Yoga and Trends in Healthcare

I’ve been out in Los Angeles for a few days visiting family and friends, hiking, taking yoga classes, and doing a bit of research for my work. While some may think that I despise this place (after last week’s blog) that couldn’t be further from the truth! One of the things I love about southern California (in addition to endless opportunities for eucalyptus aromatherapy), is that it’s such a hotspot for creativity and innovation in all fields.

An exciting opportunity I had this week was a chance to sit down and have a chat with a health promotion consultant who works with health care giant Kaiser Permanente. We discussed some of the current trends in healthcare and where and how yoga might fit in. She was super encouraging and positive.

“Yoga, mindfulness, and meditation are all at the top of the list of the direction in which things are moving,” she told me, “because the conversation is centered around finding ways to promote and reward personal accountability for health.”

When I questioned her about things like social determinants of health, the ACE study, and the influence of social networks on health she said, “Yes, it’s complicated, there are many factors. But still the trend is moving in the direction of personal accountability.”

There have been lots of opportunities for bringing yoga into treatment areas like cancer care and addiction recovery, but an important piece of the health crisis puzzle is shifting some of the focus away from treatment and toward health promotion and disease prevention (which seems super obvious, but it’s a massive societal juggernaut and changing from a sick care model to a health care model takes time!)

So, the conversation around rewarding positive health behaviors (like exercising, quitting smoking, improving your diet, etc.) is a timely and important one. Insurance companies, of course, are getting in on it as well – maybe you’ve seen the commercials for getting better rates if you exercise and eat well?

Early this month, the National Institute of Health released the results of a survey which showed that many doctors are recommending Complementary Health Approaches (CHA). In fact, all of the physicians that responded to the survey said they recommend some form of CHA and 25 percent said that they recommend yoga!

Docs who have their own yoga practice are (unsurprisingly) the ones who are most likely to recommend yoga (they are also largely female). The fact that physicians are recommending self-care practices like yoga is an example of how the trend toward personal accountability is showing up in clinical practice.

One of the most urgent areas of the health care crisis right now is the treatment of chronic pain. Because it’s so difficult to treat and because the standard of care has led to the opioid crisis, the medical community is desperate to find better ways to address the problem.

Earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services released the “Pain Management Best Practices Inter-Agency Task Force report: Updates, Gaps, Inconsistencies, and Recommendations” which includes the recommendation to utilize CHAs. One of the challenges cited in the report is that, “There is a gap in the understanding of complementary and integrative health approaches.”

This gap exists not just in the minds of the public, but also in the minds of health care professionals who tend to classify yoga as exercise (maybe with a sprinkle of relaxation on top) and really don’t know how to recommend it because it’s such a varied practice with an array of iterations – many of which are risky and inaccessible.

I think this can start to change if we, in the yoga world, begin to do a better job of educating health care professionals – describing what we do and letting them know that not all yoga is pretzel bendy, joint overloading and dangerous, and that some of us are really mind-body experts rather than (or in addition to) fitness professionals.  

Yoga is such a natural fit for this trend toward personal accountability. Now we’re tasked with figuring out how we can better interface with the health care world to get the power of this practice to more people and help make real and lasting changes to the trajectory of health.

If you’d like more info about explaining the unique benefits of slow, mindful yoga, please check out my online course, The Science of Slow.