HERSHEY, Pa. — Kelly Thoman has a high-stress job and bouts with anxiety. Dan Coma had just the idea to help: a special program at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center using yoga to ease anxiety. It’s part of the emerging field of yoga therapy which Coma, a registered yoga instructor, is completing his training in after teaching group classes at the Medical Center’s University Fitness Center for nine years. He found there was a need for such an evidence-based integrative program after talking with a family medicine doctor at the Medical Center and Deb Tregea, program coordinator at the fitness center.
“We were told that one of the most common conditions people talk with their doctors about is generalized anxiety disorder,” Coma said. Using gentle postures and breathing, Yoga helps balance the autonomic nervous system and increases levels of feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain — both good for dealing with anxiety. The program is evidence-based, meaning it is based on research that shows a benefit of using yoga for anxiety.
“Yoga gives you a calming effect and relaxes your mind so you have less anxiety and worry and sleep better,” Coma said.
So in the fall, eight weekly sessions of Easing Anxiety with Yoga were added to the fitness center’s menu of offerings. Unlike most other classes, a referral from a medical provider was necessary to register to confirm an anxiety diagnosis. Although the class fee is typically not covered by insurance, Tregea said some people may have wellness coverage or employee wellness benefits that could help with the cost.
Response to the first session was strong, with 15 people ages 12 to 84 attending.
“Almost half of the people inquiring about the program said they felt they needed something besides medication,” Tregea said. Yoga and meditation supplement standard medical care and are not meant to be a replacement. “If students are on medication or in talk therapy, I encourage them to stay in touch with their medical provider,” Coma said.
Read more about Easing Anxiety with Yoga in this Penn State Medicine article.