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Yoga Leads Western Medicine towards an Integrated Treatment Approach

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By Isaac Christiansen

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the field of modern medicine as a whole is steadily moving in the direction of integration. 

What does this mean, exactly? Essentially, traditionally trained Western physicians are warming up to the benefits of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as an adjunct to the treatments medical science can provide.

If you have noticed more research studies focused on the medical benefits of "alternative" therapies like yoga, acupuncture, chiropractic, meditation, massage and more, you are not imagining this. Cancer treatment professionals are leading the charge in this, but physicians working in fields such as osteoarthritis, cardiovascular, post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans and mood disorders are close behind.

In this post, learn four distinct areas where research-backed yoga therapy is providing measurable enhancement to traditional Western treatment.

Yoga for Joint Health

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The Arthritis Foundation states that an estimated 50 million Americans - nearly one in five - suffer from some form of joint disease. Together, these joint diseases are often grouped under the umbrella of "arthritis" due to symptomatic similarities in joint stiffness, swelling, tenderness, pain and mobility issues.

John Hopkins Medicine Arthritis Center cites specific benefits arthritis patients receive from practicing yoga. Scientific trials to date support the use of yoga to improve mobility, flexibility and quality of life for these patients. 

In most cases, arthritis-spectrum disorders are considered to be chronic conditions (i.e. incurable but manageable). Regular, appropriate exercise can be particularly critical for successful management, yet many patients do not pursue this remedy - with one exception. In a recent John Hopkins yoga for arthritis clinical trial, the largest and most rigorous of its kind to date, participants were still practicing yoga nine months later, and reporting benefits that included both improved physical and mental/emotional health.

Yoga for PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder)

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Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is estimated to affect up to half of all military personnel, most particularly those who have spent significant time in combat zones. War veterans are particularly vulnerable to PTSD.

PTSD is the result of nervous system malfunction. The National Institute of Health (NIH) explains how chronic stress can strand the nervous system in perpetual "fight or flight" mode, even after the danger has long since passed. 

Symptoms of extended fight or flight can include depression, anxiety, aggression, insomnia, alcoholism or substance abuse, flashbacks, racing pulse, nightmares and worse. 

Yoga Journal reports on how yoga has slowly become integrated into treatment protocols for individuals suffering from PTSD, and how early successes in private clinical practice began to generate interest in yoga's usefulness to treat military patients with PTSD as well.

A promising study funded by the Department of Defense and carried out by Harvard University and Brigham Young University initially showcased how regular yoga practice eased symptoms of PTSD for more than half of veteran study participants.

Today, use of yoga for PTSD treatment continues in both the private and military sectors with ongoing success.

Yoga for Mood Disorders

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The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety is the most common mood illness in the United States, with 40 million affected. Depression affects an estimated 15.7 million people

In research studies conducted by Harvard Medical School, yoga has shown benefit for easing both anxiety and depression. There are many different types of yoga, but for anxiety and depression, mindfulness and awareness-based yoga appears to be particularly beneficial.

Yoga for a Healthy Heart

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The Heart Foundation doesn't mince words when it comes to the average adult's risk of heart disease: it is the number-one killer in the country. It is currently estimated that one person dies from a cardiovascular/heart disease-related issue every minute!

The American Heart Association points out that yoga is as useful for preventing heart disease as it is for strengthening the heart after treatment for heart disease. 

Yoga offers improved balance, flexibility, breathing and lung capacity, heart rate, circulation, muscle strength and more. Yoga can also decrease the body's stress response, elevate mood and lower blood pressure - all key elements of fighting off heart disease or bouncing back after treatment, as a research study at John Hopkins Medicine showcases.

Harvard is equally enthusiastic about yoga's potential to help at-risk individuals lose weight, lower their blood pressure and reduce their "bad" cholesterol levels. 

Best of all, a European Journal of Preventive Cardiology study validated yoga as being as effective as conventional physical exercise to achieve these goals.

It is only natural that Western medical science turns first towards the study of yoga to treat major human health threats like PTSD, arthritis, mood disorders and heart disease. The positive results of research and clinical trials in these areas are now paving the way for other useful applications of yoga as well!

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