When Medicine and Yoga Meet: Q & A with Loren Fishman, MD

It isn’t often that your doctor takes off his coat, puts on shorts, and leads a yoga class. Unless your doctor is  Loren Fishman, MD. Fishman is the medical director of Manhattan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in New York City, author of several yoga books, and a pioneer in the treatment of piriformis syndrome, rotator cuff tears, and back pain. And twice a week, Fishman, who studied directly with B.K.S. Iyengar, personally teaches therapeutic yoga poses to small groups of patients.


Fishman, who recently spoke at the1st International Conference on Yoga for Health and Social Transformation in Hardiwar, India, also conducts yoga therapy webinars with Ellen Saltonstall. Their next, “Creating a Safe Yoga Practice: Keys to Preventing and Healing Shoulder Injuries,”
will play May 2 and 9. He recently spoke to Yoga Buzz.  

Q: What immediate benefits do you see after a patient does yoga with you?

A: It sounds almost corny, but after about 10 or 20 minutes the patients have better color and look younger. They become more willing to try poses they wouldn’t have dreamed of before. It’s amazing to watch people who have been in pain and feel lousy become decidedly more upbeat. Less pain and anxiety, better balance and range of motion almost always accompany the first session.

Q: Tell us a success story with one of your patients.
A: Lorraine had been teaching yoga in New Jersey for 10 years, but had been unable to raise her right arm beyond 60 degrees for seven of them, due to rotator cuff syndrome. I showed her a maneuver derived from the Iyengar teaching of Headstand and she was able to lift her arm painlessly to 180 degrees within 2-3 minutes. Eighteen months later she was still raising her arm completely, painlessly and happily.

Q: Do you see a future where yoga is universally prescribed for back pain?
A: Back pain is a symptom with many causes, with different, sometimes contrary treatments. Identical examples of severe sciatica may be caused by spinal stenosis and herniated disc. Flexion is good for spinal stenosis, and dangerous with herniated disc, while extension is good for herniated dIsc, but dangerous in stenosis. So you need to know the diagnosis; prescribing yoga or surgery or anything depends upon that.  Therefore my crystal ball has people that can identify the cause of back pain properly prescribing yoga for it. And quite frequently! Yoga therapists need to learn a good deal of medicine; medical people need a lot of practical information about yoga.

Visit YogaSpirit for more details about Fishman’s webinars.

We want to know: Are your medical doctors aware of yoga’s benefits?