“Every forty seconds someone takes their life” ~ World Health Organisation
“Integrating Mindfulness & Yoga into the Medical Model has been a heart felt intention of mine for some time given my introduction into the health and wellness profession was as a Registered Nurse. Mindfulness and Yoga helped me manage back pain from nursing but also understand the nature of the mind and how it can make us sick if we do not learn how to manage our reactivity to it – which is essentially the definition of yoga.
Yoga means to Yoke, to harness the mind.
I am fortunate enough to have been inspired by a Doctor I worked along side who was passionate in Mindfulness and since then have looked at ways where the two fields can support and compliment each other. Being able to offer Yoga + Mindfulness Teacher Training Programs to those in the Medical , Allied Health and Educational Fields is meeting a very important need to not only provide better health care across the board , but to support our health care professionals and teachers.
The people in our community who go into professions such as becoming a Doctor, Vet, Lawyer, Teacher (the list goes on) go into these professions generally because they want to help people.
To my surprise in having had Doctors, Lawyers, Vets on the Yoga NRG + Mindfulness Teacher Training Programs, one thing they all spoke about was stress and the increase of anxiety, depression and suicide in their fields. There is a growing need in finding ways to manage pain and suffering and this is the focus of Mindfulness.
The scope of this work is endless because we all go through pain and suffering in some way.
Below Tammy Williams (Founder of Yoga NRG) discusses five key questions regarding how Mindfulness can be used in the Medical Profession and for patients going through pain , greif and loss with one of our Yoga NRG Teacher Training Graduates – Surgeon Doctor Emillia Dauway
How has Mindfulness made a difference to you a) Personally b) Professionally
Learning to practice non-attachment (aparigraha) has been huge for me.
My profession is what I do and only a part of who I am. It doesn’t define me. Yes, I am a surgeon. I am a yoga teacher as well. I am a lot of things. I think we all reinvent ourselves throughout life. During our life journey, experiences influence what we are in a particular moment.
Last year, I was a patient on a few occasions. I was physically challenged with a herniated disc causing nerve root compression. I had a choice of bedrest and physical therapy for two weeks with 4 more weeks of therapy or surgery which could have left me with an unstable back leading to other problems in the future. I chose bedrest, especially since I had just had emergency abdominal surgery a few months prior. I could not operate for a few weeks nor teach yoga for 6 weeks. Lying flat for two weeks gave me time to think about ‘what if I could not operate anymore’, ‘do yoga or other physical activities that I loved to do anymore?’, ‘what would my life be like?’, ‘What would I do?’. I realized how much of my identity was attached to my profession. Those experiences were valuable and meaningful. Meaningful because I looked for the lesson in the experience. A day will come when I will no longer be able to operate nor will I be of the same value to a hospital. Surgery is not forever, so I enjoy it for the moment. When that day comes I will accept it with grace and gratitude.
How does Mindfulness help your clients deal with grief and loss?
Understanding attachment has helped me to communicate with my patients differently. Patients experience grief and loss. We all do! It is a part of life. Without some suffering we don’t appreciate the good miracles of life that go unnoticed. For example, a patient may require the loss of a limb or a woman with breast cancer may have a breast removed to save their life. They may experience grief or sadness of the loss of a body part. However, we don’t grieve the loss of an appendix or a gallbladder. So why grieve a loss of a limb or a breast? Do these anatomic parts define us? The answer is no, but in reality we are attached to and defined by body parts. The same body parts that we judge, compare and criticize daily. When they are gone we mourn the loss. During their experience with illness, some patients have said, ‘I feel betrayed by my body’, but they lack the awareness of how they themselves have betrayed their body. Yoga awakens us to our reality. Cultivating mindfulness allows us to take responsibility for the reality we create.
I have tried to help my patients understand that illness is an experience. It does not define them. The treatments may be inconvenient or sometimes unpleasant. To me illness is a speed bump to slow down for a moment to take notice of how you may choose to live going forward. No one gets out of this life alive… We all will die one day that is a guarantee. When we look at the situation is those terms, we have a lot of life to live! A meaningful life is what’s important. It’s the quality of life, not the quantity.
A meaningful life for me is investing in relationships with those that I love. People will forget that I am a surgeon, but they won’t forget whether I am a good daughter, sister, friend or lover.
How do you see this helping our health care system for the future ?
When you say “our health care system”, I believe in a global health care system. What I mean is, we are interdependent. Don’t believe me? Consider the global financial crisis, extreme weather patterns, and disease outbreaks. Despite current world leaders trying to segregate their countries from the rest of the world, we will continue to live in a global community. What happens to your neighbour will eventually affect you. I volunteer every year doing surgery mostly in Central and South America. The same challenges in health care in the US and Australia are the same everywhere. Increasing costs, maintaining quality of care and lack of access to care are some the greatest challenges. Your question is how can yoga and mindfulness help health care in the future? The answer is drum roll please… practising the first limb of yoga.
The Yamas, all five of them. Not just one but all five will help global health care.
Ahimsa (compassion/non-violence)- if we looked at our fellow man and took care of each other as we would ourselves or someone we loved this would improve access to care. If each of us just gave a little of ourselves. If every healer, doctor, nurse took a day to just care for someone for free. This simple act would save many lives or encourage hope for another day. In Okinawa, Japan, one of the Blue Zones, people live to a very old age. They attribute their longevity to a stress free life because people there do not worry about becoming ill. They know the community will care for them.
Satya (truthfulness)- The truth is everyone feels health care should be a right and free but health care costs. No one wants to pay for it. In the US one of the wealthiest countries in the world there is no public system. The primary cause for bankruptcy in the US is health care bills. In wealthy countries like Australia that have a public system the costs too are spiralling out of control. Health care is not a priority in our society. Unless we make it a priority collectively including holding the individual patients accountable for lifestyle choices then the costs will remain high. Do we invest in an unhealthy lifestyle? Do we nourish our bodies with clean healthy foods? Investing in your health is priceless and takes effort. So practising truthfulness as to whether health is important is essential.
Brahmacharya (continence)- When I started participating in medical volunteerism, I began to realise how much waste there is in our health care system. It was estimated in 2016 that Australians wasted $20 billion in health care. Many supplies become expired and are thrown away. Everything is disposable because of the costs related to maintain reusable items. I was able to take expired supplies on medical trips but now it is considered illegal to use them in developing countries. I have learned to be resourceful and use less to achieve the same results in these remote places. If we can use less and have a great clinical outcome there, then surely we could use those same resourceful techniques in Westernized countries and reduce costs. We live with so much excess that practising moderation and balance could reduce health care costs.
Asteya (non-stealing)- government misappropriation of funds to not care for their peoples is a form of stealing. Not distributing tax dollars meant to ensure the accessibility of health care to all is a social injustice and is stealing. We have to hold public servants accountable as well as doctors to provide cost effective care.
Aparigraha (non-coveting)- Despite the many innovations that we have in health care, it is one of the slowest changing industries. Computer sciences and the internet changes every minute. Health care can take many years to adopt new technologies or treatments. The medical field doesn’t accept change easily. It finds comfort in the tried and true. Sometimes attachment to a process that no longer serves us and not letting go doesn’t allow room for something better. It’s important to find the courage to let go so we can be open to receiving what we need. In health care we need to establish a better process to implement evidence-based medicine in a timely manner.
How do you utilise what you have learned through Yoga + Mindfulness in your career as a Surgeon?
I found so many personal benefits from my yoga practice that I wanted to learn how I could share these benefits with patients. My teacher training with Yoga NRG + Mindfulness Training Australia was more than I had expected. During the course I learned the anatomy and physiology of each pose. I began to think of how the surgeries I perform effect my patient’s function. Performing breast cancer surgery, I offer those requiring mastectomy the option of reconstruction. There is implant based reconstruction placing the implant under the pectoralis muscle or autologous reconstruction using the latissimus or rectus muscles. I wondered if this would make certain poses difficult or near impossible to perform. What other dysfunction would I cause? My primary goal as a surgical oncologist is to eliminate the cancer, while maintaining the patient’s function or risk reducing quality of life. Many patients survive cancer only to have a reduced quality of life. I am much more mindful as a surgeon about the impact of treatment on quality of life.
What Else Have You Noticed?
You know how you don’t always remember people because you see them in a different setting? This happened to me one evening while I was at the yoga studio teaching. A lady walked in and we both looked at each other with familiarity. She came to inquire about classes. She said, “hey aren’t you the doctor who did my colonoscopy?”, I said, “yeah, I thought you looked familiar”. We both started laughing and I went on to explain the various yoga classes. It was hilarious.
Occasionally we may see a person in only one dimension. But we are multi-dimensional beings. Some people in our yoga community don’t know that I’m a surgeon and visa versa. Once I was invited to contribute to a women’s circle and teach yoga at Summer Solstice. When we went around the circle to talk about our passions, I spoke about surgery. They were like, wait aren’t you a yoga teacher? Each of us have many talents and gifts. We just need to take the time to discover them within ourselves and each other.
Can you share some of the benefits you have noticed for your clients and colleagues?
Some of my patients have started a yoga practice. Besides the physical benefits of flexibility and strength, the most significant benefit I have noticed is acceptance. They are calm and have a lightness of being.
Additionally, I have noticed a change in my colleagues. One of my colleagues has neck and back problems which led to him using other muscle groups to compensate causing aches and pains. One day while operating together, he had to sit down during surgery because of discomfort. Between surgeries he asked for suggestions about yoga poses which could help. Lying on the floor in the recovery room, we worked through some poses which he could do at home. Nurses walked by smiled and said, ‘yeah they are in there doing some yoga’. He later thanked me and mentioned his back was better after practising the poses. This is the same colleague that teased me about training to become a yoga teacher.
Although, my surgical colleagues haven’t started a regular yoga practice, they too have demonstrated acceptance. Acceptance that I have set boundaries and that on Wednesday nights I cannot work late nor take emergency call, because I teach a power flow yoga class.
Anything else you would like to contribute to help others who may be suffering with cancer, or are health prof, careers or those contemplating how they can make a difference in the lives of patients?
I believe many live life in fear and therefore fail to live fully. Helping patients accept their diagnosis, not strive to be more than needed in the moment, not to judge themselves, to have patience during treatment, let go of the diagnosis after treatment, regain trust in their bodies, and move forward in their life with a beginner’s mind for a fresh, new start. These are the things that I hope other health professionals will help their cancer patients and all patients with challenging diagnoses achieve.
I am blessed to have the opportunity to participate in the care of cancer patients. It has allowed me to be mindful of my mortality. As I mentioned earlier, we all will face mortality. Regardless of your beliefs, this life, in this body is temporary. May West said it best. ” You only live once. But if you live life right, once is enough.”
Doctor Emilia Dauway has completed the Level 1 / 200 hour Yoga NRG Teacher Training and is a Surgeon in Gladstone. She also teaches Yoga to her collegues and at Salt Power Yoga Studio (owned by Paul Charalambous who also did the Yoga NRG Teacher Training Program)
Emilia has enrolled to further her education in Yoga and Mindfulness on the Mentoring Program with Tammy Williams who has a background of more than twenty years in Clinical Nursing / Health Prevention & Promotion and is the Founder of Yoga NRG + Mindfulness Training Australia.
“The latest stats from the World Health Organisation are devastating !
This is why I believe we all need to do what we can to help people not only ‘live’ but live with a better quality of life.
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