Yoga Enters the Medical Mainstream

Research Proves its Health Benefits

After practicing internal medicine for 10 years in Boston, Dr. Timothy McCall became a full-time writer, exploring the health benefits of yoga. As the medical editor of Yoga Journal and the author of Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, he says, “In the late 90s, the conveyor belt of patient care continued to speed up and I got frustrated. There was less time to form relationships with patients, which is essential to providing quality care without excessive tests and drugs.”

Initially, McCall found that most of the documented research on yoga was from India, and notes it was low in quality from a Western perspective (though it is now excellent). In the West, the first notable scientific yoga article was published in 1973 in The Lancet on combining yoga and biofeedback to manage hypertension. According to the International Journal of Yoga, the surge in yoga’s popularity here finally gained academic interest in 2007, and there are now more than 2,000 yoga titles in the National Institutes of Health PubMed.gov database, with 200 added annually.

Initially, yoga teacher and economist Rajan Narayanan, Ph.D., founded the nonprofit Life in Yoga Foundation and Institute to offer free teacher training. Within a couple of years, the foundation’s focus shifted to integrating yoga into the mainstream healthcare system. “We realized that to make a real difference, we needed to teach doctors about yoga and its scientifically proven effects,” he says. Medical providers can earn credits to keep their licenses current by attending courses by Life in Yoga, the only yoga institution independently certified by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education.

Currently, even if physicians don’t practice yoga, it’s likely that many of their patients do. “You now see it everywhere from major medical centers to mainstream advertising,” says McCall, who notes an increase in doctors, nurses and therapists attending the Yoga as Medicine seminars he and his wife Eliana teach internationally and from their Simply Yoga Institute studio, in Summit, New Jersey.

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