Yoga and Your Health Savings Account

Did you know that with a physician’s letter of necessity you may be able to use your health savings account to pay for yoga? Yes, it is true, but you’ll want to check with your plan first.  What is a letter of necessity?  It is a written statement from your physician stating you would benefit from yoga due to a specific medical diagnosis.  The evidence is growing that yoga is beneficial for a wide variety of diagnoses including back pain, anxiety, depression and high blood pressure (National Institutes of Health, 2016). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is also funding research to study how yoga may affect many additional diagnoses and health problems such as diabetes, HIV, immune issues, arthritis, menopause, multiple sclerosis, posttraumatic stress disorder and smoking cessation.

While at Creighton University, I co-led a study researching yoga for smoking cessation.  Unfortunately, our study did not have balanced participation, and we cannot claim any statistically significant results.  However, what we did find is that people were very attracted to the idea of using yoga to help them quit.  Many reported they were not actively planning to quit smoking, but when they saw the idea of using yoga they were motivated to try and joined our study.  Many of our participants had no yoga experience at all. When we followed up with our participants, many reported they were still doing some form of yoga and most frequently used the relaxation and breathing practices they learned in the study. It is exciting that the NIH has seen enough value in this idea that they are continuing to fund studies!

Is yoga right for your health problem?  You should talk to your physician.  Then, find someone who knows yoga and has knowledge about your health concern. Some movements are unsafe for specific conditions. There are many styles of yoga available. Some types are very intense requiring a high level of fitness while others are very mild and appropriate for even the most inflexible and out of shape among us. Some styles are very fast moving and fitness based while others focus heavily on meditation and slow movement. The key to improving your health is to find the right match.

In the field of occupational therapy, we have a saying to describe our goal in designing therapy for our clients.   Our clients should be successful yet challenged with all their therapeutic tasks. Finding this balance helps our clients challenge their skills without over frustrating them.  This is precisely the balance you should strive to achieve with your yoga practice.  Finding a level and type of yoga practice where you feel successful leads to a sense of satisfaction.  If you feel challenged, you are more likely feel the task is doing something positive for you and you are likely to be motivated to continue. When you find the right match, you will be able to see your progress and seeing progress feels great.

As an occupational therapist and yoga instructor, I love teaching yoga to people with all fitness and experience levels.  It is important to me to know why someone is attending my yoga class.  Is it for fitness, a specific problem, weight loss or management, stress management or something else? Knowing this information helps me make sure class has a little something for everyone.  Doing a one to one yoga session allows me to tailor the entire session to that individual, matching their needs and fitness level to each pose and the flow of session to create the just right challenge.

I have worked with people who have extreme difficulty getting down to the floor and back up again. They feel they can’t attend a regular yoga class because of the frequent transitions.  Designing a yoga class where we do all standing poses or all floor poses was ideal for this person.  We also built in the process of going to the floor and up as part of the session.  This movement is an essential skill as we age.  I have also worked with people with specific injuries they thought prevented them from doing yoga.  A woman with a chronic toe problem was ready to give up, but we were able to find a way for her to transition her poses without putting undue pressure on her right big toe.  She was thrilled to regain her yoga practice reaping the benefits without the fear of re-injury.

So, does it make sense to spend your healthcare dollars on yoga?  That is up to you.  You are in charge of your health. If you decide the answer is yes, find a yoga teacher and style of yoga that matches your needs.  Talk to your healthcare practitioners, your friends, explore websites and call yoga studios.  Take the time to find the right match.  When you find the right match you’ll feel the just right challenge.




National Institutes of Health (2013). Yoga: In Depth. Retrieved from NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health

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