How Yoga Works With Modern Medicine: Medical Yoga Therapy




Modern science is slowly, but surely embracing so many things from ancient Eastern culture. More and more therapists are using yoga as a tool for psychotherapy, a “prescription” for mental health problems.

But what about conventional medicine? 

Can general practitioners use yoga as a prescription for some illnesses instead of leaning solely on medications?

The correct mix of modern technology and ancient medicine could be just what the conventional medicine world needs to be untouchable!

Turns out yoga has been proven to heal all kinds of ailments, which technically makes it an exercise, meditation, and a medicine. Here at MyYogaTeacher, we think that’s pretty cool and wanted to explore how the modern medicine and yoga worlds are starting to collide.

One of the benefits of being a myYogaTeacher member is that you get to experience all kinds of yoga classes, even ones designed to help treat or prevent medical problems, taught by highly trained and experienced expert instructors. If you haven’t checked it out yet, click here to enjoy your 2-week free trial!

What is medical yoga therapy?

According to the National Institute of Health, medical yoga is defined as “the use of yoga practices for the prevention and treatment of medical conditions.” 

Yoga clearly has therapeutic benefits when it comes to helping people manage stress, anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other mental illnesses. In many cases, a regular yoga practice can end those debilitating issues completely.

The physical side effects of yoga are what truly makes this ancient practice a “modern miracle” for patients suffering from various medical conditions.

Studies show that medical yoga therapy improves (and helps control) glucose levels, musculoskeletal ailments, and helps keep the cardiovascular system in check.

Medical therapy yoga includes all the aspects of yoga that one may expect from any other yoga practice: asanas, breath work, meditation. But it is much more comprehensive than that.

Yoga as a prescription

Yoga doesn’t just treat and prevent illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, menstrual disorders, heart disease, and hormone imbalances. 

It helps people create a state of well being, where they can understand the underlying cause of their conditions. When they can understand it themselves, they are more capable of being proactive in preventing the recurrence of their illness or the development of new ones.

This is huge in the world of modern medicine! 

Medical yoga therapy is an individualized (and holistic) approach to medicine. This means it doesn’t just incorporate the actual practice of yoga, breathwork and meditation. It involves a patient’s family, work environment, support network, and culture in the treatment plan.

Yoga alone may not be the best prescription. It’s up to a person’s doctor to decide if other treatments are necessary in conjunction with medical yoga therapy. And we are in no way recommending you abandon your doctor’s treatment plan without speaking with them first. 

However, it is not an unlikely scenario that patients who are at risk of developing certain medical conditions could be prescribed yoga to prevent said conditions from occurring! 

This would help people avoid more intense (and costly) medical interventions!

While we are a long way from doctors prescribing yoga as a medicine over pills, there is room to believe that it’s a possibility in the future.

How medical yoga therapy works

The question many people ask about all of this is “how.”

How can something as simple as yoga actually cure and prevent physical medical problems?! 

First, we’d like to give you a good idea of types of conditions yoga can help with:

  • Diabetes - Yoga reduces fasting insulin levels, which normalizes the insulin-to-glucose ratio. It also increases circulation, which improves nerve damage caused by the disease.
  • Hypertension - The various breathing techniques practiced in yoga, along with meditation, alleviates stress, tension, and physical pain in various areas of the body, all of which can be a primary cause of high blood pressure.
  • Heart disease - Yoga is a useful lifestyle intervention for people who suffer from high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation, and helps decrease waist circumference. 
  • Arthritis - The improved strength and flexibility that are associated with yoga also help relieve symptoms of arthritis and chronic back pain, knee pain, and neck pain.

There are many medical conditions that are improved by a consistent yoga practice, but the above illnesses are especially receptive to medical yoga therapy.

On top of that, yoga is an exercise that literally anyone can do!

We know we’ve said it before, but we can’t iterate it enough. Yoga is good for everyone, whether you’re practicing for medical reasons or not. Any size, shape, or age. And it’s incredibly accessible.

Yoga balances the autonomic nervous system by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. 

Throughout your day, your body is responding to the outside stimuli it experiences, whether you realize it or not. Stress, a not so healthy diet, pain (physical, mental, or emotional), disease, illness. All of these things stimulate the sympathetic nervous system, the “fight or flight” mode your body has to protect itself against all the bad things it encounters.

When one practices yoga, the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” system) is activated, lowering blood pressure, releasing endorphins. Your blood vessels dilate, which means better circulation, more nutrients to your organs. 

Here are some other benefits of a regular yoga practice:

  • Increased release of hormones such as GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, all hormones that prevent and cure depression and anxiety.
  • Increased levels of melatonin, the naturally occurring chemical in your body that helps you sleep
  • Increased levels of oxytocin, the chemical in your body that helps you feel connected, feel seen and heard.
  • Increased levels of leptin and adiponectin, chemicals that work to alleviate inflammation in the body.

Yoga means better health. Better immunity.

There are no bad side effects, like you may have with prescription or OTC medications.

The science is there. Yoga can actually save lives. 

Yoga and aging

We thought this topic deserved a section all to itself. The science demonstrates that yoga increases your lifespan.

According to the National Institute of Health, studies show that regular yoga practice stabilizes, and even lengthens, telomeres. What are those?

We thought you’d never ask. Telomeres are small, repetitive chromosomal sequences found at the end of chromosomes that protect the chromosome from dying. They prevent cell death. The older we get, the shorter the telomeres get. The structural integrity of our chromosomes decreases.

This process is one of the causes of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, cancer, macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease, and stroke, amongst others.

Pretty impressive that yoga can play such a significant role in our wellbeing and longevity!

Here at myYogaTeacher, we are passionate about advocating for the betterment of people. We want to help you feel better, be healthier, and support you on your journey to harmony with your inner and outer world.

If you’re still on the fence about becoming a MYT member, we invite you to grab your free 2-week trial here and take advantage of the 35+ classes we offer with experienced, expert instructors you can trust. 

We can’t wait to see you on the mat!

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