A Role for Yoga in Occupational Therapy

Nicole Cunningham

After practicing yoga for 20 years, Nicole Cunningham decided she wanted to teach it. With the completion of 200 hours of training in 2022, she became certified and started giving classes in her local community.

Cunningham, who is an occupational therapist (OT) and a lymphedema therapist at Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital, saw that some of the yoga practices she was teaching could be modified to be of benefit in her work.

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“There’s lots of research that shows that the different poses, the relaxation, the meditation, the breathing techniques can help with everything from mental health to physical health,” Cunningham said. “It’s a whole mind-body approach.”

She began to incorporate yoga into her therapy with patients who were amenable to it or who already practiced yoga. She finds it particularly effective in reducing pain.

“I’ve used it in OT with some of my patients with complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS) and they found it helpful,” she said. “I’m hoping the use of yoga can be expanded.”

Cindy Reuter, medical director of Integrative Medicine at APD, agrees: “I’m interested in APD adding yoga therapy to integrative medicine as well as our integrated pain program because it gives us another flexible tool to help people with chronic pain be more active. Yoga therapy can be very safe and gentle, and it can be tailored to patients’ needs and level of conditioning.”

This story was previously published in Connections, Dartmouth Health’s employee magazine.