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Medicine and Yoga

By Sam Dworkis

For years, there has been a raging debate regarding holistic and alternative approaches to health and healing versus more conventional western, or allopathic approaches to medicine. Although many people feel strongly about one approach or the other, many are confused as to what holistic and alternative medicine is.

Holistic and alternative medicine is currently defined as "non-traditional" systems of health care; such as acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal medicine and yes, even yoga. Holistic and alternative medicine centers on a cooperative relationship between a person and "healer" leading towards optimal attainment of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual aspects of health. Holistic and alternative medicine looks at the whole person; including scrutiny of physical, nutritional, environmental, emotional, social, spiritual and lifestyle values. Holistic and alternative practitioners, including yoga teachers, emphasize education and responsibility to achieve balance and well-being..

In contrast, allopathic or western medicine has traditionally emphasized a strong doctor-driven relationship that focuses upon accepted science, differential diagnosis, prescriptive medicines, regular checkups, and when necessary, surgery in order to attain healing. In this model, ill persons are often encouraged to comply with physician directives without challenge.

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I am "into" yoga and have been seriously practicing and teaching for over a quarter-century. But don't get me wrong. I strongly believe in allopathic western oriented medicine. I believe in regular medical examinations, taking prescriptive medicines, and even when necessary, undergoing surgery. In fact, having had MS for the past nine years has afforded me deep appreciation of all western medicine has to offer.

On the other hand, I also profoundly value what I have learned about taking personal responsibility from my yoga practice. To me, yoga comes nothing close to resembling a religion; but is instead a series of exercises designed to accommodate my body's changing flexibility, strength, and endurance as it presents itself at any given moment. What I love about this approach, as a teacher is that it adapts to meet the specific needs of individuals and has nothing to do with competition or even "trying" to do yoga.

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This approach to yoga therefore becomes a microcosm of life. If my body's not feeling right, I find myself wanting to make appropriate changes in life-style or become more proactive in physician-assisted intervention in order to improve my health. I find myself wanting to do additional research and wanting to explore additional options to become more involved in my health-care management.

Fortunately, the relationship between allopathic physicians and patients is in transition. As such, attitudes toward yoga that helps teach a person to become proactive and self-responsible are quickly becoming recognized as another component of conventional medicine.

It teaches me how to be proactive. That is, I learn how to pay attention to the messages my body is giving me and how to do something different when what I'm doing doesn't feel right. In other words, when I'm doing a series of yoga exercises and if I'm doing something that feels uncomfortable or might lead to injury, I'll do it differently. Yoga teaches me to make changes in my life in order to maximize benefit and to minimize liability.


Reproduced with permission
Resources: with profound thanks to Sam Dworkis of www.extensionyoga.com.

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