Free Download! Beyond Disease Care: The Yogic Paradigm for Self Care, Health & Well-being

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Marlysa Sullivan

Marlysa Sullivan Marlysa Sullivan MPT, E-RYT 500 is an Assistant Professor at Maryland University of Integrative Health (MUIH) where she teaches in the integrative science and yoga therapy departments. Marlysa has developed many courses as well as being the founding clinic director for the Masters of Science in...

We spend more on health care and have more drugs and surgeries for countering disease than any time in history. Yet, for far too many people, health after the age of 55 remains woefully elusive.

About three out of four people over the age of 55 suffer from at least one chronic disease, according to the CDC. And one in two 55+ year-olds struggle with two chronic diseases that seriously undermine quality of life - including diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, heart conditions, and so on.

So, what gives?

Instead of focusing on curing sickness after it has occurred, we need to shift the focus to fostering health and well-being, says yoga therapist and PT Marlysa Sullivan in this free download. 

This has long been the focus for millennia of natural approaches to healing, like Ayurveda, Chinese Medicine, and–no surprise–Yoga. 

In a disease-focused medical approach, the goal is to eliminate specific conditions after they occur by applying a micro-targeted cure, typically a drug-based (allopathic) treatment regime.  

By contrast, the focus of natural approaches is to work on the level of the whole body to cultivate systemic health and wellbeing. This means that as you cultivate health, you also increase your mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.

“Yoga includes a plethora of practices to alleviate suffering, which all optimize and build on factors that contribute to our health and well-being,” Marlysa says. “Drug-based cures are limited in their scope, because they don’t take into account our mental or emotional health, stress levels, or how we relate to life.” 

This is why modern medicine fails when it comes to finding ways to effectively address chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, which are more complex in scope. 

 

The Three Main Ways that Yoga Heals

Marlysa points out the many ways in which yoga can help us promote health and wellbeing. Firstly, she notes, yoga can help us become more attuned to our unique bio-psycho-social-spiritual spectrum. Yoga models–like the Koshas and the Gunas, for example–help us understand on a deeper level how all aspects of human existence work together to promote ease and harmony­. 

“When you work on any one of those layers you work on all of the layers,” Marlysa states. “There's a simultaneous effect; Even if you are practicing postures that fix back pain or a meditation technique to help your heart disease, it's not about that. Yoga is a process of applying all of the practices synchronistically toward this bio-psycho-social spiritual framework of wellbeing.”

Secondly, Marlysa explains, in a multi-layered framework, health and healing may result from either a “top-down” or a “bottom-up approach”.

An example of a top-down approach to enhancing health and well-being are yoga practices that touch neurocognitive processes. Mental processes can stimulate change in our bio-physiological processes. For example, practices like gazing at a peaceful image or reciting a mantra of peace or equanimity are purely mental practices, but they can have profound impact on our body as well.

Similarly, bottom-up practices that start in the body can also affect our psychological or cognitive states, or psycho-emotional processes. 

“Studies show that shifting body position can affect our psychological and mood states,” Marlysa explains. “Through asana practice, we can have an effect on our autonomic nervous system, our mood, our emotions, the quality of our thinking, or our beliefs. The body becomes a way to shift the mind. You can take a top-down or bottom-up approach. It doesn't matter which door you've opened, you're still going to get in,” she states. 

A third area in which yoga fosters health and well-being is in enhancing what is known as Eudaimonic Wellbeing, i.e. our ability to connect to our personal authenticity. 

“Eudaimonic wellbeing is about self-actualization and being connected to meaning and purpose,” Marlysa notes. “Research has found that living in alignment with your values and maintaining quality social connections can be correlated with some very cool health effects. Even on our gene activation profile, it decreases inflammation and supports the immune system, affecting all causes of mortality.”

Regardless of things like diet or physical activity, Marlysa explains that people who are connected to meaning and purpose can experience physiological changes that help prevent or mitigate things like neurodegenerative disorders, heart diseases, or cardiovascular diseases. 

“Instead of trying to find all the different causes and fix all the little things, we can take a much broader perspective and help people live an improved quality of life. Not a false positivity, but a real idea of what it means to experience meaning, purpose and values,” she says.  

“What we add in yoga is a felt experience. Not just cognitively asking what value means to me, but exploring how I experience it. Where do I experience kindness in my body? In yoga, we teach people how to feel the blueprint of it, so that when they go out in the world, they begin to notice when they go towards either the deficiency or excess. And they can realign. By doing this deep, body-based exploration of ethical inquiry and values, we align ourselves with the actions that harmonize our body, our mind, and our relationship to life.”

You might also enjoy Marlysa’s course, How Yoga Heals: How to Access Your Body's Own Medicine Chest