Bridging Yoga Medicine & Western Medicine: Part I

YogaMedicine-trained practitioners are particularly well suited to partner and work efficiently with Western medical providers because they are a community of yoga teachers trained to understand the function and dysfunction of the human body. Most likely, as a Yoga Medicine teacher, you are already well connected to your local wellness and supportive health practitioners. Developing relationships with the medical community, however, can often be a bit more challenging.

I personally know the hurdles, being a physician who has been finding ways to bridge my holistic health interests with the medical world for almost two decades. From the skeptic looks to closed-minded views, doctors can seem to be an intimidating bunch, but there are always those who are willing to open their perspectives to complementary ways of serving patients.

This is the first of a four-part series of articles on ideas for approaching networking with medical providers in your locale.

Part 1: WHO You Serve and HOW Your Skills Benefit Them

When thinking about where to even begin with the healthcare networking process, it can be very helpful to develop a deep understanding of the populations you serve.

If You Already Have a Target Demographic

Perhaps you may have already developed your own niche of clientele, a group of individuals you really enjoy working with. Maybe their common link has to do with social demographic characteristics, like children from low-resource neighbourhoods, female college athletes, or elderly nursing home communities. These social determinants help you to have a greater understanding of their potential health risks and conditions. Your yoga practice may be particularly tailored for them.

Alternatively, perhaps your practice is tailored to support individuals with specific health conditions such as scoliosis, addictions, or obesity. In this case, you may serve a diverse community of clients who share a common experience of illness.

In either scenario, you have likely developed keen expertise on the issues impacting the health of these populations, providing you with great insight to help tailor group classes and individual one-to-one sessions. As you consider where to start reaching out to medical providers, this understanding can help you to target healthcare practices that serve your niche communities. Maybe you will begin with a local community health center that serves inner-city youth or nearby pediatric clinics. Maybe you will reach out to Planned Parenthood centers or focus your outreach on OB/GYN practices.

If You Need to Pick a Target Demographic

If you happen to be a yoga teacher working with a wide variety of clients and/or perhaps are not bound to a particular niche, consider taking some time to research large medical practices you may want to reach out to in your community. Develop an understanding of the populations they serve. If practices do not have such information on their websites, consider giving them a call to find out a bit about their demographics. Otherwise, in the United States, you can often find a lot of health-related statistics about your region from your local county’s health department website. Community Health Assessments (like this one), conducted by each county across the country, are often published and include community-specific health improvement goals.   These reports can give you an overview of social characteristics and predominant health conditions influencing your potential client base.

Evidence Based Medicine

Once you have a well-developed understanding of the populations you may serve, it can be very helpful to familiarize yourself with the Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM) research on benefits of yoga, meditation, and mind-body modalities for the specific communities you work with. Familiarizing yourself with this support can help you to “make your case” when speaking with members of the medical community. Even being able to just cite 1-2 key studies that highlight benefits can often get uninterested ears perking.

The increasing popularity of yoga over the past three decades has ignited the scientific medical community’s interest in researching the benefits of yoga for health. You have likely been exposed to several studies supporting the use of yoga throughout your training with Yoga Medicine. Though the scientific literature base on yoga has been steadily growing, the quality and rigor of research studies have been mixed. Fortunately, there are resources that can help you sift through it all, including research compilation books that evaluate the data to date.

Dr. Gurjeet Birdee, MD, MPH, a physician-scientist and yoga therapist at Vanderbilt University suggests the new book, The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care, edited by Sat Bir Singh Khalsa PhD, et al. “Yoga therapists and teachers often ask me about the evidence of yoga for specific conditions so they can cite the literature to clients and healthcare professionals such as physicians, “ says Dr. Birdee. He feels this book can be effectively used to find such references to support and validate clinical yoga practices. Chapters include overviews of conditions, surveys of literature, clinical considerations and insights from practicing yoga therapists and teachers.

Beginning to Craft Your “Elevator Pitch”

Using the information gathered above, you can start to artfully create your “elevator pitch” of sorts. Knowing your target communities, the health conditions they face, contributing factors, and EBM support for yoga in their healing journey, you can begin to tell the story of WHO you can serve and HOW your skills will help them nurture their health.

Join me in next installment of this series as we explore more approaches to support Yoga Medicine teachers looking to segue into the medical world. Namaste.

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