As a nation, we have turned to technology for healing and in that obsession, we’ve overlooked great opportunities. Western models of health tend towards materialism – there’s a pill for everything. The thing is – if these models were accurate we would not be mired in an intractable health care crisis.

Did you know that 75 percent of the almost $1 trillion spent annually on healthcare in the U.S. goes to chronic, preventable diseases like heart disease and diabetes? We spend most of our health care dollars trying to put out fires that could have been prevented if we had started earlier and thought differently.

Additionally we spend two and half times what any other industrialized country spends yet our health outcomes share ranks with developing countries. We also propagate the myth that our health is completely under our own control when research shows that up to 70 percent of the locus of control of healthcare outcomes is social rather than individual.

One of the reasons we fail so miserably to keep our nation healthy is because we are myopic – we look to one paradigm only (a materialistic one) to address our health issues rather than opening to more inclusive models that factor the mind, spirit and community into our thinking.

A landmark study published in JAMA earlier this year found that people with a genetic predisposition to depression who value spirituality (not just attend religious services) are less likely to develop depression. Like meditators, these people tend to have a thicker cortex, the region of the brain associated with higher processing, self-reflection, self-regulation and mindful decision making. Spirituality, in whatever form works for you, is a powerful way to facilitate healing.

And yoga is non-sectarian way for people access and develop their spirituality. It can help those who may or may not resonate with traditional religions find meaning, inner peace and tremendous potential for healing.

The yoga tradition is rich with models that can help us rethink who we are and how to approach our health. The ancient kosha system, for example, inverts the western materialistic paradigm. It implies that there is a spiritual cause to our existence and that when we move toward that inner spiritual domain, we move toward deeper capacities for healing.

Traditional health care providers are starting to understand that spirituality is an essential component of healing. Duke and Harvard both have centers for spirituality and health. And researchers are calling for the inclusion of spirituality in health care.

“By ignoring the spiritual dimension of health, for whatever reason, we may be depriving ourselves of the leverage we need to help empower individuals and populations to achieve improved physical, social, and mental health. Indeed, unless and until we do seriously address the question – however difficult and uncomfortable it may be – substantial and sustainable improvements in physical, social, and mental health, and reductions in the health gradient within and between societies, may well continue to elude us.”  – John-Paul Vader, Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine, Lausanne, Switzerland

I’m thrilled to be delivering lectures on this topic, not only in my own trainings but also at conferences and workshops in other parts of the country. Join me on YogaU tomorrow night for a more in-depth look at the potential of yoga to change the health of a nation.


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