A Functional Medicine Approach to Yoga
Yoga Teacher Training / April 20, 2017

A Functional Medicine Approach to Yoga


By Holly Dunn

When asked to write a blog for PYC, I jumped at the chance to share how this extraordinary practice has shaped and influenced my life over the past 6 years.

As sensational as it may sound, there are no limits to Yoga’s influence on my life (in the relatively short time period I have been lucky enough to enjoy it). My views and perceptions of the value of this ancient practice, however, have certainly evolved over time. In fact – in many ways – they have done full circle!

Initially it was a physical ritual for me, over time I have learnt to harness some (not all!) of the cerebral benefits, and even embraced some of the more abstract philosophies. Only now am I truly beginning to understand the significance of Yoga to myself as an individual, but also to the modern society in which we live.

Yoga asanas, the postures and exercises, are just one of 8 systems within an overall system of ‘Union.’ Yoga is a philosophy that describes a way to optimize a human life within these 8 interconnected and flowing sub-systems. What I find so incredible is just how relevant this remarkable tradition is becoming to our lives today. It has without a shadow of a doubt promoted personal changes and aspirations both past, present and future.

The Yoga Body

It may or may not surprise you to hear it was the physicality of Yoga that first drew me to the studio. I hated gyms and sought an antidote to the impacts of running. Hyperkinetic by nature, I was attracted to the dynamic and adaptive style of Power Yoga. It took some time to appreciate the subtle shifts that were taking place and before long, not only was I hooked, but my perception of the “Yoga body” began to change.

We are the only species that have engineered mobility out of our lives – we build chairs to sit on, escalators and cars to carry our bodies, and weight machines, treadmills and rowing machines to exercise them. As a consequence, we have lost touch with some of our natural range of motion. We have replaced these with the aches and pains of chronically underused muscles, poor posture and un-supple connective tissues. Yoga restores dynamism to our bodies – strengthening, lengthening and recalibrating some of the lost art of human movement.

The more I learn about Yoga – the more I listen and practice – the more I see  just how much more nourishing these movements become when they are linked to the breath or pranayama.

 The asanas or postures, once they are unified with pranayama, drive out stale blood and waste so that fresh oxygenated blood and nutrients can renew our cells. And what’s more, the energy generated, the residual buzz, “life-force” or prana is there for all to feel.

The Yoga Mind and Spirit

In spring 2016, I enrolled on PYC’s Teacher Training programme under the guidance of Erin Prichard. I am hugely indebted to the experiences I gained during this time. In particular, it was a chance to deepen my knowledge of the intelligent and philosophical elements of the Yoga tradition.

It was the ancient wisdom of the Yoga Sutras, the applicable Yamas and Niyamas (ethical codes and moral principles that govern the basis of the modern Yoga tradition), that appeared more relevant to modern life than I had previously thought possible.

But why should the philosophy be so important today? Perhaps because we are some of the most anxious and troubled guests on this planet. No other species questions why it is here and what it is trying to achieve. We have evolved a complex interaction between the physical, the mental, the emotional, and the spiritual systems – each human mind, a habit machine running a personal programme called – ego. Yoga provides a means to experience more and to suffer less. It reveals a path to becoming a much more content guest on a stunningly beautiful planet.

Yoga Union

The next stage of the journey for me has really been one of integration – in the truest of Yoga states – one of “yuj” or union. Last year Yoga enhanced my motivation to change my existing occupation and I set out on the path to a new and exciting career.

Alongside teaching, Yoga has heightened my passion for functional medicine and has given me the incentive to study nutritional therapy amongst other naturopathic disciplines.

The health of our bodies and the integrity of our immune systems is directly proportional to the way we choose to live our lives.  Over the next year, every single cell in our bodies will be made up of what we eat, drink and breathe, supplemented by some necessary sunlight. We are what we choose to consume, how we choose to move, in the environments we choose to live in. Everyday each human needs 60 minerals, 2 essential fatty acids, 16 vitamins and 12 amino acids alongside adequate hydration to maintain health. Yoga teaches the value of purity of inputs (a principle known as Saucha) and to understand when enough is enough.

More still, Yoga’s focus on treating every aspect of the individual – the whole person – is at the very heart of functional medicine. At a time when there has been an explosion in diseases such as cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmune syndromes, obesity and diabetes – modern attitudes to human health are increasingly becoming sensitive to this vital approach.

So, whilst it may not be for me to describe the reality of Yoga and its connection to human life, nutrition, exercise, contentment and philosophy – it is for you to explore, or not explore, an ancient system designed to promote human health and wellbeing. What is true for you is true for you and just for you. I can only share what is true for me and just for me.

Yoga is ancient. Yoga is today. Yoga is timeless. Yoga is free. There are no yoga champions. But everyone who tries yoga is by definition a Yoga Champion.

Dedicated to TPYC, its remarkable Founders and wonderful Teachers that challenge and inspire me every day. Thanks for keeping it real. Thanks for keeping it safe. And above all, thanks for keeping it fun.

What’s next?

One on one mentoring available if you already have your 200 hours