The Cost-Effectiveness of Yoga Therapy

OrnishFor the past 27 years, Dr. Dean Ornish has been directing a series of clinical trials proving that a Yoga-based program of comprehensive lifestyle changes—based on Sri Gurudev’s teachings—can reverse the progression of even severe coronary heart disease. Dr. Ornish, who is founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute (PMRI), and clinical professor of medicine at the University of California (UCSF), San Francisco, was a longtime close personal friend and student of Sri Swami Satchidananda. Here, he discusses his latest research which continues to place him in the forefront of his field.

Integral Yoga Magazine:  How important is research in influencing medical practices?

Dean Ornish:  I used to think if we did good science, published in major medical journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, Circulation, American Journal of Cardiology, New England Journal of Medicine, and so on, that this would change medical practice.

In retrospect, that was a little naïve. I have come to learn that the major determinant of medical practice is not only science but, even more importantly, reimbursement. If we change reimbursement, then we change medical practice and medical education. Otherwise, it remains on the fringe.

IYM:  How have you been able to affect reimbursement?

DO:  Beginning in 1993, my colleagues and I at PMRI began training hospitals around the country to show that people in other parts of the United States could do it as well as in California and that this approach was medically effective and cost-effective. We now have data on more than 2,000 patients who have gone through these hospital-based programs.

In brief, we found bigger changes in diet and lifestyle and better improvements in clinical outcomes, by far, than had ever before been shown. Mutual of Omaha, for example, saved almost $30,000 per patient. And, Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Pennsylvania found that they cut their medical costs by fifty percent in one year. Based on these findings, Medicare is now completing a demonstration project in the hospitals we trained.

My hope is that they will make a defined benefit in the near future, because Medicare is the tipping point. In other words, if Medicare pays for programs like this, than so will other insurance companies, thereby making it available to those who most need it and changing medical education as well.

IYM:  Would you tell us about your latest research?

DO:  We recently completed our first randomized control trial in collaboration with Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and UCSF to determine if the progression of prostate cancer can be slowed, stopped, or even reversed by making similar changes in diet and lifestyle.

We presented our findings at the American Urological Association’s annual scientific meeting. In brief, we found that these diet and lifestyle changes may affect the progression of prostate cancer. Therefore, diet and lifestyle changes may be beneficial as an adjunct therapy, along with conventional treatments, for prostate cancer, and may also help to reduce the risk of getting it in the first place. These findings, combined with our cardiac studies, are giving many people new hope and new choices that they may not have had before.

IYM:  Thank you for taking the time from your very busy schedule to speak with us.

DO:  I remain deeply grateful to Sri Swami Satchidananda as none of this work would have been possible without him. I miss him very much.

About Dean Ornish, MD
Dr. Ornish is the author of many books including, Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease, Eat More, Weigh Less and his latest, The Spectrum. Dr. Ornish’s work is featured in the documentary, “Living Yoga,” now available on DVD. For more information on Dr. Ornish’s work, please visit his website,

Reprinted from Integral Yoga Magazine, Summer 2004

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