Yoga is so much more than physical exercise. It’s a lifestyle discipline that embraces and strengthens the connection between the mind, body, and spirit. The science of Yoga originated in ancient India with the intention of connecting emotional tranquility, mental balance, and overall physical health. In fact, the term “Yoga” actually means union. It’s about a union of the body, mind, and emotions that goes much further than any physical set of exercises. The practice seeks to create a lifestyle where positive thinking, harmony, calmness, and gratitude are just as important as physical health.

This set of core values makes Yoga one of the most effective holistic therapies for anyone seeking an integrative approach to overall physical and mental well-being. The reason Yoga and integrative health are so entwined is that Yoga promotes breath control and self-awareness. In fact, Yoga itself is its own holistic healthcare system because the mind and bodywork together for overall health. Physical poses, meditation, and breathwork are all utilized to promote overall wellness.

The poses we do in Yoga practice contribute to this deeper sense of connectedness and holistic alignment. The mindful stretching and long, disciplined periods of calm and focus enhance overall health and reduce stress while helping to balance hormonal, mitochondrial, enzymatic, and adrenal activity within the body. These natural body functions slow down as we get older, but regular Yoga practice can help to keep them functioning at an optimal level well into our senior years. Let’s take a deeper look into the role yoga plays in integrative health and why a holistic approach is so important.

Why a Holistic Approach to Health is So Important

Modern society commonly believes that overall health is only about physical health. While physical health is certainly crucial, we must understand that mental health is equally crucial. Integrative and holistic health are so important because they bridge this gap, focusing on both the health of the mind and of the body, knowing that one cannot be truly healthy if the other is struggling. Much like Yoga, integrative medicine takes a holistic view of health in all aspects – physical, emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual. That’s because they’re all intertwined with each other.

Integrative medicine and Yoga both emphasize long-term lifestyle changes that not only promote physical health but also emotional and mental well-being. Integrative medicine recognizes that mental factors such as stress, depression, anxiety, addiction, burnout, and even low self-esteem can take a toll on physical health. Without a holistic approach that seeks to balance mental and physical health, true health cannot be achieved. Yoga and integrative medicine can work hand in hand to help you achieve optimum health and balance.

How Yoga Can Play a Role in Integrative Medicine

When addressing illness or chronic pain, integrative medicine practitioners consider every aspect of your life. This includes your environment, stress level, posture, fitness, diet, emotional, psychological, and spiritual health, and of course, your lifestyle choices. “Integrative medicine, rather than targeting the individual symptoms, focuses on the optimal functioning of the entire body and its organs,“ says Dr. Miriam Rahav, an integrative health expert at Rahav Wellness. “Genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors all have a direct influence on long-term health and chronic health issues.”

Here are ten ways Yoga can play a role in an integrative approach to holistic health:

  1. Practicing Yoga regularly improves the connection between nerve cells in the brain and can even increase the brain’s size. This helps prevent neuro-degenerative disease and also improves memory and cognitive function.
  2. Each Yoga pose requires self-awareness and breath control. Practicing mindfulness in this way improves concentration and focus in daily life.
  3. Yoga improves spinal health and encourages good posture, reducing chronic back pain and lowering the risk of back injury.
  4. Yoga regulates the body’s stress response by lowering the heart and breath rate, reducing blood pressure, and improving blood flow to the cells and organs. These actions elicit a relaxation response that crosses over into a general sense of tranquility and well-being in daily life.
  5. Yoga encourages relaxed, deep breathing which lowers the risk of respiratory illness.
  6. Yoga promotes healthy aging by promoting body awareness, concentration, and balance. This reduces the risk of falls and injury that can come with age.
  7. Yoga stimulates the nervous system and expands the chest cavity. This improves lung function and strength for physical activity.
  8. Yoga improves brain health by supporting emotional balance at a psychological level. It also helps to regulate the production of the stress hormone cortisol.
  9. Yoga improves digestion, which improves the body’s ability to absorb nutrients and strengthens the immune system.
  10. Just like any other form of exercise, Yoga increases the production of oxytocin and endorphins- sometimes called happy hormones.

Some Final Thoughts

Modern culture often assumes that conventional medicine is more effective than alternative therapies like Yoga and integrative medicine. But the truth is, these holistic approaches can be much more successful in many cases. This is especially true of chronic health problems where lifestyle and behavior changes can have a major impact. For example, drug and alcohol abuse, poor diet and exercise habits, lack of sleep, and chronic stress are key contributors to a variety of health issues, including arthritis and diabetes.

Integrative practitioners know that lifestyle modifications, such as Yoga and nutrition therapy, can slow or even reverse many symptoms of chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, and much more. Moreover, in cases where conventional medicine can’t diagnose the condition, these alternative modalities offer a viable solution. That’s because holistic and integrative medicine seeks to address systemic imbalances in the mind and body that can improve your health immensely – often addressing issues beyond those you were seeking treatment for in the first place.

Beyond that, holistic therapies and integrative medicine offer viable solutions without the use of harmful pharmaceuticals with dangerous side effects. Popping a pill for every pain or ailment may provide temporary relief, but taking a holistic approach to your health sets the stage for lasting change.

About the Author:

Nicole McCray is an experienced content writer with a passion for all aspects of wellness. She worked a side gig at a yoga studio for years before becoming a mom, and absolutely fell in love with holistic and alternative therapies during her first pregnancy. She’s been proclaimed the “health nut” amongst family and friends, and when she’s not writing, Nicole can be found studying to become a health coach and reading up on all aspects of healthy living!