June 21st marks the International Day of Yoga, (the longest day of the year and the start of summer), envision how you can incorporate yoga into your life with a new or evolving goal. Do you aim to bring more balance to your emotions? Do you strive to sleep better? Are you looking to have more joy in your day to day life? As a naturopathic doctor and yoga teacher devoted to a regular yoga practice, I often recommend yoga to my patients.
Celebrating the Union of Yoga and Naturopathic Medicine
Developed as a pathway to achieve harmony between the soul and heart on the path to enlightenment, yoga began in India, circa 3000 B.C. While its roots are steeped in its spiritual benefits, yoga has been practiced just as long for the physical benefits it provides, including reduced disease states and recovery from physical ailments. Yoga is now popularized in the West by its ability to relieve stress and provide balanced fitness. Depending on the type of yoga chosen (Vinyasa flow, Power, Scaravelli, Kundalini, etc.) we can strength train, increase breath awareness, create lean body mass, balance chakras, increase cardiovascular health, and increase physical and emotional resiliency.
“A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14%. Encouragingly, similar findings were made at both the first and final session of the 8-week intervention.”Journal of Depression & Anxiety
In naturopathic medicine, yoga can be a powerful tool in addressing multiple facets of health that determine a patient’s sense of wellbeing. Below are the six fundamental principles of naturopathic medicine and how they are illustrated and supported by the practice of yoga.
The Healing Power of Nature
This refers to the understanding and trust NDs have in the body’s inherent wisdom to heal itself.
Yoga asanas (poses) allow us to trust our bodies and our breath, only moving as far into each posture as feels safe and encouraging the flow of energy to heal both emotional and physical pain.
Identify and Treat the Causes
NDs look beyond only symptoms and work to identify and treat the underlying cause of a patient’s complaint.
In yoga, we find postures that release areas of emotional and physical tension, giving insight into the roots of pain or illness. For example, heart opening poses can feel tight in the chest due to symptoms of high blood pressure or rapid heartbeat (tachycardia). The underlying cause of those symptoms may be chronic stress and anxiety. Releasing tension through breath and gentle chest muscle expansion allows for the emotional heart to reduce anxiety and stress. It also reduces blood pressure and increases vascular circulation, supporting the physical heart.
First Do No Harm
NDs aim to utilize the most natural, least invasive and least toxic therapies.
In yoga, we only go as far into postures as is supportive and safe for our bodies and our spirits. As advanced yoga postures have been popularized by social media and marketing, it is important to remember that yoga is first a practice of the soul and the heart and that the physical postures are only one manifestation of the practice and come later, if at all. When beginning with yoga and deep into a yoga practice, care and safety is paramount.
Doctor as Teacher
Naturopathic doctors advise patients on incorporating movement, exercise, and stress relief into everyday life so as to help patients achieve optimal health. Quite often in our busy daily schedules, we forget to incorporate self-care. The ND role as a teacher is to guide patients to consistently prioritize their health.
Treat the Whole Person
NDs view the body as an integrated whole in all its physical and emotional dimensions.
Yoga not only leads to more emotional health and physical fitness but also supports the entire system by increasing circulation to vital organs so that hormones and metabolic processes attain and maintain balance. Yoga lubricates joints and brings more oxygen to the brain through focused compression, twists, and extension asanas. Yoga stimulates the parasympathetic system allowing us to rest, digest, and feel at ease. This reduces cortisol (stress hormone), calms cranial nerves, and moves the lymph, moving toxins out of the body.
Research supports yoga as a healing modality that not only decreases stress significantly but also balances hormones, according to the Journal of Depression and Anxiety. A randomized group attended eight weekly prenatal Hatha yoga sessions, and researchers measured those participants’ saliva cortisol levels before and after the first and last classes of the intervention. A single session of yoga was found to reduce self-reported anxiety by one third and stress hormone levels by 14%. Encouragingly, similar findings were made at both the first and final session of the 8-week intervention.
Renowned Integrative Cardiologist Dr. Mimi Guarneri —who has a daily yoga and chanting practice—sees a steady acceptance of integrative and naturopathic medicine. “Soon it won’t be called alternative,” she says. “It will just be called medicine.”
NDs focus on disease prevention and overall health and wellness.
“Yoga eases stress and quiets the sympathetic nervous system, promoting healing. It directly lowers blood pressure and heart rate”
Integrative Cardiologist Elizabeth Kaback, MD
Yoga is an ideal practice for preventing disease and increasing overall health and wellness and can be integrated into the essential naturopathic foundations of health which include: sleep/rest, food/digestion, community/love, movement/exercise. Both on and off the mat, yoga provides an emotional and physical balance that supports every aspect of our lives.
I encourage my patients to create a mantra that embodies health goals, and to say that before and after a yoga class or on your mat at home or from a favorite hilltop! My personal mantra is:
My heart is kind, my mind is fierce, and my spirit is brave.
Natiya Guin, ND, MEd
About the author and photographer:
Natiya Guin, ND, MEd is a mother of three, an avid yogini, and a licensed naturopathic physician who specializes in the foundations of health with a special interest in lifestyle medicine to protect and heal women’s hearts. This includes prioritizing nutrition, movement, and exercise, sleep support, and providing tools for confidence including art (including photography) therapy.
She believes in supporting families and providing tools that allow each member to thrive individually and together through their unique needs and health concerns. Dr. Guin works closely with integrative cardiologists, internal medicine doctors, and other NDs, along with a team that includes osteopathy, acupuncture, massage, and Healing Touch™ under the leadership of renowned integrative cardiologist, Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC, ABOIM and Rauni Prittinen King, RN, MIH, BSN, CHTP/I, HNB-BC.
Cover image by Portrait of Health featuring Dr. Guin and family.
INM's team is made up of naturopathic doctors and health journalists.