What’s the Secret to Life? Breathing!

This entry was posted on Jan 23, 2014 by John Young.
breathingWhat’s the Secret to Life? Breathing!

When I set out on the path to become a doctor, I really didn’t have any idea just how much stress I was inviting into my life. Fortunately, I had the good sense to marry a well-trained Yoga instructor. Before my wife introduced me to Yoga, I always thought it was some sort of stretchy self-torture. In fact, I’m still not 100% convinced that it wasn’t developed as a torture method. Either that, or it started as a game of Twister that went horribly wrong. Over time, I realized that the real treasure of Yoga, isn’t the improved flexibility, or the excuse to wear extremely flattering stretchy pants; but rather the greatest benefit Yoga has to offer is the control of your breathing. Wait, don’t hit the back button yet. Hear me out.

I wasn’t born a doctor. I’ve gone through 12 years of formal training after high school. To become a doctor you have to be good at taking tests and managing stress. Twelve-plus years of tests and stress is a lot to manage. That’s where the breathing comes in. I was starting my second year of medical school when I married my wife. She was teaching Yoga at the university at that time. My grades from my first year were the lowest they had been in my entire life. You may have heard the analogy that going to medical school is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. There’s a lot to take in and you aren’t given much time to do it. I was struggling with the dramatically increased workload. My wife gave me one piece of advice: Breathe. She taught me a breathing exercise and instructed me to take a few moments to practice it whenever I was feeling stressed. Specifically, I was supposed to do it before any test I took.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this little exercise alone is what turned my grades around, but it was a piece of the puzzle. By learning to gain control of my breathing during my most demanding moments, I began to train myself to better recognize and control stress before it had a chance to control me. That process was accelerated when I started to try Yoga. If you’ve never done it, imagine a warm room, soft music, maybe the sound of water babbling in a decorative fountain, a rubber mat slightly softer than concrete, and stretching muscles you’ve never felt before while having bamboo shoots shoved in your fingernails. OK, so maybe that’s not exactly how it goes. But for someone as inflexible as myself, that’s what I expected: pain. In reality, Yoga is not about pain, it’s about sensation (more on that in another article). And it’s about breathing through that sensation. If you can master your breath, you can retain your control during times of stress, and that’s worth a lot, maybe even an M.D.

How has Yoga helped you?



J. Young, M.D.

About John Young
John was introduced to yoga as a thinly veiled attempt to get to know the woman who would later become his wife. He has since developed and used his own personal yoga practice to manage stress and prevent/alleviate back pain. John graduated from the University of Oklahoma with an M.D. He is currently finishing his residency in anesthesiology. In July, John will begin a fellowship in pain management.

2 responses to “What’s the Secret to Life? Breathing!”

  1. Avatar Rogelio Nunez says:

    J D, if you look a little deeper into yoga, not just western yoga, pranayama/ asana are only tools to help stabilize the mind/conciouse, Yogis figured along time ago by practicing these techniques they could strenghten the body control thought process to be able to practice meditation and achieve a blissful state….samadhi is the goal of Yoga. not breathing…
    read yoga sutras of patanjali
    yoga is yoga cita vrti nirodha- yoga is the cessation of mind chatter…the breath is one way of doing this…

  2. Avatar Grace Wakugawa says:

    Hi –I am a CRNA and found yoga in my late 40’s — I am soooo proud of you for being a western medical practitioner and a proud yogi. The breath is the core of anesthesia and yoga… insight into this was such lightbulb moment for me. I did my yoga teacher’s training and now I can weave the 2 together. I work in the infertility world and my patients need yoga more than ever. I am also blessed that the reproductive endocrinologists I work with are not opposed to bringing stress reducing techniques to their patients. Namaste to you and your wife!


    BTW — Hugger Mugger was sooo very supportive of my helping to bring yoga to my patients — I was able to buy props at a reasonable price!! (Thank you Hugger Mugger!!)

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