What do you do when you need help rehabilitating a knee injury? When
you’re depressed? When you have back pain? According to the National Institutes
of Health (NIH), about one
in four people in the U.S. have tried non-conventional therapy, including
acupuncture, chiropractics, and yoga, to help heal themselves.
In the U.S., yoga’s therapeutic effects on heart patients became widely
known in the early 1990s, when Dr. Dean Ornish, working
with yoga teacher Nischala
Joy Devi, showed that yoga and diet could actually reverse heart disease.
Recently, a number of scientific studies have verified yoga’s health benefits
tunnel syndrome, PTSD,
depression, and other
conditions, and last month, the NIH released a video discussing yoga’s beneficial
effects on low-back pain.
The International Association of Yoga
Therapists, founded in 1989, has strived to establish yoga as a valuable
therapy. Recently, IAYT determined educational standards and started
accrediting training programs for yoga therapists. Still, many people associate
yoga more with fitness and
appearance than with healing. And though Medicare
recently approved Dean Ornish’s program for heart disease, yoga therapy for
other conditions may not be covered by your health insurance company.
According to John
Kepner, the executive director of IAYT, most people who seek yoga therapy
pay for it out of their own pockets. Fortunately, Kepner adds, “Yoga therapy is very inexpensive
compared to the full costs of conventional medicine.”
If you can’t afford to pay a yoga therapist directly, you do have other
options. You will, however, need to be proactive. There’s a distinction between
yoga therapy vs. practicing yoga for general well-being. To help make the case
that visits to a yoga
therapist qualify as a medical expense, first seek a diagnosis and obtain a
recommendation for yoga therapy from an understanding M.D.
If you’re self-employed and you have a Health
Savings Account (HSA), it can be used to pay for yoga therapy visits. So
can an employer-funded Health
Reimbursement Arrangement (HRA). If you contribute part of your salary
toward a Flexible
Spending Arrangement (FSA), check with your employer’s FSA administrator to
see if yoga therapy qualifies as a medical expense. In all cases, keep good
records and document your expenses.
A number of yoga
therapists are also certified medical professionals, including
psychologists, nurse practitioners, or physical therapists. As licensed
providers, they are accustomed to working with insurance companies regarding
reimbursement. Check with your yoga therapist to see how he or she prefers to
handle billing arrangements.
One reason alternative therapies like yoga are effective is because
patients who are proactive about their health are more likely to follow through
with treatment regimens and commit to necessary lifestyle changes. Hospitals
and clinics are beginning to understand this, and a growing number, from Massachusetts
General to UCLA,
offer yoga as part of an integrative approach to health care. These programs
are often available at a reasonable cost or on a sliding scale, and some may
even be covered by insurance.
If your health insurance covered it, would you see a yoga therapist?