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Ask the DO: 5 Holistic Approaches to Common Ailments

Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine focus on treating the “whole person,” not just a symptom. We’ve spoken with the American Osteopathic Association for their tips on how yoga and osteopathic medicine are intimately linked.

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Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine focus on treating the “whole person,” not just a symptom. We’ve spoken with the American Osteopathic Association for their tips on how yoga and osteopathic medicine are intimately linked.


What’s a DO, and what do they do?

Your emotional and spiritual well-being directly affects your health. Osteopathic physicians, or DOs, practice a whole-person approach to care that looks beyond symptoms and considers the impact of your daily life on your health. DOs are trained to listen and partner with you in your well-being.

Osteopathic medicine and yoga focus on the mind, body and spirit and share the belief that structure and function are very much related. Like yoga, osteopathic medicine promotes the body’s natural tendency towards health and self-healing. It can help improve balance, strengthen muscles, prevent injuries and calm the mind.

Yoga Sequence for a Healing Heart

holistic healing, meditation

Find the inner strength to process grief and loss this season with this yoga sequence, which calls on chest-opening lunges, backbends, and twists; nurturing restorative poses; and a focus on moving slowly with your breath. The more active postures keep energy moving in the heart, while the restorative poses give your central nervous system the opportunity to rest, which can relieve some of the deep fatigue that often accompanies grief. Practice every morning in a quiet, private space.

Throughout the sequence, put your physical sensations into words: “tense,” “tired,” “heavy.” Then name your emotions, too: “heartbroken,” “angry,” “scared.” This helps you to be present so you can begin to heal, instead of shutting down or running away from your grief and prolonging your heartbreak. Remember to exhale fully to release physical and emotional tension.

Ask the DO: Injury Prevention

Noose Pose (Pasasana)

Many injuries are the result of overuse, repetitive movements or participation in sports. Yoga helps keep the body in good structural alignment and can prevent injury by strengthening muscles and promoting flexibility. It also encourages practitioners to be mindful and listen to their bodies, techniques that can help prevent injuries before they occur.

To avoid injuries on the mat, DOs advise yogis to listen carefully to their bodies:

  • Don’t ignore pain or feelings of fear during your practice.
  • Accept your body’s limits. Don’t “push it” to keep up with the mat next door.
  • Give your body time to adapt, whether trying a new pose or starting yoga practice for the first time.
  • Check in with your instructor if a pose doesn’t feel right.
  • Modify your practice for any physical limitations.
  • Rest in Child’s Pose if you need a break.

Self-Test for Injury Prevention

warrior 2 pose, virabhadrasana 2

To prevent injuries in yoga and in sports, the balance left to right within each leg is important. Specifically, how well do your inner thighs and outer hips work together to keep the joints of your feet, ankles, knee, and hip safe? Here’s a self-test to try.

Standing in Mountain Pose in front of a mirror, shift the weight to your left foot and lift your right leg, extending it in front of you. Slowly bend your left knee and lower your hips back into a single-legged Chair Pose. As you do, pay close attention to where your left knee moves. Does it track directly out over your left toes? Does it roll to the right or left? Repeat on the other side and watch the right knee’s progress. Notice also where you feel this: if it is work for the glutes, focus on strengthening the outer hip. If it is a stretch for the inner thighs, focus on stretching the inner thighs.

A common pattern is for the knee to track toward the midline of the body. This can be due to tightness in the inner thighs, to relative weakness in the glutes and outer hip, or to a combination of both. Harmony in the balance between the inner and outer thighs is critical for the health of your knee, as well as for your ankles and feet below it and your hip above it—hence your yoga teacher’s exhortation to keep your knee facing directly forward, over your middle toes.

For poses to create strength for any weakness, learn more here .


Ask the DO: Back Pain

Pain has a purpose. It’s how your body communicates that something is wrong. There are lots of ways to manage pain, and DOs know that prescribing meds is not the only option.

The relaxation techniques in yoga can help to lessen chronic pain, including back pain. An April 2013 Journal of the American Osteopathic Association trial found that patients with low back pain who attended a weekly 75-minute yoga class for 12 weeks had better back function than those who received “usual care” at 3, 6 and 12 months.

Osteopathic manipulative treatment
, is one way DOs diagnose, treat and prevent illness or injury. The stretching, gentle pressure and resistance techniques in OMT align with the ways yoga works the muscles. Patients receiving OMT for low back pain required significantly less medication and less physical therapy than those who didn’t receive OMT.

Other tips for preventing or minimizing the occurrence of back pain:

  • Respect your body and don’t push through pain.
  • Make sure work and home offices are ergonomic.
  • Get up and move every hour when sitting.
  • Use good body mechanics to lift or move objects.
  • Make sure to stretch when you notice tightness or restriction.

Sequences to Ease Back Pain

Low-back pain hits most of us at some point. It can be caused by injury, poor posture, repetitive motion, or simply aging—the soft discs between vertebrae dry over time, and less-supple discs can be more susceptible to bulging or rupture and put pressure on nerves, sending red-hot pain signals to your brain.

But while getting older is inevitable, pain is not: Experts agree that routine stretching can both prevent and relieve symptoms. When your spine and pelvis are aligned and your muscles are relaxed, you can be more resilient. Use these poses to ease tension in your back, as well as in the hips, hamstrings, and inner legs, which can affect your posture and lower spine.

Go deeper to ease back pain with a 10 , 20 , or 30 min sequence.

Ask the DO: Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome, essentially a pinched nerve in the wrist, is a painful condition that can cause numbness, tingling and loss of strength. Severe cases are sometimes treated with surgical decompression, while mild to moderate symptoms may be improved with ultrasound, wrist splinting or steroids.

OMT can be helpful in relieving the discomfort and structural problems caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. A March 2015 Journal of the American Osteopathic Association study found that patients who received six weekly sessions of OMT for carpal tunnel syndrome reported less pain and better mobility.

Wrist Exercises for Carpal Tunnel

upward salute

In almost every class at least one student mentions problems with wrist pain. Usually the pain is associated with some repetitive activity, and often they are sitting at a computer for a good portion of their workday. Sometimes there are other factors at play, such as driving a lot, or using tools at the construction site or in the garden. On rarer occasions, some trauma, like an unexpected fall, may have set off pain in the wrists and into the hands.

In many cases, it’s related to the carpal tunnel, the small passageway at the palm side of the wrist that contains the median nerve and nine tendons that bend your fingers. When the tendons that form the tunnel get irritated and inflamed, like from overuse or injury, the nerve becomes compressed, and it leads to pain, numbness, tingling, and even loss of strength in the hand. Sometimes the pain travels from the hand up the forearm toward the elbow. This is called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS).

Consider dialing back poses like Downward Dog if you suffer from CTS. Or try this no hand-weight-bearing practice.

Ask the DO: Anxiety

desi bartlett easy pose

Yoga’s incorporation of meditation and breathing can help improve a person’s mental well-being. Regular yoga practice increases body awareness and relieves chronic stress patterns.

Taking a deep breath is a simple way to address anxiety. Osteopathic physicians know that mindful breath can also improve a patient’s health and well-being. Breathing activates the diaphragm and helps the lymphatic system move fluids through the body. Slowing down your breathing tells the body’s nervous system go into rest mode, which aids the healing process. Breathe fully and with intention to relieve stress, release tension and reconnect the body and mind.

DOs advise simple steps to address anxiety issues:

  • Prioritize good eating, exercise and rest.
  • Try to avoid smoking or drinking.
  • Take brief relaxation breaks each day.
  • Talk with friends and family about your concerns.
  • Give back by helping individuals in need or your community.

Yoga for Anxiety

Yoga Poses to tame anxiety, chair yoga, easy seat pose, sukhasana

To quell anxiety, try a short meditation followed by a seated yoga sequence from Lynn Stoller, a Boston-based hatha yoga teacher and occupational therapist who teaches trauma-sensitive yoga to veterans and their families. These poses can be practiced at work or anywhere with a chair.

View the entire sequence here.