Q: Several times I have been told that yoga is not recommended by chiropractors and physical therapists. Could you clarify why this might be so?
A: Basically I think this is because the health professional is not a practitioner of yoga. Like any physical and spiritual discipline, recommendations can only come from the basis of personal practice as well as a good understanding of what the limitations of a yoga practice might be. If the health professional is ill-educated on what yoga is and believes that yoga is a gymnastic set of exercises that can only be achieved by the super flexible, then of course they would not recommend this type of “exercise” to a patient who has an injury.
Many chiropractors, physical therapists and other medical practitioners may be hesitant to recommend yoga to their patients because they believe that there is no unified certification for people to teach yoga and therefore they may believe it is very difficult to find trained yoga teachers for someone with a back injury (or other injuries and chronic conditions) who is currently experiencing an injury or who is not in good shape. These medical professionals may believe that yoga teachers (blanket statement here) are generally not medical professionals, and therefore they don’t have an understanding of the human body and should not teach yoga at all to people with injuries because it is dangerous - in that they don’t understand the injury and they might MAKE you do something you aren’t ready for causing more injury and pain. (Because yoga certification is a point under discussion now and because all teacher trainings are not equal and all yoga teachers are not qualified to work with a student therapeutically, I do believe that it is important for a student with an injury to interview the teacher before they begin classes with them to make sure that they feel comfortable working with the teacher and that the teacher feels comfortable working with their injury. It is critical that there is a good fit between teacher and student, and that the student feels safe in the class and confident of the teacher’s training.)
On the other hand, many chiropractors and physical therapists (including me—I am a physical therapist) DO recommend yoga as part of the therapeutic healing process, but instruct the student on what poses they either should avoid or what poses need to be modified to limit range of motion. I use the teaching of asana for everyone that I work with. I work with very frail home-bound individuals in my capacity as a home health physical therapist and every single one of them is taught some type of yoga. Everyone breathes, but not all of us breathe efficiently so learning to work on posture and intention while breathing is a wonderful yogic therapeutic tool that is accessible to everyone, not just the young and fit! And yes, this is yoga.
Chiropractors are medical practitioners who treat the body, structurally as well as energetically, and there are many schools of chiropractic treatment approaches. Some practitioners are very biomechanically-based and others are more eclectic in their treatment approaches. The same can be said for physical therapists. Some are very biomechanically based and focus their entire treatment approaches on a biomechanical model. If the theory is that “structure always dictates function” and “function dictates structure,” that is the lens through which the body will be seen. In my opinion the biomechanical model is important but it doesn’t always explain why a problem lingers. This is where, in my opinion, yoga can come in because not only will the structure be addressed, but so will the other factors that influence the restoration of optimum function.