Ph.D. & Richard Usatine, M.D.
Authors of "Yoga Rx"
therapist Larry Payne, Ph.D. and Richard Usatine, M.D., are the authors of
"Yoga Therapy Rx," an innovative self-help program using Yoga to heal common
ailments, to be published by Broadway Books in October 2002.
The authors originally met as Yoga therapist and client and went on
to establish together at UCLA the first accredited Yoga course at any
school of medicine in the U.S.
the topics covered in this interview, recorded on May 25, 2002 in Los
Angeles, are the genesis of "Yoga Therapy Rx," what Yoga therapy is and whom
it's for, what ailments respond especially well and how fast results can
be realized from doing Yoga.
In "Yoga Rx" you talk a lot about Yoga but you say the whole book is
more about Yoga therapy. What
is Yoga therapy and how is that different from Yoga?
Yoga therapy is the one-on-one application of the principles of Yoga to
people with special needs, people who don't fit in a group class.
In America we mix the historical Indian view of Yoga, which
includes spirituality, with modern medicine and psychology.
Those are the three areas that come together to form the Western
version of Yoga therapy.
My own personal situation
is a great example of how Yoga therapy is different than studying Yoga. Most people who study Yoga in this country will go to a group
class and if they can't keep up with the class because they have back
pain or knee pain or some medical illness that causes fatigue they can
hurt themselves. That
happened to me with some knee pain in a class that was too rough for me. So when I met Larry he designed a program for me and my
back, taking me into account as an individual, and he was prescribing
Yoga for me the way I would prescribe medicine or therapy for a patient.
And it is something special and different from what people know as Yoga
without the therapy.
Yoga therapy only for people who are sick or injured?
You could say that it's especially helpful for those people but
there are a lot of people with chronic conditions that aren't
necessarily sick. Chronic
back problems, chronic fatigue, conditions that come and go, so for a lot
of these people a general conditioning Yoga class is very helpful, and
they may fit into a group class. There's a trend in America now in which
Yoga is very fitness-oriented. So
if you go into the wrong group class at the wrong time in your life, Yoga
can have a negative effect. If
you pick the right style of class that fits who you are, how old you are,
your fitness level and flexibility, even psychologically where you are at,
and you find the right mix, you will do well.
If you don't you can have a problem.
I think Yoga therapy could be for people who are in good health who
want help on an individual basis for improving their health. In some ways Yoga therapy is to Yoga what a personal trainer
is to an exercise class.
What kind of health conditions respond best to Yoga therapy?
The book covers a lot of ailments but are there some areas in which
it works especially well?
Anything to do with the musculoskeletal system such as the back, neck,
knees, shoulders, and hips -- all of those things are probably the most
responsive quickly. Arthritis
responds well. Then there's
some research on the circulatory system related to heart problems,
hypertension, all of those are the next best to treat with Yoga therapy.
And then there are a lot of areas after that which can be helped.
I am personally aware of some nice progress in the area of MS, in
diabetes, people with endocrine problems, and it goes on, chronic
fatigue, fibromyalgia are some that come to my mind immediately because
these are areas I personally see tremendous gains in. Addiction can also be helped by Yoga. One of our medical students used Yoga to help with smoking
Richard Usatine: I
agree with everything Larry just said.
The musculoskeletal problems come to mind immediately, because so
much of Yoga involves stretching, movement and strengthening.
And that's all great for any problems with muscles, joints and
skeletal problems. But you
can look at every organ system and find a way that Yoga can be helpful.
The cardiovascular system with high blood pressure and cardiac
problems -- Yoga can improve fitness in general. Then there's also
asthma and breathing problems and a lot of Yoga involves the breath. And you can use breathing to bring down anxiety and manage
stress. Since asthma can be
triggered by stress and anxiety, Yoga can help train a person to use the
breath in a relaxed manner. And
there have been controlled studies that have shown Yoga to help asthma.
And anxiety problems are very common and one of the things people
tend to do when they are anxious is to breath fast and feel short of
breath like they can't catch their breath and Yoga can slow that down.
And finally, anything that is stress related -- and there are so many
medical problems that are stress related -- irritable bowl syndrome,
ulcers, even skin problems that are made worse by stress, anything you can
do to help a person decrease stress in their life can help these kinds of
problems. And Yoga is a
wonderful stress reduction method.
The title of your book, "Yoga Rx," is unusual.
How did you come up with that and what does it mean?
Larry Payne, Ph.D.:
I initially wanted to write a Yoga therapy book that was a little
different from all the other Yoga books -- one that addressed specific
ailments as well as overall well-being.
"Yoga Rx" by its name implies something like a prescription and
I've always worked very closely with doctors, so I thought it would be a
great idea, especially for the layperson, to make a special marriage
between Yoga and medicine.
Richard Usatine, M.D.:
Larry came to me with the idea for the book with the title already
conceived, and I thought it was a very meaningful title.
It reminds me of something I do with my patients, which is to use
my prescription pad for more than just writing prescriptions for
medicines. Not all doctors
will do this, but I will write prescriptions for behavioral therapy and
lifestyle changes. I'll say
things like, Quit Smoking, with suggestions on how to do that, or an
exercise prescription, and even a prescription for Yoga.
I've been doing that for years.
What I like about doing that is patients often chuckle or laugh
because it's a funny idea to them that the doctor would write anything
but a medication on a prescription pad.
But then they take it very seriously because I mean it as seriously
as I would prescribing any medicine. I encourage them to take it home, put
it on their refrigerator as a reminder, show it to their spouses or
significant others to emphasize it's as important as any other
medication. So it's very
apt what we are doing with this book on Yoga.
We are saying this can be as important as any medication; this is a
lifestyle change; this is a way to improve the quality of your life.
did you two meet and come to write this book together?
The way we met stemmed from an accident I had when I was in Paris at a
conference many years ago. I
was being driven to the airport and the driver took her eyes off the road
for moment and rear-ended the car ahead of us.
From that I developed back pain that became chronic and continued
for more than a year even though I went to many medical doctors and had
tests and scans, injections and medicines. Finally
a friend who is a physical medical specialist mentioned that he thought I
would benefit from Yoga and said the best person he could recommend was
Larry Payne. We joked about
the name "Payne" and how he was a back "pain" specialist.
I had done Yoga before and thought it was a great idea but had not
thought about it to treat back pain.
I called Larry right away and that was how we first met.
And from doing Yoga, I went from having chronic back pain to
virtually no back pain. Whenever I start to feel it now I do some Yoga and the pain
"Yoga Rx," you blend the medical doctor's point of view with that of
a Yoga therapist's on more than 20 ailments.
Are you the first ever to do this in a book?
To my knowledge, we are the first to do that as a team in a book for the
lay- person. There are a few
Yoga therapy books out there geared more toward professional Yoga teachers
but not written with a medical doctor.
7) What would you say to skeptics who might wonder if you can learn Yoga
I would say the best thing to have is a one-on-one teacher. But for people
who don't have a teacher and have problems that make them afraid to go
to a class our book has good material that will help them. We may help make that bridge to a teacher or the book itself
may do it.
The book Larry co-wrote before this, "Yoga for Dummies," has
helped many people learn Yoga. But
like many things it's not just good enough to read about it in a book,
you have to practice it. If
you do more than sit and read it and you actually practice the routines
you can learn some life skills that will help you.
We have many photographs that show how the postures are done,
first book was about skin surgery, with step-by-step guides on how to
perform simple skin surgery. So
you may ask the question: can you learn surgery from a book?
And the answer is yes! You
can learn to do some surgical procedures without a surgeon teacher
just as you can learn some Yoga without a Yoga teacher.
A lot of people think Yoga requires a lot of physical power, strength and
flexibility. Is that true? Do
you need to be athletically endowed to do Yoga?
Absolutely not -- but you can achieve those things through Yoga.
You can literally be a paraplegic and do Yoga -- if you can breathe or
meditate you can do it. Just
about anyone can do Yoga.
Yoga can be safe for
anyone. A person paralyzed
from the waist down could do Yoga with the arms and the breathing.
If a person lost a leg, he or she could lay on his or her back and
do various exercises with the arms, upper body and their good leg or
remainder of the amputated leg. There are few physical conditions that
would prevent a person from doing Yoga.
Yoga can be beneficial for just about anyone.
You often see photos of perfectly fit people doing Yoga, some
touching their toes. People
with tight hamstrings cannot touch their toes, but you don't have to
touch your toes to do Yoga! One
of the things we emphasize in the book is do Yoga to your ability and
don't compete with anyone. It's
important to challenge yourself, but don't push too hard.
can a person find a good Yoga therapist in their area?
There are good Yoga therapists across the country. And there are many lineages of Yoga, different types.
Our book is oriented to the type of Yoga called Viniyoga, and in
the Resource section in our book we have listed some competent teachers in
this tradition. But there are
lots of good Yoga therapists out there.
Another good way to find the right therapist is to contact the
International Association of Yoga Therapists at www.iayt.org.
How long does it take to benefit from Yoga therapy? How fast can it work?
I'll give the patient perspective!
For me it worked within one to two weeks.
And I think that is very possible for many people. I felt better
after the first session.
You see results as soon as the first time, but it takes a few weeks to
realize it. Basically, in
three months you can be a different person altogether and change your life
How often do you have to do Yoga therapy in order to get results?
You have to consider that Yoga therapy is different than going to a group
class; it's for people who have a problem.
So what you're trying to do is get rid of the problem. Depending
on the person's condition, they can do it six out of seven days and in
some cases twice a day until the symptoms subside.
Whereas if someone is going for general conditioning in a group
class they can get good results going twice a week.
There are some similarities between Yoga therapy and physical therapy.
A physical therapist teaches you the exercise but in order for that
to work you have to go home and do what you have learned.
That's also true with Yoga therapy.
I believe Yoga therapy is more valuable for many people because it
combines the mind, the body, the breathing and consciousness of the
movement. My own preference
now is to prescribe Yoga therapy instead of physical therapy until the
physical therapist catches up and learns Yoga.
The body will heal better and feel better if Yoga is practiced
daily, or every other day at a minimum.
Dr. Usatine, how would you summarize the overall attitude medical doctors
have about Yoga?
Some doctors are already doing it themselves, and they might be open
to suggesting Yoga to patients because they have been exposed to the
benefits. There's only a
small group of doctors who have been exposed to Yoga in medical school.
Fortunately the UCLA School of Medicine has benefited from Larry's
teaching there. The fact that I was there with Larry to come up with the
first accredited Yoga class at a medical school means we now have students
who are graduating who started learning Yoga in their first year of
medical school. So there are
doctors getting it early in their training and some finding it in their
own lifestyles. As more
Americans are doing Yoga and asking about Yoga there is more of a medical
awareness of it. As the
number of Yoga therapists grows and the demand for it from patients grows,
Yoga will become a larger part of the practice of medicine in this
13) In "Yoga Rx," you point
out that Yoga therapy is not only about doing Yoga exercises.
What else does Yoga therapy encompass?
It includes lifestyle, so that applies to what you eat, and your
biomechanics -- how you walk, sit, stand, and so on.
It includes what your thoughts and outlook are, if they are
positive; the company you keep; your sleeping patterns.
And from a Yoga standpoint, it also includes how much water you
drink and taking breathing breaks to enhance your life force.
Yoga also has a spiritual component to it, and that's a personal
thing. In the book we talk
about the eight limbs of Yoga, dealing with moral codes, how you treat
other people, personal disciplines, and so forth.
So a lot of people don't come to Yoga for that but it kind of
sneaks up on you.
That makes good sense. Preventive
medicine is about having a healthy lifestyle and goes with good nutrition
and exercise. I still swim
many times a week, and alternate Yoga with swimming. I encourage my
patients to do Yoga, and cardiovascular exercises, things that get the
heart rate up and keep a vigorous pace.
Yoga is also a great way to learn to meditate, which is the
opposite of going for a run, when you have to sit still.
are a lot of things one might need to give up in order to have good
health. Tobacco, drugs, and
excessive alcohol are things that you have to give up to have a healthy
lifestyle, things you have to not
do. For example, there's no
degree of healthy smoking. People
who want good health need to quit that altogether.
And Yoga is a great way to do that because it helps to calm the
body. People use tobacco and
smoking to deal with stress, but they are much better off replacing that
you have a medical condition, is it safe to use your book without your
In most cases yes. But we
have disclaimers throughout the book in which we encourage people to check
with their doctor before doing certain things.
We point out that we don't have the answers to all medical
problems. There are many
medications and therapies that will be harmful for patients to go without. For example, a diabetic needs insulin if they have an insulin
deficiency. Someone with
severe depression probably needs anti-depressants but can increase their
health and well-being through Yoga therapy.
We try to make that clear throughout the book.
Yoga therapy is something that can be added to most regimens -- it's not a substitute for them.
more information or to arrange an interview, please contact:
Brian Jones / Broadway Books
212-782-2226 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Merry Aronson / MerryMedia
818-761-7472 / MerryAronson@earthlink.net