Yoga and Chiropractic

Balance is the medicine for a healthy life. Both yoga and chiropractic center many of their principles on the idea of balance. In yoga, balance exists among sthira (steadiness and alertness) and sukha (the ability to remain comfortable in a posture), pose and counterpose, and prana (the breath that enters the body) and apana (the breath that exits the body). In chiropractic, balance is considered in the assessment and treatment of flexible muscles and strong muscles, restricted ligaments and lax ligaments, and unrestricted joints and stable joints. If both yoga and chiropractic focus on the idea of balance in the body, how is it that there is such a divide between the practices of chiropractic and yoga?

Chiropractic has evolved significantly since its inception in 1895. Canadian chiropractic educational institutions are now ensuring that this form of manual medicine is taught with an evidence based approach. This means that if there is research supporting the use of a type of assessment or treatment, they will teach it, otherwise it will not make it into the curriculum. This is now changing the way many Canadian graduates practise chiropractic. This relates to the issue of yoga being employed as a form of patient rehabilitation as there is little research supporting yoga as an effective therapeutic option. Research is plentiful if you want gym rehabilitation exercises for a shoulder injury, but minimal if you want to consider yoga as the rehabilitative medium. For chiropractors who practise with an evidence based focus, this lack of specific research disappointingly discourages them from trusting in yoga as an adjunct to their patient plan of management. There is, however, a growing interest within the research community in yoga. Neuromusculoskeletal conditions are not yet leading the topics being studied, but fortunately strides are being made in the right direction.

In contrast with those who use science as the platform for their practice, there are many chiropractors who base their methods to a great extent on philosophy or previous clinical success. Those who prescribe specific exercises for prevention or rehabilitation tend to side more with the science-based troop. Therefore, those who aren't evidence based are less likely to incorporate something like yoga into their patient's plan of management for the purpose of rehabilitation. Of course, these are generalizations; however, they do need to be considered when evaluating the reasons why yoga and chiropractic seem so distant from one another when they both share similar goals.

In recognizing the science of yoga, the goal is not to lose the spiritual component or tradition associated with this ancient practice. It is to validate the postures that prove beneficial to patients and rule out or alter those that prove hazardous. With a deeper understanding of the science of yoga, only good things can come.

Currently, many chiropractors see yoga as a potentially hazardous activity for their patients and justifiably so. With much now known about the body, we can understand how many yoga postures pose a real threat of injury.

Similar to the diverse nature of the chiropractic profession is the world of yoga. With so many forms of yoga now in existence, how are students to know which style or teacher is safe unless they are properly educated? In speaking with a number of well recognized yoga instructors in the city, I was told that many yoga teachers are very knowledgeable of the neuromusculoskeletal system. These instructors have studied such subjects intensively for many years. However, with the Yoga Alliance's standards for teacher trainings being set at a minimum of 200 hours, many are not as educated as they ought to be. Those who are not intimately in tune with the anatomy and biomechanics of the body place their students at risk of injury. Large classes taught by inexperienced instructors as well as shyness in students who refuse to admit injuries prior to the class also increase the risks of injury. Attentive and skilled teachers will aid in improving the reputation yoga is developing due to the staggering increase of yoga related injuries (1).

A full understanding of the science behind the movements of yoga is what will prevent yoga injuries. For example, flexion of the lumbar spine (low back) is an incredibly risky movement in regards to disc herniation. However, it is seen in almost every yoga class. There are ways to avoid the hazardous movements of yoga, but without comprehension of the neuromusculoskeletal system, it is impossible to do so. Improving the communication among yoga instructors, yoga students, chiropractors and patients is essential in creating a community of more conscious and supportive individuals.

Chiropractic has changed dramatically over the years. It has evolved into a profession that addresses the neurological, muscular and skeletal systems equivocally, recognizing that there is more to treating a patient than merely adjusting them. Chiropractic addresses the body from head to toe, not just the spine. New techniques are in existence now that focus on treating muscles, such as Active Release Technique ® and Graston Technique ®, which are becoming wildly popular in the athletic population. Yes, adjustments are still a pivotal component of chiropractic, but are not always necessary. Just as changes are taking place in chiropractic, they are taking place in yoga as well. Staying abreast of the evolution of both yoga and chiropractic is just as important as understanding the foundation on which these practices were built.

Bridging the gap between yoga and chiropractic will not only improve the likelihood that chiropractors will refer patients to yoga studios, but, also the chance that yoga instructors and students will recognize conditions in others and in themselves that need to be addressed by a health care professional. With this, an improvement in the health of the population will come about as well as an improvement in their knowledge base. The two can marry wonderfully if an effort is made and with this union there will be benefits for all. Just think: If the scientific community completes enough research to support yoga as an efficient treatment for specific conditions, perhaps one day provincial health care programs will cover the cost of yoga classes. The possibilities are endless if we only position ourselves on the same side for the betterment of the community.

1. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1668470,00.html

Learn More about Dr. Carla Cupido.

My name is Carla Cupido and I am a chiropractor in Vancouver (Kitsilano), Canada, who believes strongly in the bond between yoga and chiropractic. I will be writing a series of articles on neuromusculoskeletal conditions and their connectedness to yoga from a chiropractor's perspective. I encourage you to learn as much as you can about the human body, as the more you understand, the better able you will be to protect yourselves from injury. I wish you all the best in your practices and in your lives! Namaste.

You can contact Dr. Carla Cupido by email at carla@drcarlacupido.com
or via her website: www.drcarlacupido.com.
Her practice is located at 3623 West 4th Avenue, Vancouver, V6R 1J2.
The phone number at the clinic is 604-222-4131.

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balanceandbreath, posted on November 24, 2011

Kregg, I know, teaches about those with high blood pressure can be at risk if doing inversion poses ...

sarahgingles, posted on September 13, 2010

Dr. Cupido,

Thank you for discussing the natural connection between yoga and chiropractic. I was hoping to read what you think are the "many yoga postures [that] pose a real threat of injury." Is there really a threat if we follow the yoga principle of listening to our bodies in each pose and maintaining comfort? Are there really some poses that, even when performed comfortably, cause harm to our bodies? I find this hard to believe - a substantive article would be much appreciated if you are willing to give it.

Namaste

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