Academic journal article Human Organization

Yoga as Entrée to Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Medically Pluralistic Practices

Academic journal article Human Organization

Yoga as Entrée to Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Medically Pluralistic Practices

Article excerpt

Yoga is increasingly ubiquitous in the United States and globally. The growth of yoga's popularity alongside Indian healing philosophies, including Ayurvedic medicine, makes yoga an important influence on conceptualization of health in holistic terms. Because of these philosophies, the growing use of yoga has implications for how healthcare is sought and utilized. Yoga practitioners are likely to engage in pluralistic health care-seeking practices, yet, the underlying perspectives that drive yoga practitioners to engage in particular health practices are poorly understood in anthropological and public health literature. This study examined perspectives on health care-seeking among long-term yoga practitioners in a yoga community in Florida. Based on semi-structured interviews conducted in 2010 with 26 adults in a Florida yoga center who have practiced yoga at least once per week for at least one year, the study found that long-term yoga practitioners utilized yoga and other systems of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to address health needs that were not met by biomedicine. Moreover, once individuals embarked on long-term yoga practice, they expanded their health care-seeking practices to other CAMs. This study contributes to understanding of the pluralization of health care-seeking practices, highlights concerns with the biomedical health system, and contributes to current debates on health care reform.

Key words: yoga, complementary and alternative medicine, health care-seeking behavior, medical pluralism


Yoga is becoming increasingly ubiquitous in the United States - yoga classes are offered at fitness and private centers around the country, yoga-related clothing has established a significant market niche, and the media even track celebrities' yoga routines. Yet this modern-day phenomenon, which has been described by scholars as both "energy medicine" and "mind-body medicine," has a long history of practice in India, possibly dating back 5,000 years (Chaoul and Cohen 2010; NCCAM 2010). Nevertheless, yoga as it is practiced today actually only dates back to the early 20th century, and many practitioners are unaware of this history (Singleton 2010). The growth of yoga's popularity alongside Indian spiritual and healing philosophies, including Ayurvedic medicine, make yoga inseparable from influences that conceptualize health and well-being in spiritual terms. Simultaneously, yoga as a health-related practice comes up against other health care systems in the United States, in particular biomedicine and CAM, and, therefore, has been the subject of a number of studies.

CAM is a broad and diverse field of medical systems and health care practice that are distinguishable by the fact that they generally lie outside the field of western biomedical practice. Yoga, as used by some, is just one form of CAM. CAM can be defined as "mind-body medicine, biologically based practices, manipulative and body-based practices, and energy medicine" (Chaoul and Cohen 20 1 0: 1 67). It is also not uncommon for CAMs to include spiritual components. Each CAM practice may include all or parts of the aforementioned aspects. Since CAM is not a single healing philosophy, as the name would suggest, each modality can be comprised of multiple facets of what we have come to understand as CAM. As such, yoga as a CAM is also multidimensional, including philosophies about which foods one should or should not eat (due to particular health consequences), what are the appropriate breathing exercises to improve health and spiritual awareness, etc. Therefore, when describing a specific aspect of yoga as CAM, this article uses the appropriate terminology for that aspect given that simply saying "yoga" would not suffice to explain the importance of a particular argument.

The pursuit of health (in addition to spiritual goals) has been identified as the main reason for dedicated yoga practice (Hoyez 2007). A wealth of social science scholarship shows that consistent yoga practice is used by practitioners as a form of medical system and a self-care strategy, in addition to being perceived by practitioners as a "contemporary transnational [spiritual] community" (Strauss 2002b:237). …

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