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How Integrative Medicine May Affect Yoga Teaching and Business

A new Institute of Medicine report that has set guidelines for complementary and alternative medicine may change the way you teach and talk about yoga. Here's what you need to know about its implications.

By Michael H. Cohen, JD, MBA

Ideally, the integration of complementary and alternative medicine with traditional conventional medical practices should encourage CAM providers to learn more about the medical understanding of their healing modalities without "medicalizing" all CAM therapies. The IOM report expresses the concern that integration not be "cooptation" by conventional medicine. Rather, integration suggests a partnership in which the features of different healing modalities will influence one another.

In fact, one of the report's chapters, titled, "An Ethical Framework for CAM Research, Practice, and Policy," emphasizes "medical pluralism" as a core value in moving toward clinical, research, and legislative and policy agendas. Medical pluralism means "acknowledgement of multiple valid modes of healing," including non-medical ways of conceptualizing the whole person and promoting healing.

The value of medical pluralism requires considering the "vast array of perspectives that constitute the national (and even international) heritage of healing traditions" on the planet. Such language directs health care professionals and organizations to move "beyond any medicocentric claims" to "exhaustively account for the human experiences of health and healing."

Thus, the stated ideal for this new world of integrative medicine should be broad enough to include the full range of yoga philosophy, practice, and experience, integrating the subtle wisdom of yoga with specific knowledge from the scientific domains. In the meanwhile, yoga teachers and studios, like their counterparts in health care organizations and educational institutions, will likely benefit from exploring some of the conceptual frontiers of this new map for integration.

Michael H. Cohen, JD teaches at Harvard Medical School and publishes the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog (

The materials in this website/e-newsletter have been prepared by Michael H. Cohen, JD and Yoga Journal for informational purposes only and are not legal opinion or advice. Online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional legal counsel.

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