With a growing body of research proving yoga’s healing benefits, it’s no wonder more doctors—including those with traditional Western training—are prescribing this ancient practice to their patients. What’s behind the trend, and will it help you feel better? YJ investigates.
In a small workout room with a handful of other Navy veterans, David Rachford looked out the window to watch the fringed leaves of a tall royal palm tree wave softly in the warm Southern California breeze. The soothing view eased the challenging exercise routine he was trying for the first time. It was just a simple twist, Supta Matsyendrasana (Supine Spinal Twist)—nothing like the rigorous daily training he’d done as a damage controlman on aircraft carriers—but his legs refused to cooperate, due to the painful nerve damage and severe sciatica he’d suffered as a result of a career-ending back injury. As an outpatient receiving pain- management treatment at the Veterans Administration West Los Angeles Medical Center, Rachford was now required to attend this weekly yoga physical-therapy class. It was the last place he’d ever expected to find himself.
“I thought yoga was for thin, bendy, liberal, hippie vegetarians and affluent housewives, not tough, macho ‘warrior’ types,” says the 44-year-old, now a Web developer in Santa Barbara, California. “But at that time, I felt pretty broken. I was in a lot of pain and open to anything that might help. I was depressed and scared at the prospect of surgery, and mourning the loss of my health and my self-image of being a physically fit ‘tough guy.’” Rachford also worried he wouldn’t be able to hold his own in a yoga class. “I couldn’t bend much or stand more than a couple minutes without assistance,” he says.