Maybe Indians have known this for a while. Maybe we don’t. But as modern healthcare takes a turn to make itself more efficient, we’ve also begun excavating our roots. And when one comes across yoga, maybe we can say, “In search of gold, we lost a diamond”. We went down that route with Dr. Neha Deo, a certified yoga practitioner and physiotherapist, who’s been around for more than a decade. She explained yoga for what it is and how physiotherapy is better because of it. Here’s what she had to say –
- How does yoga add to rehabilitation?
Dr. Deo alludes to similarities between yoga and physical rehabilitation to explain the symbiotic nature of the two. Since both yoga and rehabilitation are movement-based practices, they both focus on healing the patient. However, yoga offers a different aspect altogether – a mind-body connection.
By integrating breathing exercises and establishing breathing patterns, yoga focuses on grounding the patient to the present moment to relax them and make them more responsive to treatment mentally. Not only does yoga contribute through effective breathing exercise, it also physically calms the body down and makes a physio’s life easier.
- What’s the mental impact of yoga on patients?
Something many physios forget or are rather unaware of is the true extent of exhaustion when it comes to rehabilitation. Dr. Deo rightfully points out the limitation of asanas due to physical constraints concerning their injuries. Since the chances of falling into mental blockades like depression is real, she says some asanas like Pranayama or even regular meditation works to calm the troubled mind. This slow mental progression and helping patients being headstrong reflects in their recovery, giving more freedom to physios to accelerate treatment plans, which would otherwise be met with patient reluctance or non-adherence.
- Which people have the best use for yoga?
While yoga is relevant and beneficial for everyone irrespective of age groups and mental conditions, the patients that need it the most often suffer from trauma. Dr. Deo refers to a patient of hers who suffered from personal loss during the pandemic. In such cases, the patient faces a battle on two fronts – physical recovery and mental toughness. When someone is recovering from severe trauma, they need special considerations and that can be addressed through yoga asanas like pranayama and savasana.
Another avenue for use of yoga is for vastly generalized issues – for example, muscle stiffness and back pain. In fact, patients who underwent two 90-minute yoga sessions a week reported a 56% reduction in pain. It’s also highly effective in addressing muscular imbalance and dysfunction for non-specific issues. Due to these reasons, yoga as a therapeutic intervention has increased three times between 2003 and 2013 – a number which only grew in the last ten years!
- What are the limitations of yoga in physiotherapy?
While yoga will always remain a great option to mentally relax a person, its limitations exist in the physical sphere. Dr. Deo points out that yoga might be counterproductive in acute or chronic pain like those of ligament tear, muscle tear and fractures or dislocations. In such cases, carrying out yoga asanas is risky and therefore, physios must stick to isometric tests. However with that being said, meditation, pranayama and even visual imagery can always be applied.
Another factor that explains the versatility of yoga is it’s not limited by age restrictions. Again doesn’t mean individual mobility isn’t a factor. Some medical conditions that need special attention when offered yoga are pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes and hypertension.
- There’s a special branch of yoga called “Hatha Yoga” that deals extensively with physiotherapy. So what is it and how is this form of yoga associated with osteoarthritis?
“Hatha Yoga” is that form of yoga which to a certain extent has always been a part of physiotherapy – a more simple, slow and gentle form of precise exercise that targets breathing, range of mobility and step-by-step improvement. It’s based on the basic principle of gradually increasing holding time based on pain tolerance.
Dr. Deo then connects Hatha Yoga to osteoarthritis by elucidating that since osteoarthritis is a degenerative disease, it affects all the surrounding muscles and cartilage. This invokes extra caution to be exercised, making Hatha Yoga the ideal option for treatment – something physiotherapists unknowingly practice regularly. Such low impact and mentally motivating exercises are highly beneficial for treatment and patient satisfaction.
- So is yoga a preventive measure more than a cure?
Dr. Deo strongly advocates for yoga as a preventive measure. While physiotherapists can definitely include yoga in their treatment, the best solution for patients is not having to undergo that pain in the first place. As the old saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure,” the principle of yoga is to ensure a healthy living and lifestyle. Therefore, everyone especially those living a sedentary lifestyle need to ensure efficient exercising to keep out of harm’s way.
- So the billion dollar question – how do we incorporate yoga into physiotherapy?
Now that we’ve explored the potential of yoga in treating mild physiological or Musculo-skeletal problems, we asked Dr. Deo to put forward a roadmap for all interested in incorporating yoga into physiotherapy –
- Get certified as a yoga therapist and practice for at least three to six months.
- Learn about which asanas target which body parts and calculate their intensity.
- Evaluate all the possible permutations of yogasanas to effectively personalize treatment based on age, current mobility and mental resilience.
While this is a basic outline, she addressed the relevance of Artificial Intelligence as well. However, the relevance of AI in this field still remains unclear but she expressed hope that a breakthrough will surely be made soon.
- What more evidence-based research is needed for yoga to be a mainstream part of physiotherapy?
While it’s tough to point exactly which avenue needs more research, the promise of yoga remains exciting. It can be said that yoga being in mainstream healthcare is in its infancy – something that needs to be built on. However, the relevance of yoga in everyday routines remains the same.
While there’s not a whole lot to move on forward with, one thing has become absolutely clear that yoga is a significant part of our history and definitely something that must not be dished out due to irrelevance. If anything, universities and healthcare researchers all over the world, starting from John Hopkins to Harvard have acknowledged the role of yoga in stress management, chronic pain, autoimmune disorders and mental illness. It’s about time we endorse a practice that has been overshadowed and use it to complement modern healthcare.
Because again, “Prevention is better than cure,” and the best indigenous form of prevention India has known in yoga.