What if mindful movement, breathing exercises and meditation were considered standard public health best practice? A new study from the MGH Benson-Henry Institute calls for just that:

“…the data suggests that mind body interventions should perhaps be instituted as a form of preventative care similar to vaccinations or driver education.”  (see the full quote below)

The study, released last week, “Relaxation Response and Resiliency Training and Its Effect on Healthcare Resource Utilization” revealed that relaxation practices – such as yoga and meditation – reduce the use of healthcare services by 43 percent.

Which makes me think that parasympathetic nervous system training or relaxation training will be the next revolution in health care – the likes of which we haven’t seen since the 1970s when aerobic training became a standard part of health advice.

The study’s authors write that stress related disorders such as anxiety and depression are a significant burden on the health care system costing $80B out of the $3T plus per year spent on health care (just behind heart disease and cancer, which of course also carry a significant stress component). Over 90 percent of people with stress related issues go to primary care docs for treatment. And over 70 percent of doctor’s visits have a mental health challenge as the primary reason for the visit.

This was a large cohort study which took place over the course of 4 years. The findings point to a need for parasympathetic nervous system training. And the implications for yoga professionals are huge. It’s important to understand that teaching yoga to specific populations, especially those who are at risk for stress related disorders, requires a capacity beyond what most yoga instructors are taught (how to lead fitness center or yoga studio oriented classes.) Working in a primary care setting, a behavioral health setting, a nursing home or a hospital requires a different skill set – and is what we have focused on teaching in our trainings for the past 10 years.

Timothy McCall, MD, said, “When word gets out about the power of yoga therapy, there will not be enough well trained therapists to meet the demand.” This study is another indication that the word is out. I believe the demand for therapeutically trained teachers, and health professionals, is about to explode.

Here is the author’s policy recommendation:

“The data suggests that the intervention should be applied to all at risk populations, since the intervention has minimal risk, minimal cost and yields substantial benefits for patients with a wide variety of illnesses. The long-term effect of these interventions on healthy populations is unclear, but the data suggests that mind body interventions should perhaps be instituted as a form of preventative care similar to vaccinations or driver education. Such interventions are likely to be useful in population management and supported self-care, have negligible risk and cost and may help reduce the demand curve in healthcare. While the risk benefit ratio of this intervention is very favorable to further elucidate the effect size a prospective evaluation is called for.” 

And here’s a link to the study: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0140212


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