New Medical Yoga Symposium at Smithsonian Highlights Growing Interest in Yoga Therapy

While the profession of yoga therapy is still in its early birthing phase, the interest in the medical therapeutic applications of yoga is rapidly growing.

With new research studies on the therapeutic benefits of yoga coming out almost daily, it is no surprise that the medical field is starting to pay attention. Now, the venerable Smithsonian in Washington, DC will be co-hosting, with George Washington University, the first annual Medical Yoga Symposium, January 11th and 12th, 2014.

The Medical Yoga Symposium brings together some of the leading medical professionals spearheading research into the therapeutic applications of yoga in both theory and practice. The event is sponsored by the Smithsonian, in conjunction with the ongoing exhibition, Yoga: The Art of Transformation, and features an illustrious group of speakers and presenters distinguished for their visionary work and leadership in the therapeutic applications of yoga.

“This is a landmark event for the realm of therapeutic yoga, and a groundbreaking collaboration between the museums and the emerging fields of integrative medicine,” says director Linda Lang, who also founded Therapeutic Yoga of Greater Washington. “For the first time on a national stage, we are bringing together multi-disciplinary practitioners and researchers to present a symposium on evidence-based integrative medicine, yoga therapy practice and research, and the science of transformation.”

The Medical Yoga Symposium is a testimony to the emerging collaboration between the medical field and practitioners working with the therapeutic applications of yoga, and it speaks to the future potential of the field. Two days of programming will cover the fine art and science of yoga, yoga practice in modern society, yoga as a therapeutic intervention, transformations in modern medicine, and scientific research on yoga.

Dean Ornish, MD, will open the event with a keynote address. The founder of the Preventative Medicine Research Institute is best known for his studies showing that heart disease can be reversed through yoga, meditation, and diet. He’s a former physician consultant to President Bill Clinton and has written five best-selling books.

Speakers include leaders of modern yoga in medical, academic and military settings such as Timothy McCall, Larry Payne, Sat Bhir Khalsa of Harvard University, Dilip Sarkar of the International Association of Yoga Therapists, Richard Miller from the Integrative Restoration Institute, and retired Lieut. General Eric Schoomaker.

Programming on both days will feature presentations, master classes (one-hour breakout sessions) and three-hour intensive workshops. Lunch hour at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Gallery includes 12 roundtable discussion groups covering subjects such as yoga and cancer treatment; Tibetan yoga and cancer research; research on yoga in the workplace; ashram life; yoga and addiction; therapeutic teacher training; yoga therapy degree programs; yoga in underserved communities; and yoga in pediatrics.

“The potential for the applications of yoga as therapy is huge,” says Lang, “but the reality is even more impressive. I envision more courses in colleges, post-grad programs and trainings for medical professionals, from doctors and nurses to respiratory therapists. I see an increase of yoga in academic settings, undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Look, also, at the impact of yoga and meditation within military settings, where it is being used extensively in mental health programs as an intervention for chronic pain and palliative care.”

The Smithsonian exhibition ends on January 26, but the relationships within the community and the university have no end date. While the symposium has goals of fostering new relationships between institutions, the relationships between practitioners carry just as much weight. The master classes and three-hour intensives on the program are discussion-based and highly experiential, designed to engage and connect people.

“I want people to have a sense of belonging and connection,” says Lang. “Yoga teachers often feel a sense of isolation. The work we do is by and large very lonely. Part of what I want people to notice is that they can find support around them. Even in situations where they might not know anyone, to have an opportunity to explore what they do with their isolation and their unanswered questions.”

The relationship with the museum gives this symposium a unique air, but also significant is the relationship that Washington’s therapeutic yoga community has developed with the other event host, George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Services. The medical school’s involvement is a direct response to student innovation, increasing yoga’s presence within the curriculum. Yoga is proving itself to be a fundamental aspect of prevention, intervention and treatment, as well as a path towards physician wellness and enhanced patient care.

To register for the Medical Yoga Symposium, visit:

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