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, chiropractic, 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 on carpal tunnel syndrome, PTSD, diabetes, fibromyalgia, 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 that 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?