I remember back in 1982 going to a doctor to find out why I had hurt my lower back in a yoga class that I had attended in university. I’d been practicing the cobra pose for the first time and the instructor had not made mention the need to tuck the tailbone, which would have created sacral counternutation at the sacroiliac joints and protected my back. Instead, I simply pushed myself up into a backbend that my spine was not prepared for. I’ll never forget what the Doctor had said to me when I described how I got hurt; he said, “What would you do that for anyways?”
The fact that doctors have been leery about their patients doing yoga is understandable. My story is not unique. Injuries occurring in yoga classes have increased over the years. William Broad’s book ‘The Science of Yoga’ has exposed the dangers of practicing yoga when it is not taught with an appropriate standard of care.
The news is not all bad, however, and I would not be a yoga teacher if I did not believe in the benefits of practicing yoga. When yoga is taught in a step-by-step fashion, with a logical sequencing of classes, then it can provide an excellent supplement for injury rehabilitation. I have insisted on this structure in all the time I have been a yoga teacher and over the years I have gained the trust of many medical professionals.
One of the current trends in the medical community has been to promote a variety of activities that support injury rehabilitation and ease medical conditions; integration of techniques toward a holistic approach to health. To be effective, it has been deemed necessary that these activities are taught in a learner centered modality. A nursing professor attending class here has mentioned there is a movement toward student-based classes and away from instructor-based classes when it comes to fitness. The medical community recognizes that the ‘follow-the-leader,’ ‘Simon-says’ approach to yoga is not a good complement to injury rehabilitation, but instead yoga taught as an exercise prescription with individualized attention is the preferred modus operandi.
Increasingly healthcare professionals are inclined to recommend yoga as a supplement to physiotherapy and even psychotherapy. Books have been written on yoga that is directed toward helping patients overcome emotional issues. A couple of books that come to mind are in my personal library. Amy Weintraub wrote a book called ‘Yoga for Depression’ and Antonio Sausys wrote a book called ‘Yoga for Grief Relief.’ Although the physical yoga techniques can appear quite esoteric in these books, and are not really the same type of yoga methodology we take here at BIM, there is good information about the positive impact that yoga can have on the psyche.
The physical therapeutic value of yoga may lie in the increased frequency which therapeutic movements are practiced. Think of the frustrations of physiotherapists when patients do not do their homework. What if patients practiced yoga in a studio that was willing to communicate with physiotherapists and doctors to assure all adjustments to the patient’s yoga practice were made in accordance with the movements deemed to be therapeutic in physiotherapy sessions? This is exactly the approach I take at BIM. When students come to Breathe Into Motion Yoga Studios upon recommendation from a physiotherapist or doctor they find a fun environment where they are encouraged to continue the therapeutic movements issued by physio and essentially do their homework. Yoga can represent some independent physical therapy which can shorten the recovery time of an injury.
Maintaining health post-therapy can be a real challenge. Yoga can help to maintain health so the chance of re-injury is reduced. So many times a patient will complete a set of physiotherapy appointments and become well again, and then months later re-injure themselves because the ongoing exercise prescribed post-treatment ceased. If the patient is encouraged to have ongoing physical therapy through movements in a student-based yoga class then the chances of avoiding re-injury increase.
Overall yoga benefits the practitioner when taught responsibly, and today many medical professionals are open to all forms of supplemental injury rehabilitation in order to unburden the healthcare industry. Yoga serves as a means of injury prevention and stress management. This is possible when yoga classes are student based, and in this format can even serve as supplemental injury rehabilitation. Medical professionals are open to hearing about how yoga and healthcare can complement each other, and yoga taught with the appropriate standard of care is the key to this relationship.