As a Physical Therapist (PT), I have observed the compounding effect that comorbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, indigestion, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and depression have had on people suffering from acute injury, degenerative diseases, and chronic pain. These experiences have assured me that people are more than just their bones, muscles, soft tissues and nerves. Their bodies are intimately connected to their minds, and together they make up a complex, dynamic, neurological ecosystem that must be well balanced in order to heal, sustain itself and thrive. The delicate relationship between the body and mind is multifactorial, and the prevailing biomedical model minimally equips practitioners with the necessary tools to understand and treat from this perspective.
Compelled to empower individuals to regain control and independence of their health, I began to study and integrate eastern medicine approaches inspired from Yoga into the western biomedical method. I discovered that I am not alone in my endeavors, and joined the Professional Yoga Therapy Institute in 2018. I am now practicing the evidence-based method of Medical Therapeutic Yoga (MTY) as established in 2000 by Ginger Garner, PT, DPT, ATC/LAT, PYT.
MTY is an integrative approach to healthcare, supporting yoga as complementary rehabilitative medicine. It combines conventional PT with traditional Yoga practices. It takes a biopsychosocial approach that considers the 5 foundational pillars of wellness – physical, psychosocial-emotional, energetic, intellectual and spiritual health. This moves beyond the concept of treating a person primarily based on biomechanical principles, which keeps the body and mind separate. Rather, imbalances within a person’s whole system are acknowledged and addressed, promoting homeostasis for healing and repair.
MTY uses a standardized way to assess and treat an individual through a plan of care using a Functional Movement Algorithm (FMA). The method provides a step-by-step checklist to ensure safe alignment, adequate breathing, and appropriate nervous system responses through a developmental movement sequence. Distinct observations of a person’s neurophysiological reactions to movement and their environment, as supported by emerging neuroscience, is considered throughout to support a balanced mind-body connection and state. The FMA is a unique key evaluative tool of MTY, which I use as a gauge in both private practice and group classes.1-2
MTY also encourages self-awareness through contemplative and introspective practices, helping to shift individuals from a reactive, sensory-fed, over-driven nervous system to that of a relaxed and restorative state where healing can take place. Inclusion of mindfulness, meditation, and the acknowledgment of feelings related to purpose, experience, and goals, have had a significant impact on people’s health. Equipping people with these lifelong strategies have encouraged independent self-study to strengthen their own physical and emotional connection, leading to higher levels of self-efficacy and positive lifestyle choices in the long-term.3
I integrate MTY with private PT sessions. Largely, I have shifted from the traditional home exercise program prescription that focuses solely on the physical domain of health, and prescribe comprehensive individualized home programs that address all 5 domains of wellness. Programs include PT exercises, yoga postures, breathing practices, mindfulness techniques, lifestyle considerations, stress management strategies, self-care activities, and daily routine recommendations related to diet and sleep. I work to encourage patients to self-recognize their own habits and conditioning, and support their motivation and ability to make informed healthy conscious choices.
I also offer MTY group classes where individuals can build positive relationships with others in a safe and supportive community environment. I include education related to anatomy, pain science, and yogic philosophy. Classes are enhanced with use of therapeutic touch, visualization, sound, and aromatherapy to facilitate relaxation, introspection, and a balanced nervous system.
As a therapist, I am prone to “burning out” if I do not give back and take care of myself, which can lead to impartial outcomes. MTY has imparted me with a lifestyle of prioritizing self-care to stay balanced and healthy. By living and embodying what I teach, I can naturally care for and guide my patients with a balanced and compassionate approach.4
What has become apparent to me is that in this industrialized, consumer-driven, highly stressed society, it is imperative for clinicians to simultaneously attend to the biological, psychological, and social dimensions of illness in order to best serve their patients.4 Medical Therapeutic Yoga provides a complementary holistic alternative to the existing biomedical model with use of a biopsychosocial approach. This holistic yogic lens is a revolutionary way of understanding how a person’s subjective experience, lifestyle, and personal circumstances serve as essential contributors to accurate diagnosis, treatment decisions, and health outcomes.
Sylvie Le, DPT
- Garner, G. Medical Therapeutic Yoga: Biopsychosocial Rehabilitation and Wellness Care. Edinburgh: Handspring Publishing; 2016.
- Porges, SW. The Pocket Guide to The Polyvagal Theory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company; 2017.
- Willcox, G. (1982). The Feeling Wheel: A Tool for Expanding Awareness of Emotions and Increasing Spontaneity and Intimacy. Transactional Analysis Journal, 12(4), 274–276.
- Borrell-Carrió F, Suchman AL, Epstein RM. The biopsychosocial model 25 years later: principles, practice, and scientific inquiry. Ann Fam Med. 2004;2(6):576-82.