When we talk about achieving optimal health through yoga therapy, one of the most interesting considerations is shifting from a medical model to a holistic model of treatment. A medical model assumes a subject–object relationship between the health care provider and client. This means that the provider (subject) is expected to effect some kind of change in the patient or client (object). The basic expectation is that this change will be achieved through assessment, diagnosis, and some kind of intervention such as drugs, surgery, or therapy. The patient is deemed a passive recipient of treatment rather than a proactive participant in his or her own healing process.
It’s important to note that many medical practitioners do not necessarily want to function in this way. While they may encourage their patients to take more responsibility for their health, it is not within their professional scope to provide the supporting structures from which those changes can happen. Patients may leave the doctor’s office with a recommendation to reduce their stress, improve their diet, or increase their exercise but have no idea how to actually go about it. While the medical practitioners can inform their patients that health is connected to implementing some course of action, the subject–object model they are working under doesn’t allow them to follow up on the implementation of their recommendations. It is up to patients to create or seek other support from which lifestyle changes can be implemented.
The subject object model has real advantages when dealing with acute cases that need diagnostic support and solutions. In crucial life-and-death scenarios such as an appendix that is about to burst, a serious accident, or emergency surgery, patients cannot proactively respond to what is happening in the moment. However, if they use yoga therapy lifestyle principles to take care of themselves before the acute distress, they have set the stage for an improved immune response and expedited recovery.
The subject object model has been less successful in dealing with lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer and heart disease, arthritis, osteoporosis, hypertension, and common digestive disorders. It might be convenient for patients to let their doctors treat the symptoms of a lifestyle disease. But it is a false convenience because although these interventions might be helpful at the onset of symptoms, they typically do not resolve the root causes. When we couple the tendency to treat the symptoms instead of the cause with the fact that many common medications have side effects that are just as bad as—and sometimes worse than the original complaints, patients become trapped in a cycle of disempowerment and unnecessary suffering. This is where the holistic model of yoga therapy can be an invaluable companion to current health care practices. Yoga therapy is not a replacement for modern medicine or psychological counseling. Instead, it helps patients establish healthy patterns and lifestyle choices that support the work they are already doing with their doctor, psychologist, physical therapist, chiropractor, nutritionist, or other health care provider.
As the name implies, the holistic model emphasizes the importance of the whole human being and exploring the interdependence of its parts. Yoga therapy designates the different aspects of human experience into five layers of reality that are known as the koshas. They progress from the gross (that which is more tangible) to subtle (less tangible) in this order: physical, energetic, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.
In addition to the holistic perspective, a multitude of yoga therapy practices can be used to keep the active person active. These include movement explorations, yoga poses, breathing lessons, exercises to increase mental clarity, and other processes that support personal growth and evolution.