How Yoga Has Made Me A Better Doctor & Healer
What could yoga possibly have to do with conventional, modern medicine—let alone my own professional practice of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health?
As it turns out, soooo much.
I've practiced yoga for almost two decades. I dabbled for the first five years and then, when I finished my residency, I found the right studio, blocks from my home. (I have a thing with needing to walk to class; living in LA, this can be a challenge.) Perhaps more important: I found the right teachers.
Yoga (and later, meditation and then later still, Ayurveda) all helped to ground me in the everyday, the here and now. At the same time, these disciplines elevated me by helping me to focus on my intentions, purpose, and desires.
What does that even mean? Let me explain: I entered medical school four years after graduating college. I was a very idealistic and worldly yet also a very naïve young woman. I had travelled the world and lived a life of abundance, raised by a self-made man who never ever let me forget how blessed I was and that I owed the world something for my lucky accident of birth to privilege.
But I was perhaps most molded and moved by my patients, and their gratitude for our care in the face of tremendous suffering. They were poor, many did not speak English, and they had overwhelming medical and social problems related to their poverty and difficulty accessing health care. But so many were also very spiritually inclined and I saw how their faith affected them and their families.
It was here at the bedside that I first encountered the idea that God or Spirit was working through me. Patients took my hand and held my eyes and told me it was so. And it changed who I was as a person and a doctor. The power of healing became evident to me. Even if at first I agreed with these folks only to make them feel better, it slowly dawned on me that this power to heal was not just the medicines, the technology, or the science—but also the person delivering it and the way in which it was delivered, with deep respect and love.
Still with me? Good! Fast-forward to me, the new doc who is wife and mother of two young kids. Many doctors suffer something akin to PTSD after we complete residency, especially if you spent 50% of it pregnant and/or nursing. Guess who needed healing now? I needed contemplation and stillness. Couple with the physical challenge inherent in yoga, and I had found the perfect fit. I learned to sit with discomfort, quiet my mind, and burst through the other side to savor the breath. Yoga led to meditation, which led to Ayurveda, and I found a resonance that I hadn’t imagined could exist between the seemingly disparate parts of my life.
But this was only the beginning of my true understanding of yoga, of union. Years later, as I sit on a bed with a woman in labor, holding her hand or encourage her pushing, I still can struggle fiercely with myself. Often I've had the honor of knowing this woman for many years. If I am really lucky I’ve supported her through the ups and downs that have brought her to this moment. I have a sense of intimacy with her and her partner. The birth itself is mentally and physically demanding for both of us.
Because, guess what? Many women have babies in the middle of the night (and I am no spring chicken!) or during office hours, or when I was expecting to be at home having dinner with my family, or maybe even during the middle of my favorite morning yoga class.
In other words, you all have your babies ALL THE TIME and go into labor WITHOUT warning and certainly without consulting my calendar! And this is where the discipline of yoga comes in. I sit or stand in sometimes uncomfortable positions. I repeat my ego-abatement mantra (“this is NOT about you, it's about them.”) I focus my attention on the moment. And then the next one, and the very next one, and I remind you to do the same thing. Because there is nothing else, no other choice. I breathe into the space that we are creating to make this new soul’s entrance into our crazy world just as right as it can be. I join with you to do that. I practice yoga.