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Yoga Provides Relaxing Alternative to Health Care Facility Visits

Yoga can do more than just relax the body and mind. It also may contribute to improving health and well being.

According to a study by open-access scientific journal PLOS ONE, yoga and other mind-body intervention techniques, used to enhance the mind's capacity to affect the body's symptoms, can help reduce stress, build resiliency and reduce time and money spent in health care facilities.

James Stahl, one of the authors of the study, said what distinguishes mind-body medicine is it requires the active participation of the patient; it is not a passive process.

"Over the years, we've seen an increasing body of evidence of the effect of yoga on the immune system and cardiovascular system," Stahl said.

Other forms of mind-body training includes meditation and tai chi, he said.

He said the study showed that mind-body training tends to reduce the need for more health care services by making people more well. He said it is an inexpensive tool with almost zero side effects.

Stahl said he expects to see a change in the kinds of visits that are seen in the health care system, such as less visits due to stress-related illness, and a reduction in overall health care utilization.

Melissa Montilla, the owner of Sanctuary Yoga in Gainesville, starting doing yoga at a young age and began taking classes in her teens. She said yoga has helped her take care of herself, and she can’t imagine not doing it.

She attributes yoga to helping her out of an eating disorder and then through an operation that involved the removal of a mass from one of her ovaries. She said after this, she realized her body needed support, so she had to go to yoga to heal.

“It became a 100-percent support of my body, of my mind, of my heart," Montilla said. "It’s just this continuing, sweet exploration of how I can find more ways to release, more ways to open, more ways to be more authentically myself.”

She said yoga teaches you to fall in love with your body, trust it and honor it, which also contributes to a healthy mental state.

According to the study, health care expenses due to stress-related disorders, such as depression and anxiety, cost more than $80 billion in 2012. These types of disorders are the third-highest cause of health care expenditures, after heart disease and cancer.

Compared to an emergency room visit, mind-body interventions are relatively inexpensive and can save patients thousands of dollars a year, according to the study. More than 90 percent of people suffering from stress or stress-related problems seek frequent help through health care providers.

Robin Dold, a math teacher at Eastside High School, said she does yoga to maintain mental and physical well-being. She began doing yoga by using instructive books in the early 2000s but didn’t start taking classes until 2007.

“I think a lot of times people build up chronic illnesses from just symptom suppression,” Dold said. “Having a yoga practice helps me stay in touch with my body, so when my body is worn out and requesting rest, I’m able to acknowledge that and then give my body rest and give it what it needs.”

Dold said she thinks yoga helps patients advocate for their body in a healthcare setting because yoga can help people understand their body's inner and outer workings. She said it gives patients the knowledge to ask more questions about a diagnosis from a health care provider.

Liz Gottlieb, a part-time mental health counselor and full-time author, began doing yoga because of the physical benefits.

Gottlieb said she had an irregular heartbeat, and she participated in a study for cardiac patients to see if yoga would address that issue.

As part of the study, she took a yoga and meditation mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) class to examine the relationship between yoga and cardiac health. She said the yoga definitely helped her heart.

Gottlieb said when she goes to yoga class, she feels all her muscles being relaxed, addressed and challenged.

“I literally leave [class] with this feeling that somebody just took care of me,” she said.

She said yoga addresses the slowing down of the heart rate and releases physical tension.

“All of these things keep you out of the hospital, whether it’s anxiety, depression, heart disease … it’s quite intense how enjoyable it is and how productive it is at the same time,” she said.

Kristine is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.