The Many Benefits of Yoga: A Physical Therapist’s Perspective

The medical community has been aware of the many benefits of yoga for years. As the medical community’s experts in musculoskeletal movement, physical therapists have been leading advocates, incorporating yoga into patient care and recommending yoga as a way to maintain progress made in treatment. Among its many benefits, yoga is a safe, highly adaptable exercise appropriate for all ages and fitness levels.

The practice of yoga originated in India and dates back to over 5,000 years ago. The profound history and philosophy of yoga is outside the scope of this article; however, there are many opportunities to learn more (see references, below). Simply put, “Yoga” means “union” and refers to the union of the body and mind

In the late 1800s, yoga was introduced into Western society and considered a modern form of practice. This is because three out of the eight limbs of yoga gained the most popularity: Asana, referring to the physical aspect and postures; Pranayama, emphasizing breath work; and Dhyana, which translates to meditation. Throughout the years yoga continued to gain more exposure and burst into the fitness and wellness industries.

Scholarly research demonstrates the astronomical benefits yoga has on the physical and mental health of individuals. As a result, allied health professionals are incorporating aspects of yoga practice with patient care. More specifically, physical therapists apply components of practice with various patient populations in different of settings. Patients that have shown to benefit include those with chronic pain, neurological conditions,  musculoskeletal injuries, history of falls, and autoimmune disorders. Yoga also aids in cancer recovery, surgical recovery, and issues due to the active aging process.

Furthermore, PTs utilize aspects of yoga because it promotes the psychosocial needs of individuals. This aligns with the biopsychosocial model that is the foundation of patient care used in evidence-based practice. This model takes into account the health and wellness of the whole individual versus solely the physiological pathology of the injury/condition/disease.

As a physical therapist and a certified yoga instructor, I can attest to the benefits of collaboration between disciplines.  Formal physical therapy education doesn’t include training in yoga, which reinforces the need to seek out further education or team up with a qualified yoga teacher.  

Here are some components of yoga typically incorporated in the therapeutic setting:

Asana refers to physical postures that aid in improving flexibility, strength, and balance. These postures can be performed in many different positions, making them applicable for any individual. Asana are normally combined with breathwork and serve multiple purposes. For example, when postures are performed with breath to movement, moving from one to another, it is called vinyasa. Vinyasa is what typically comes to mind when you think of yoga in fitness. Asana can also serve relax the body; postures are performed in comfortable positions, held for a longer periods of time, and may use props.

Pranayama refers to breathwork consisting of techniques to control the breath. Breathwork is instrumental to any yoga practice. The breath is connected to our emotions and is used for either relaxation purposes or for creating energy. Diaphragmatic breathing, commonly used in physical therapy, focuses on longer exhalations to relax the body and mind. In contrast, focusing on inhalations aids in ramping up energy in the body. These techniques are beneficial for patients who experience fatigue and lethargy. Breath retention can be added in either case to enhance the effects of the techniques.

Dhyana translates to meditation. Meditation has been proven to provide countless benefits on overall health and wellbeing. Meditation can be described as single pointed concentration or focusing on one thing. Common misconceptions that deter people from practicing meditation include: it takes too long; you have to sit too long; it’s a religious practice; you have to be quiet for too long, etc. Contrary to these misconceptions, meditation takes many forms so an individual can choose which may serve their needs. Common types of meditation include: breath counting, body scanning, centering, mindfulness, and walks in nature. The benefits of meditation may help our patients who may suffer from: decreased immune function; poor sleep quality; anxiety and depression; brain fog; and high blood pressure.

Yoga is an all-encompassing holistic practice provided by trained professionals. The positive effects of yoga are endless. Many styles of and components of yoga serve to meet the needs of individuals based on their physical and mental health status and their desired goals. Yoga has proven to be a useful adjunct to interventions provided in physical therapy and is also a great option for individuals to pursue once they complete their physical therapy treatment program.

It is important to note that physical therapists’ scope of practice is different than that of a yoga teacher. A physical therapist who has not received education in yoga training may not be appropriate to provide certain yoga services, and vice versa. There are varying levels of yoga training and different types of certifications obtained beyond initial trainings. To learn more, see websites listed below.

Deepak, C, & Simon, David (2004). The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga. New Jersey: Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Elsmore, E et al. Clinician Perceptions of Incorporating Yoga into Therapeutic Practice. Int J Yoga Therapy. January 2022; 32, article 19.
Thompson, A et al. Determining physical therapists’ readiness for integrating yoga therapeutics into rehabilitation. Int J Yoga Therapy. January 2020; 30(1): 77-88.
Wims, M et al. The Use of Yoga by Physical Therapists in the United States. Int J Yoga Therap. November 2017; 27(1): 69-79.
Youkhanal, S et al. Yoga based exercise improved balance and mobility in people aged 60 and over: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Age and Aging. 2016; 45: 21-29.


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