National

CSIRO scientist denied Bikram yoga payments injuring himself sleeping on flight

A research scientist at the CSIRO has failed to force the government to pay his Bikram yoga bills after sleeping in an awkward position on a flight from Sydney to Geneva for work.

The researcher, who specialises in astronomy and space science, sustained nerve damage in his neck and spine as a result of the flight and took up yoga to ease his pain.

Comcare has refused to pay for a CSIRO scientist's Bikram yoga classes.
Comcare has refused to pay for a CSIRO scientist's Bikram yoga classes.  Photo: Supplied

He began a physiotherapy program before his brother recommended Bikram yoga- – an extremely challenging form of yoga with sessions of 90 minutes in a studio heated to about 40 degrees.

Tribunal documents show he consulted his doctor about the proposal, who said she was "happy for him to participate although she did not really know what it was".

The scientist sought payment for three to four Bikram sessions a week, but the application was rejected by Comcare because the sessions were not supervised by a legally qualified medical practitioner.

He contested the decision in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia.

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Senior tribunal member Nadia Isenberg said it was clear his doctor was referring to "community yoga", rather than the more intense Bikram variety.

The scientist told the tribunal Comcare's decision to only fund doctor or physiotherapist appointments would only cause him pain, distress and further time off work.

"He found that Bikram yoga was not only improving his fitness levels but also, 'to his surprise' had significant beneficial effects for managing stiffness and weakness due to his neck injury," the tribunal judgement said.

But a rheumatologist told the tribunal he believed Bikram yoga had no benefit to the applicant and the "extreme poses" could irritate his condition.

He said the doctor who referred him to yoga would have been "shocked" to learn he was attempting difficult poses in extremely humid conditions, given he had counselled against freestyle swimming.

"He agreed that self-directed activities are good but was of the view that there are a range of activities available that do not put the neck at risk of further injury, as does Bikram yoga," the judgement said.

"As to the applicant's confidence in Bikram yoga, he said that people can get focussed on a particular type of exercise."

Ms Isenberg said she understood the applicant felt empowered by Bikram yoga and he believed it was beneficial for his health and injuries.

"This view, however, was not supported by the available medical evidence," she said. "Unfortunately, the law requires activities which might be considered as therapeutic to be undertaken by, or under the supervision of specified health practitioners."

"The applicant did not, on the evidence, proceed under the supervision of a physiotherapist, osteopath, masseur or chiropractor, nor was there evidence that the applicant's Bikram yoga instructors are themselves physiotherapists, osteopaths, masseurs or chiropractors"