But in a world filled with replacement hips and hearts, helping to keep us mobile while increasing our life expectancy, we’re now faced with an increasing array of new and complicated problems to solve. How do we feed everyone? Where do they live? What impact does humanity’s resilience have on the planet? And how on earth do we keep everyone fit, healthy and happy?
The last question, of course, is almost certainly impossible to fully answer, but despite its complexity, dedicated healthcare staff throughout the world strive to provide the best level of care they can – but it’s not getting any easier.
Faced with staff shortages and budget cuts, healthcare services throughout the world are now at a breaking point. But the exciting news is that yoga therapy is playing an increasing role in both the prevention and treatment of a number of conditions, helping to reduce the demands on healthcare services in a variety of ways.
An Ancient Practice Perfect for the Modern World
Historically, the way humanity has attempted to answer the question of healthcare provision has changed over the years, requiring continual evolution as we’ve acquired both greater knowledge and technological advancements; but arguably the greatest catalyst for change is what people actually need.
Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, the biggest threats to our health were infectious diseases. But in today’s new world, filled with processed foods, sugar, salt and the occasional hashtag, diseases derived from lifestyle habits are having a devastating effect.
Diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, stress, anxiety, and depression are among the greatest contributors to chronic illnesses. The healthcare infrastructure traditionally designed to cure traditional ailments has often failed to keep pace with the needs of the modern world.
The World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, chronic diseases will be responsible for a staggering 57% of all reported global deaths. But the sheer volume of credible scientific research is demonstrating that those who practice yoga regularly are less likely to exhibit chronic mental and physical health problems. Common sense is starting to dictate that yoga becomes a highly attractive proposition for promoting wellbeing in the modern world.
It Makes Financial Sense
Looking after people is justifiably important, but it’s also expensive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that approximately 117 million U.S. adults had one or more chronic illness, accounting for 86% of all health care spending. It’s a staggering figure!
Across the pond in the UK, out of a total budget of £110bn, 77bn is spent every year by the National Health Service (NHS) on treating people with chronic conditions.
In a study conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, researchers found that those who took part in a mind-body relaxation program (that included yoga and mindfulness), participants used 43% fewer medical services than they did the previous year.
On average, this saved $2,360 per person in emergency room visits alone, and the overall savings in healthcare ranged from $640 to as much as $25,500 per patient each year.
The Domino Effect
We’re all wonderfully complicated creatures, each with our own neurosis, habits, ambitions, desires and backgrounds, each playing no small part in the decisions we make on a daily basis. But equally as complicated is the effect all of this has on our health.
What causes one person to get sick, and another to remain healthy? Is it our lack of exercise, or maybe our penchant for pizza, or even our ambition? Working 12 hours a day for years on end can take its toll.
The truth is it’s likely to be a combination of everything. Illnesses can be difficult to diagnose, but even more difficult to treat with a single prescription.
Just as each person is unique, Yoga therapy considers the specific health needs of the patient, using a combination of yoga practices and medical science to find the best form of preventative or curative treatment. This could be to address physical conditions, or to improve the mental health of those living with depression, anxiety or stress related conditions.
It also gives patients the knowledge and tools to promote their own self-care, a step towards encouraging and empowering people to promote their own health.
The domino effect of yoga is often a greater understanding of all the important health-related decisions we make on a daily basis, often encouraging people to eat better, to develop a newfound love of exercise, and promote greater self-control when considering the variety of ways that can be used in order to self-medicate. Simply put, yoga can positively affect a variety of ailments, both physical and mental.
Reducing Sickness and Absenteeism Among Staff
Each healthcare system has its own unique challenges, but a common theme is the extreme stress that dedicated doctors and nurses face on a daily basis. The National Health Service (NHS) in England is a prime example.
Employing more than 1.5 million staff and treating over 1 million patients every 36 hours, the staff of the NHS faces a huge challenge. As a result, every year healthcare professionals suffer from a variety of mental health and musculoskeletal problems, costing the NHS £2.4 billion every year in absenteeism.
As a result, the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens, recently designed a well-being initiative that included yoga as part of a major drive to improve the wellbeing of NHS staff.
Numerous studies have demonstrated yoga’s efficacy in addressing some of the common issues faced by healthcare staff - including depression, lower back pain and metabolic disorders – but it can also improve efficiency at work and encourage greater compassion towards patients.
Reducing the Impact of Stress on Our Health
Back in our evolutionary past, hunter-gatherers worked on average for 3-5 hours a dayfinding food and building shelter. The rest of their time was dedicated to social activities and not worrying about the mortgage.
It’s fair to say that most of us find the modern world very different, and while we aren’t faced with being eaten by things with very big teeth, the level of background stress we all experience is unarguably more persistent.
Because stress is implicated in so many diseases, yoga’s effectiveness in the prevention and management of stress is paramount to reducing the burden on the healthcare systems. If we can all encourage more people to practice yoga, we can attempt to reduce the negative emotional states that pervade so many of our lives. We naturally become healthier, happier and less reliant on the services of overstretched doctors and nurses.
Ultimately, it’s likely that most of us will need the healthcare service at some point in our life, but we can all choose to make a difference. Whether it’s through our own self-care or through those we teach, the beauty of yoga is that it’s inexpensive and accessible to everyone, just as modern healthcare should be.
Looking for a gentle and restorative form of yoga to help alleviate ailments? Try yin yoga!