Natalie Drees severely hurt her back playing indoor soccer two years ago. She had a compound fracture at her second lumbar vertebrae. The doctor prescribed physical therapy and ''extension'' exercises to heal her fracture. The extension exercises basically consisted of bending backwards to increase the amount of space between her vertebrae. Natalie, a longtime yoga aficionado, asked her doctor if she could also use yoga practices to heal her spine, but he told her no. He did not want her bending forward, for fear of further hurting her spinal cord. Natalie says that the exercises her physical therapist prescribed did help relieve some of the pain, but she thought there was more she could be doing. Natalie, a very physically active young woman, grew impatient with her lengthy recovery. Physical therapy wasn’t challenging enough, and Natalie felt like her progress was moving forward at too slow of a pace. Never one to accept the status quo, she asked her doctor for more exercises, but he told her there was nothing more she could do to speed up her healing.
A few months into her recovery, Natalie got the green light from her doctors to practice yoga. At her very first class since her injury, at the Being Yoga studio (www.beingyoga.net) in Burlingame, California, Natalie found that there was an entire series of extension and back strengthening exercises that could be used in yoga. She noticed, after using these exercises, that the pain was gone within a matter of weeks, which compared favorably to the months she spent in physical therapy that had yielded little to no results for her.
The Health Benefits of Yoga — A Union of Mind, Body, and Spirit
The main goal of yoga, which originated in India more than 5,000 years ago, is to reach a union of the mind, body, and spirit. During the past decade, yoga has become increasingly recognized for its health benefits and healing properties. Yoga is commonly found to improve posture, stress management, mental clarity, flexibility, digestion, breathing, and self-awareness. Yoga has been scientifically proven to aid in the healing of physical ailments such as diabetes, asthma, osteoporosis, muscle and back injuries, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s disease, obesity and high cholesterol, among others. America is seeing a growing shift in people looking to alternative medicine for its healing properties. According to the New York Times, since 2004, membership in the International Association of Yoga Therapists has grown from 760 people to 2,060. Even some insurance carriers are recognizing the health benefits of yoga and are covering the costs of yoga classes and sessions.
Yoga therapy is a growing trend in the United States. The difference between yoga and yoga therapy is basically in the numbers. Yoga therapy is basically a private or small-group yoga class which is custom-tailored for those with special health or physical therapy needs. Because yoga is a gentle, slow-moving form of exercise, those with back, joint, or muscle pain find it beneficial.
Even though Natalie long ago recovered from her back injury, she still practices yoga at least four times a week. She has found that practicing yoga has benefited her body as well as her mind. Natalie primarily practices Bikram yoga, which is a style of yoga that is practiced in a room kept at 105°F. Natalie says she has experienced a calmer mind, improved posture, and weight loss. She says, ''Once you conquer the physical aspect of yoga (the postures), you open up your mind to the meditative aspect for a more well-rounded practice and a better outlook on life.''
Mainstream America is turning to yoga for its many health benefits, causing many doctors and physical therapists to follow. Many patients are finding that yoga helps them to recover from injuries in ways that normal physical therapy can’t. Many physical therapists are opening yoga studios in their offices and employing yoga teachers. Yoga therapy is an increasing trend, and it doesn’t look like it is going anywhere.