History of Yoga Therapy

Yoga has come a long, long way, literally speaking. Yoga was first introduced to the US more than a century ago, when Swami Vivekananda made the then month-long trip from India to the US to speak at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893.

The Parliament aimed to lay the foundation for a synthesis of East and West, religion and science. Little did participants realize just what that vision would grow into just 100 years later!

In the late 1980s, a few years before the hundredth anniversary of Vivekananda’s first visit, yoga therapy burst into national awareness with the publication of Dr. Dean Ornish’s first study on the effects of lifestyle intervention on heart disease. Dr. Ornish’s study was the first to demonstrate that heart disease could be reversed through a healthy lifestyle program, which included therapeutic yoga, meditation, and dietary changes.

Dean Ornish’s “Program for Reversing Heart Disease” got approved for health insurance coverage in 1990 and it opened the door for yoga therapy to gradually make its way into mainstream medicine.

Following Ornish’s study, research has been done on yoga for depression, yoga for insomnia, yoga for respiratory conditions, yoga for carpal tunnel syndrome, and much more.  Today there are volumes of research showing that yoga asanas and yoga breathing exercises (pranayama), when used appropriately in a therapeutic context,can help manage symptoms of disease and in some cases even make sick or injured people better.

The effort to integrate yoga therapy into mainstream medicine in the U.S. today is spearheaded by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). The association attempts to bridge the gap between mainstream medicine and the millennia old system of yoga.

Where allopathic medicine treats mainly the body, yoga therapy approaches healing and wellness by focusing not just on the body, but on all levels of the person: physical, mental-emotional, and spiritual.

The the effort to make yoga therapy available as an alternative healing modality is in its early stages and will continue for some time to come. Yet, at the current rate of research on the benefits of yoga as therapy, one might surmise that we won’t have to wait another 100 years before yoga therapy becomes an integral part of healing and wellness.

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