Stressed in the West? Get a yoga prescription.

What happens when an ancient, Eastern tradition entices the modern market? As we’ve seen with yoga, modern conventions birth new variations of the ancient practice, while the ancient practice re-shapes modern conventions. When yoga collides with Western health and wellness culture, we end up with things like Paddleboard Yoga, Doga, Broga and Death Metal Yoga.

Cool. 

But the yoga craze has also helped redefine what people expect from an exercise class. Now, it’s not just about brute force and burning calories; it’s about the mind-body connection: harmonizing the breath with physical movement and cultivating introspection. Beyond the studio, yoga is also impacting allopathy, or what you might know as contemporary, Western medicine. Add “yoga therapy” to the growing list of new yoga species. Some providers prescribe the 5,000-year-old spiritual practice to help prevent and treat medical conditions.

Let’s say you suffer from anxiety, as about 40 million people in the U.S. do. Instead of, or in addition to, putting you on Xanax, a provider who leverages yoga therapy might prescribe a custom-fit blend of yogic activities.

But doctors have been advising patients to get more exercise for years. How is yoga therapy any different? While other forms of cardiovascular and weight-bearing workouts can deliver many health benefits, the power of yoga may go deeper. Compared to other forms of exercise, yoga’s more likely to “promote parasympathetic and vagal tone,” strengthening your body’s ability to handle stress.

Sounds simple, but long-term, effective stress management might be the closest thing we have to a health panacea. Stress-related complaints account for 90 percent of visits to primary care physicians, and stress increases inflammation – a primary culprit in the onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and respiratory disease. In fact, yoga’s stress-reducing powers make it an effective treatment for a whole range of chronic conditions: headaches, back pain, hypertension, irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia, depression, anxiety, skin problems, fatigue, obesity, migraines and even cancer. 

Major hospitals like The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have established yoga therapy programs. In 2010, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center even got a $4.5 million grant to study yoga’s impact on breast cancer.

Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover yoga therapy yet. But unless you’re aiming to laser-target the power of yoga on a serious health concern, a free, self-guided practice can effectively boost your vitality. Just don’t try to mimic an advanced yogi when you first start out. To prevent the risk of injury, check with your doctor and take any necessary precautions before you hit the mat.