10 Reason Doctors Should Consider Becoming a Yogi
I was on the yoga mat today, and I realized that this month it has been 10 years since I began my Ashtanga yoga practice with the studio. As I take my next vinyasa, I remember the first week of walking into the studio having only practiced with Rodney Ye in my living room for the past 4 years. I had experienced the benefits just 15 minutes a couple times a day gave me in residency and now I was ready to commit to a full on practice. 10 years later, I can say that yoga has transformed my life. I’m a family physician, and the way my yoga practice has positively impacted my ability to tolerate the difficulties of the day has made daily interactions with staff and patients effortless, and has created a more fulfilling existence inside of an increasingly stressful profession. I have always loved working out; I used to be a fitness instructor. However as with most of us physicians, as work (and life) responsibilities increase, there is less and less time for hours at the gym working out. So, yoga is what I do. It’s all I need to keep me lean, limber, fit, strong (body and mind) and centered. And, I think to myself, If having a 4 day a week practice can make such a difference in my life, I can imagine it could definitely benefit other physicians as well. So, here are 10 reasons, I get up for yoga every morning (and 5 reasons you my colleagues might consider adding yoga to their daily regimen).
- It re-contexualizes the day - I don't always want to get out of bed in the morning. I'm a snoozer. But when I walk into that studio, throw down that mat, And begin my practice all of the world fades away and it's just me and the breath. By the end of practice I feel stronger, more focused, and the whole world looks different. Knowing that the world will look much different when I get done is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Some of you may say, but wait I don't have time to practice in the morning… I would practice in the evening. That's perfect! I used to practice in the evening when I first started. Even when I used to practice in the evening time, it was a great way to re-contextualize and release all of the stresses and difficulties of the day.
- It's the fountain of youth - I turned 41 this year, and I'm in better shape than I was at 31, even at 21. In fact, I'd say I'm in the best shape of my life… And that's after having a baby at almost 40. I still get that I look like I'm in my 20s and early 30s. I still get that I don't look old enough to be a doctor that's been in practice for 12 years. Now, I do have to give my parents some credit as they do have good genes, and I'll give my toddler some credit because running around after him certainly keeps me on my toes. However, I think living the lifestyle of a Yogi (mind, body, and spirit) has been the over arching contribution to maintaining my youth & my health.
- Helps me stay balanced mentally - there is something about a daily yoga practice that causes one to be laser focused. It's what's required in the physical practice, I think. Using the breath… Being aware of every muscle in your body… Remaining calm while approaching postures that frankly make you feel like you are going to break or twist something off. When you achieve that kind of balance between focus and relaxation in a dedicated practice over time it begins to bleed into your life. I've experienced clear thinking, deeper focus, and improve productivity as a result of taking on the daily lifestyle of a yogi.
- I'm more even tempered - I have a saying which is "yoga keeps me sane". And I mean that quite literally. As physicians, we come across very interesting people with very interesting personalities on a daily basis. Sometimes these personalities can be trying (putting it nicely). But what I noticed is that when I am consistently practicing yoga, I can handle the most difficult situations with more ease & grace. If I'm not consistently on the mat…well let's just say the Ares fire comes out more easily.
- Makes me a better parent - I have a two year old. Need I say much more? I'm definitely more mellow having had this practice in my life for the last decade, and my son is better off for that. In addition I can model what it looks like to be patient, loving, & completely firm even in the middle of a tantrum (his not mine). Plus, yoga is a fun way to engage with your toddler in a healthy way. What toddler doesn't like to roll around on a mat touch his toes, do a downward dog position, put his feet up by his ears?
- Keeps me out of pain - Living life in my 40s with a two-year-old, a full time practice, academic commitments, and multiple household and community responsibilities, there are times when my 40-year-old body decides to remind me of my chronological age. When I'm not consistently on the yoga mat, I notice a distinct difference in my immunity, healing & recovery time (And as much as I hate to admit it, I don't recover some things like I recovered when I was 20). Yoga is sort of like physical therapy. When I'm sore, stiff, or even injured, I know that getting on the mat (even if I have to modify some postures) will facilitate my recovery much faster and than if I did nothing. Moreover, it's Great for my core strength & posture.
- For the community – I’ve been with the same studio for the past 10 years, and both the instructors and my fellow Yogi classmates have become family to me. When I'm out in the world... In my practice, network with other colleagues, speaking on stage, volunteering, and even furthering my education, there's always the potential for judgment. There's nothing wrong about that, it's just what it is. However when I walk into the studio for my practice, I know that it's a judgment free zone. we are where we are in our practice and we celebrate that. We empower each other and our accomplishments and our difficulties. Many of us don't even know each other's names, but we hug each other like we been friends forever. Knowing that I can come home every morning to a community like this allows me to be out in the world where sometimes things aren’t so pleasant and still maintain an empowering context of life.
- It keeps me slim - I have the kind of body that has a propensity to gain weight (both fat and muscle) easily. I used to always work out in the gym, and the problem that I encountered most was that I built muscle in a way that was unattractive to me. I was a fitness instructor so I knew all of the things to do… lots of cardio, interval training, low weight high reps (so as not to bulk up). However, it wasn't until I started practicing yoga that I actually slim down the way that I wanted to. Weight is not so much the issue here as it is form. I'm actually much stronger now than I was when I worked out with weights in the gym. Perhaps that is because yoga requires the engagement of all the stability muscles in order to achieve certain postures with complete control. This is another reason why yoga is such good physical therapy. I didn't mention this before, but I had a previous surgery on my knee (torn meniscus). I was in residency and it really wasn't possible logistically. When I started practicing yoga consistently, my knee was stiff and with very limited mobility. With my consistent yoga practice my knee has rehabilitated to about 98% of its function. I say 98% because I still notice the 2% difference from the right knee. But all in all it feels good as new.
- It's a spiritual practice - When I'm on that mat I'm in a deep state of meditation. Some of my deepest and most interesting life lessons have been learned through my practice. There is an integrity that comes with this practice. I commitment to your spirit
- It's empowering - for all of the reasons above being a part of a yoga lifestyle is one of the most powerful & empowering self care gifts I could give to myself.
With the stress that we constantly endure as physicians, and with burnout on the rise, it seems only logical to find a daily tools and practices that will not simply counteract (on the back end), but that have a hand a prevention through daily practice. Yoga is but one of these tools (a very powerful tool), however there are various practices that have similar benefits including meditation, regular exercise, dance, and even prayer. The bottom line; find your yoga, and make it routine.
Maiysha Clairborne © 8/13/2016
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