July 13, 2018
3 min read

Integrating yoga into health care benefits numerous patients

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Photo of Latoya Conner
Latoya Conner

As the body of research validating the health benefits of yoga continues to grow, the ancient practice is becoming increasingly popular as a method to improve overall health. Incorporating yoga into the health care plan may benefit patients with varying conditions, as well as those who are healthy.

“The conceptualization of yoga as medicine is well established in literature and scientific research emphasizes its efficacy,” Latoya C. Conner, PhD, clinical associate professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, told Healio Internal Medicine. “Yoga therapy is a form of treatment to practice meditation, breath work and asanas or poses with the goals of improving mental and physical health in a holistic way.”

“Given that ‘the issue is in the tissue,’ individuals are encouraged to develop of sense of body awareness and connection to their whole being,” she said. “Through this increased awareness, practitioners of yoga can help patients improve health outcomes and health conditions.”

Health benefits of yoga

“Yoga benefits physical and mental health via interoceptive awareness, somatic regulation and a ‘quieting effect’ of the hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system,” Conner said. “Integrating elements of mind, body and spirit balance, yoga therapy also functions as self-care, health promotion and health maintenance.”

Photo of group of people practicing yoga
As the body of research validating the health benefits of yoga continues to grow, the ancient practice is becoming increasingly popular as a method to improve overall health.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock

The physical, emotional, neurobiological and psychological effects of yoga can benefit patients with a variety of presenting problems and diagnoses, she said. For example, yoga can help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, chronic stress, malaise, cancer, scoliosis, autoimmune disorders, chronic pain, psoriasis, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, grief, trauma and PTSD, according to Conner.

Photo of Wendy Weber
Wendy Weber

Many studies suggest that yoga can also improve quality of life, function, overall physical fitness, strength and flexibility, Wendy J. Weber, ND, PhD, MPH, acting deputy director of the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, told Healio Internal Medicine.

Specifically, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry revealed that yoga significantly reduced symptoms of PTSD among women with chronic treatment resistant PTSD. Another study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute Monographs indicated that patients with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy who practiced yoga had lower stress levels, were less tired and had better quality of life.

“Evidence shows that yoga improves the effectiveness of other treatments and does not need to replace them,” Conner said. “Integrated health approaches are ideal.”


Potential risks of yoga

Practicing yoga has similar risks to that of participating in any physical activity, according to Conner.

“Yoga is generally low-impact and safe for healthy people when practiced appropriately under the guidance of a well-trained instructor,” Weber said.

“Women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions, such as high BP, glaucoma and sciatica, should modify or avoid some yoga poses,” she added. “Working with a very experienced yoga instructor who can modify poses for these conditions is recommended.”

Yoga in primary care

“The primary care physician’s role in prescribing yoga therapy to patients is to be an integrative health partner in the patients’ overall health care, maintenance and/or recovery,” Conner said.

Conner suggests that physicians research yoga therapy options, choose classes tailored for specific populations and medical issues and find yoga teachers in local directories, hospital affiliated or those registered/listed with the International Association of Yoga Therapists: Bridging Yoga to Healthcare.

“Physicians should ask their patients about what types of complementary health approaches they are already using to ensure safe and coordinated care,” Weber said.

Physicians should read about current yoga research, safety and training and discuss yoga as an option for suitable patients, according to Weber. – by Alaina Tedesco


Greenlee H, et al. J Natl Cancer Inst Monogr. 2014;doi:10.1093/jncimonographs/lgu041.

van der Kolk BA, et al. J Clin Psychiatry. 2014;doi:10.4088/JCP.13m08561.

Disclosure: Conner and Weber report no relevant financial disclosures.