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Almost* Everything You Need to Know About Yoga Therapy at the Lifestyle Medicine Summit

Oct 24, 2022


"Information is not enough. It's all about implementation".

This was the theme of the 2022 Lifestyle Medicine Summit. If you haven’t heard of lifestyle medicine, it uses therapeutic lifestyle interventions as a primary modality to treat chronic conditions. 

From October 21-30 the summit brought professionals from across healthcare including physicians, therapists, counsellors, health coaches and yoga therapists together to explore ways in which healthcare can and should change. I was privileged to represent the International Association of Yoga Therapists and share my wisdom, knowledge, and specific yoga therapy implementation strategies that make it a perfect fit with lifestyle medicine, health coaching, and related wellness modalities.  

The conversations were timely since over 70% of deaths worldwide are related to non-communicable diseases (NCD), which devastate individuals, families, communities, and country healthcare systems. There is a general consensus that we need new evidence-based, innovative solutions like yoga therapy, which are being proven to stop and reverse lifestyle-based chronic diseases. 

Research indicates that non-communicable, chronic health issues like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer, depression, and anxiety can be reversed through comprehensive Lifestyle Medicine protocols. These protocols are based on the six pillars of lifestyle medicine:

  1. whole-food, plant-predominant eating pattern
  2. physical activity
  3. restorative sleep
  4. stress management
  5. avoidance of risky substances
  6. positive social connections

Using these principles can also effectively prevent

  • Hypertension 
  • Diabetes 
  • Obesity 
  • Early prostate cancer 
  • Gall & Kidney stones 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis 
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Crohn's disease 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Pain 

Based on these findings and ongoing research, yoga therapy should be considered as part of the solution.

Through the summit attendees developed their understanding that those of us working to improve the wellbeing of our communities need care, tools and strategies to look after ourselves as well. In my talk on Almost* Everything You Need to Know About Yoga Therapy, I suggested that yoga therapy could be that way for some.

The talk was part of a day of conversations about conscious living and I shared the stage with speakers like Dr. Bernie Siegel, MD who is a pioneer in Mind-Body Medicine and Bestselling Author. He talked about Mind-Body Medicine and your innate potential to heal, a perspective that many yoga therapists bring to their work. 

 In my presentation I highlighted the fact that yoga therapy is the specific application of yogic tools to address physical, mental, and emotional needs and why lifestyle medicine practitioners and health coaches would benefit from recommending yoga therapy to their clients and patients.

This included reasons like the fact that yoga therapists design adaptive personal practices for their students and these could be preventive, restorative, or palliative. Yoga therapists bring an accessible, inclusive top-down and bottom-up to practice based in a minimum of 1,000 hours of training. For these reasons, yoga therapy aligns better with lifestyle medicine than yoga taught in a large group, corporate, one-size fits all format.

I also outlined the benefits of working with a yoga therapist for those seeking care, which include the strengths-based, patient-centered, values-based approach to how we work with people. I shared the benefits for noncommunicable disease, mental health conditions and how yoga therapy can support people living with chronic conditions - particularly through restoring connection with community through sangha.

In addition to the benefits for care seekers, I shared the benefits of collaboration for care providers, including medical professionals and health coaches. These include the fact that yoga therapy has low administrative costs, does not require expensive equipment, and that it may cut healthcare costs by ~40%. It also increases wellness with minimal resources in stressed systems - which is critical when health care systems across the world are at, or past their breaking points. I also shared that yoga therapists are trained to have an awareness of how other providers work and that our body, breath, mind approach can be a really useful way for care providers to sustainably care for themselves as they experience burnout, compassion fatigue or work related injuries.

To keep the presentation interactive, I walked participants through two breath based practices so they could start to experience what they might if they chose to work with a yoga therapist. I also demonstrated the holistic intake phase of my workflow so care providers could see the depth of bio-psycho-social considerations that come into play when developing a care plan. I then noted how that intake information flowed into the student assessment and goal confirmation session, how it informed collaborative practice design and continued to inform regular check-ins to support habit change and adapt practice as the student meets their goals.

The rest of my presentation included building awareness of when someone might seek the care of a yoga therapist including if:

  • they are suffering in any of the eight dimensions of well-being 
  • they want a whole-body, holistic approach to care 
  • want to work with someone who has the time to get to know them and their goals
  • they want to learn how to take better care of themselves 
  • they want to work with someone who is committed to their wellness journey for the rest of their life

You can access summit recordings and resources from 48 presenters here

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