnout in the medical community. The latest figures are saying that 63% of physicians are unhappy, stressed out, and feeling a lack of balance and happiness in their lives. This is primarily due to exhaustion, depersonalization of care, and lack of efficacy and quality of care. It was suggested that yoga training needs to become a required part of medical school.
The effectiveness of yoga as primary care is becoming well documented. We went over several studies showing the effectiveness of yoga in treating fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, anxiety and depression, carpal tunnel syndrome, low back pain, arthritis, hypertension, headaches, COPD, and reducing the risk of cancer.
My own experience has shown that yoga is an effective choice to lift mood and address many joint mobility problems. However, Yamuna’s work takes the idea of holistic care and self-empowerment to a much deeper level. I have found that our movement is only as good as our education about both movement and our own unique problems and restrictions. The use of a ball along with some education can give us a much deeper understanding of where our imbalances come from and how to work with them. As one of my clients said recently, “The ball tells all.”
Education on the ball combined with yoga movement and philosophy is truly a winning combination and one I hope to see grow in popularity and use. One of the most powerful aspects of all mind/body modalities is that they get people to notice and begin working with their breath. We all breathe, a lot, every day, but the quality of our breathing can become shallow and ineffective when there is a dropped chest and little awareness or education. This is one important service Primary Care Physicians could give their patients in just a few minutes in their offices. In fact, that is just what this presenting physician now does. He has the patient stand and do just a couple of yoga poses, focusing on their breath, and then has the patient notice if they feel any better. They are often amazed at how those few short moments can improve how they feel, and then they are motivated to pursue more education on their own.
This could be an effective model for Primary Care Physicians to begin the revolution to more holistic care within their practices. A critical component of this revolution is getting people in touch with how they feel and with how their actions can improve the way they feel, thus promoting personal responsibility and empowerment of the individual in their own healthcare. Western medicine has made incredible strides in caring for specialized health problems, but it has fallen far short of educating and helping the general public take responsibility for how they feel. Drugs are far too freely prescribed. It was suggested that a doctor could make several weeks of yoga practice a prerequisite to getting a requested drug, thus offering yoga as a first alternative and perhaps eliminating the need for the drug altogether.
With a little more education themselves on holistic alternatives, the Primary Care Physician could stand as sentinel to the blatant overuse of drugs and surgeries that are now used to treat many complaints that come to them. Listening to the many studies that are being done now, I have hopes that this education is becoming available and could soon provide the foundation for a much more body and mind friendly health care system.
Have any of you had a doctor recommend breath work or yoga poses as an alternative to taking drugs? How did that work for you?