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John’s Letter, Summer 2010: Answering America’s Healthcare Dilemma: More Yoga

Before the health care bill passed earlier in the year, the health care debate provided the primary topic of conversation around the country. Now that the bill has passed, the furor has faded a bit – for the moment. It will, like Gen. MacArthur, return, because being humans subject to the frailties and vagaries of the body, we will always be concerned with health.

Another reason we will continue to be occupied with the issue of health care is its ever-increasing cost. Yes, one of the primary purposes of the new bill was to reduce the long term upward spiral of health care costs, and by most accounts, the measure is projected to do that. But costs will continue to rise nonetheless for a variety of reasons: increasing population, more expensive hi-tech tests and treatments, and the current poor health of a huge segment of the population.

A good indication of the scope of poor health in the US can be found in obesity and diabetes rates and trends. It is important to note that obesity and diabetes are related in many ways and dramatically illustrate the interlocking nature of physical condition, disease, poor health, and costs. The Obesity Society reports a dramatic increase in obesity in the US in the past 20 years. Currently, more than 64% of US adults are either overweight or obese, a 36% increase! The CDC reports that cases of diabetes doubled from 1990 to 2005 and projected that if that trend continues, one in three people born in 2000 will develop diabetes! That ought to scare the daylights out of all of us; hence the exclamation marks. Taking care of all these people is going to cost a fortune. And that doesn’t even take into account the pain and misery they/we will go through.

What, you might ask, are we to do about obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, heart disease, and the host of other maladies that beset us humans? And what about the mounting health care costs that undermine our competitiveness in global markets and rob us of resources we could use to advance medical knowledge and attend to a slew of societal ills.

Well, as my old friend and colleague, Shelley Greenberg of Evergreen Yoga, says, “Whatever the question, the answer is: More Yoga.”

More Yoga. An ever-growing number of studies indicates that improved health is one of the likely benefits of practicing yoga. For one thing, when you’re doing yoga postures (asanas), you’re exercising. That means that you are stimulating circulation and respiration, toning your muscles, lubricating your joints, and cleansing and nourishing your organs through increased blood flow.

More Yoga. Furthermore yoga helps to quiet your sympathetic nervous system and engage your parasympathetic nervous system, which among other things, leads to a healthier response to stress. Chronic stress can throw our metabolism out of whack and disrupt the extremely complicated hormonal and chemical interactions in our body that keep us organically balanced and healthy. Under persistently stressful conditions, our immune system is compromised, and we become increasingly susceptible to the onslaughts of the harmful viruses and bacteria that surround us all the time.

More Yoga. An even more important benefit of yoga is the sensitivity you develop. Because of this heightened sensitivity, you can catch much earlier in the process the subtle signals that your body sends when it is starting to encounter difficulty. And you will learn from attending to your body in your practice over a protracted period of time what your body requires to maintain a healthy equilibrium.

Which brings us to one of the biggest problems in tackling the national healthcare dilemma: the issue of personal responsibility versus our responsibility (whatever you perceive it to be) to take care of one another. In this arena, the underlying philosophy of yoga can give us some valuable insights.

That’s YOUR body you’re traveling around in. Sure you got genes from folks further on down the line, and you live in a polluted environment, and the bozo in the lane next to you on the beltway might decide to add an extra line to his text message while he drifts into your lane. You don’t control lots of things that can have a significant impact on your health. You do get dealt a hand with certain cards in it, and there are other players in the game. But this is draw poker we’re playing here. You can trade in a few cards and get some new ones, even if you do have to keep a few. And how you play the cards you wind up with makes a big difference in the outcome of the game.

More Yoga. To stick with the poker metaphor a little longer, you can practice yoga, stack the deck, and improve your odds of sticking around for the next hand – or not. You have to live with the decisions you make regarding your body: what you put in it and what you do with it. Your yoga practice will make this fact clearer to you as you see it being borne out each day on the mat. Eat a surf and turf dinner at 11:00pm and follow it up with a banana split; then see how you feel doing forward bends the next morning. Yoga empowers you by making you aware that you have a huge say in how your body works and how you feel. Health care, YOUR health care, IS your responsibility.

And then when that bozo does add another line to his text message and winds up in your lap, or that history of early cardiac death in your family causes you to have a massive heart attack, when you wind up in the hospital for a month with six months of rehab staring you in the face, and your insurance company does the “you’re not covered for that” dance, what then? What if everybody else in the country has decided with respect to health insurance, “Hey, we’re all responsible for our own health here. Sorry, buddy. You’re on your own.” And there you are with a mountain of bills and a hollow wallet. Is that way you want it to be?

More Yoga. As you learn in your yoga practice that all your parts – body, breath, mind, and spirit – are inextricably interrelated, you also learn that all the parts of the Universe are similarly interconnected. What happens to one part affects the others. We’re all in this together.

So it seems to me that, understanding the pain and the expense that afflicts my neighbor when she falls ill is going to take its toll on me somewhere down the line, the only way to deal with health care on a national basis is to provide for my neighbor in her time of need[. A]nd in the meantime, to wake up all my neighbors to the fact that their choices are going to affect not just them but all of us and that they have the power to make choices that will give them the greatest opportunity to have a healthier life and healthier world. The best way I’ve found to do that is by practicing and teaching yoga. Because one thing I know that is going to improve the health care situation in America is – MORE YOGA.

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One response to this post.

  1. Dear John,

    What a wonderful writer you are!! I enjoyed studying with you in Dallas a few weeks ago. I am so pleased to have your website as a resource for great articles on yoga and life. Thanks for all that you put into your yoga.

    Pauline Schloesser,
    Houston, TX

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