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.