At tax time, I go through my records (basically a box of receipts), and pull one out and set it aside. It’s a receipt for yoga classes and, thanks to my forward-thinking health insurance plan, I get reimbursed for the cost.
That’s a relatively new-to-me benefit. Gym memberships have commonly been reimbursable through some insurance plans, but yoga doesn’t often qualify. I see this as a significant change—many health insurance companies have expanded their perspective to encompass wellness rather than just rote fitness in terms of preventive measures. And they’ve also begun to see the beneficial effects of yoga on the overall well-being of their plan members.
Hospitals, too, are opening their doors to yoga; many have added on-site wellness centers offering yoga and meditation classes. Others are bringing yoga to patients who might not be adequately ambulatory to attend a class.
The highest-profile of these initiatives is the Urban Zen Foundation, created by DKNY fashion designer (and longtime yogini) Donna Karan. The foundation has funded yoga programs in prestigious hospitals on both coasts—Beth Israel in New York City and UCLA Hospital in Los Angeles—offering certification training in yoga therapy, meditation, and other holistic modalities to the hospitals’ staff, including doctors, nurses, and social workers. The foundation’s pilot program at Beth Israel has been credited with substantial benefits to patients—including a reduction of pain and anxiety, better rest, improved moods, more rapid healing, shorter hospital stays, and reduced need for medications—which also translates into significant cost savings to the hospital.
This is not just an urban phenomenon. Right down the road from Kripalu, Berkshire Health Systems’ new Cancer Care Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, offers a six-week wellness program with cooking demonstrations, stress reduction, and yoga; the center even has a dedicated yoga room.
Lisa B. Nelson, MD, Director of Medical Education for Kripalu Healthy Living Programs and a family practice doctor in Pittsfield, frequently recommends yoga for general wellness, stress reduction, musculoskeletal complaints, and also for depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and insomnia. “There are many types of yoga offered in our community, so sometimes I will even tailor the type that I recommend—for instance, yoga nidra for insomnia or anxiety, or hot yoga for diffuse musculoskeletal tension,” she says.
Though Lisa says it’s still somewhat rare to find providers who go out of their way to prescribe yoga, those wanting to integrate yoga into their wellness regiments don’t have to go it alone. A new breed of nurses is being trained to provide appropriate holistic care, or, as the International Nurse Coach Association (INCA) website puts it, to “speak both the languages of medicine and healing.” INCA offers nurses rigorous training programs leading to certification as health and wellness nurse coaches, able to draw from an arsenal of complementary, evidence-based methodologies and tools—including yoga, tai chi, meditation, and breathwork—that can be practiced anywhere, from clinical settings to the home.
As codirector of INCA and a core faculty member of the Integrative Nurse Coach Certificate Program, nursing pioneer and Kripalu presenter Barbara Dossey, PhD, RN, has inspired health-care workers across the country and internationally to take a more holistic approach with patients. In a world where doctors are under severe time pressure, she teaches how important it is to take time with clients: “Listen to their stories; see where the big challenges are in their lives.” She exhorts her students to get a picture of the whole person, including diet, exercise, relationships, work, home environment, and spiritual outlook. By taking the time to listen, nurse coaches can determine which modalities are best suited to a client’s situation. Continue reading >>