August 19, 2012

Holy Grail for Medical Professionals. ~ Renee Tormey

The 2nd Annual Mountain Pose Yoga and Medicine Symposium, Copper Mountain Colorado, August 23rd to the 26th, 2012

 Dr. Satkirin Khalsa, Yoga’s Newest Emissary

Dr. Khalsa, a board certified Family Physician from Albuquerque, NM, never thought her mission would become teaching her peers how to be well. If you are an M.D., or other medical professional, you may have just found the Holy Grail.  Read on, and consider how Dr. Khalsa can improve your ability to do your job well and serve your patients even better than before.  Fear not: this won’t require you to spend hours that you don’t have on a yoga mat, attempting to shove your foot behind your head.  Rather imagine a relaxing weekend at a CME accredited program held in conjunction with the Copper Mountain Jazz and Wine Festival or simply read on.

If you are a yogi or yoga instructor you may want to stop here and search YouTube for Dr. Satkirin Khalsa and enjoy the cellular symphony of beauty and grace that is her practice.  Serious yoga therapists and instructors should make this conference a priority.

Setting the Stage

Two of the great qualities desirable in an emissary of learning are knowledge from experience as well as knowing where the problem lies.

Dr. Khalsa, who I wager would prefer to be called Satkirin, states, “Many physicians feel like they are now on the outside and that they no longer have control over their professions, but rather the medical industry and the insurance companies are ruling their careers.  They are under huge amounts of pressure to cure, perform and most importantly, profit. Modern physicians have little time for self-care, they are part of the machine, and if they take time away from their practice, this too stresses them out.”

 The Facts

Despite the many loving arms of yoga stretching wide to scoop us up in America, we still have the highest incidence of death due to unhealthy lifestyles. Lipitor is the number one selling pharmaceutical drug in America and antidepressants rank second.

Physicians are not immune:

36 percent of medical errors are due to doctors suffering from anxiety, depression, insomnia or all of the above.

Dr. Khalsa doesn’t focus on physicians being the problem, because she doesn’t believe they are: “The system is the problem. Physicians are easily made scapegoats and anyone who protests loudly is viewed as a ‘bomb–thrower’ or a ‘crackpot.’ Physicians are not keen on being singled out as the potential divisive dissenter.  No one is.”

Who is this bridge builder?

Every discipline, think of Bruce Lee, has an exemplar that manifests the finest attributes and knowledge of their practice. These attributes are gained by doing the work consistently over a long period of time. Dr. Khalsa’s story invites the easy use of words like emissary, ambassador, compassionate, and healer.

Dr. Khalsa’s early years were not influenced by television, shopping malls or on demand running hot water. She began meditating and practicing yoga at age three. She attended a Sikh boarding school in northern India from ages 8 to 12, rarely saw her parents, and at age 15 she entered a military school.  During the summers between her undergraduate years and medical school she became a certified yoga teacher. Just halfway into her fourth decade she is still learning, growing and teaching.

She learned to navigate distinct camps of perspective and ways of living. The Sikh religion (she doesn’t practice today), translates into seeker of truth, which she considers herself to be. Her impressionable years in India in military and then medical school set the stage for her ability to connect the dots and deliver her knowledge “across party lines.”

Dr. Khalsa can communicate yoga’s essential healing benefits to Tom the truck driver just as easily as to the skilled cardiac surgeon poised to perform a triple bypass.  In her mind she learned this best from Mother Theresa whom she watched deliver a lesson drawing with a stick in the fine powdery dirt of India, to find a point of reference that children could better understand.

Today she has created a wellness program for employees at the Albuquerque New Mexico International Airport. When not running her wellness program, she sees patients two days a week and is the creator of the second annual Mountain Pose Yoga and Medicine symposium coming this month to Copper Mountain, Colorado.

As Satkirin rattled off health statistics she also revealed more about how she will serve:

“The purpose in the Yoga and Medicine Symposium and doing CME courses is to be able to contribute and give back to the ‘system.’ It is the way I feel best about going at the larger issues at hand and to inform my colleagues without ‘studying them’ or singling them out as being the problem.  Really, no one wants to be in that category and ‘singled out’ as being the problem, regardless of profession, race, gender or socioeconomic status, right?

“There’s no one right answer or solution. But I do know the effects of yoga, and that yoga can be a very effective self–help, self–efficacy tool/technique/lifestyle, that should be shared with the medical community, for themselves, for their patients, for their families and for their communities. Yoga–based CME may never create the changes that are needed in our health care system but if no one gives it a shot, we won’t know either way. I am optimistic and I give my peers the benefit of the doubt.  If physicians and other medical providers can make changes for themselves, for their health and well–being, perhaps the health care system will change too.  We are all human, and we are all in this together and everyone is here to heal.”

So, in my cowgirl, journalist, yogi kind of way I say,

“Give me an example of just how you plan to get the highly paid, ego infused, ‘I gotta save the world and drive a Mercedes’ doctor to truly understand yoga?”

She describes her epiphanies as she trekked through medical school:

“There are five lobes of lung in the pulmonary system, through long deep breathing, the carotid arteries, and specifically the carotid baroreceptors, are signaled through messengers in the alveoli of the lung, inducing a change in the autonomic nervous system, causing the kidneys to adjust the arterial pressure, and therefore the blood pressure.”

Deep breathing also tends to lower blood pressure, muscle tension and anxiety.  She continues by pointing out that if we simply say that deep breathing relaxes people, it doesn’t spark the medical mind. However, if she can explain to other physicians the physiological effects that occur because of pranayama and asana, like Mother Theresa, then they can understand it in a way that makes sense to them.  She wants her peers to experience what she has learned, to have the knowledge of the physiological changes that take place on blood pressure with an over all sense of well–being. Once they understand some simple principles she believes that physicians can apply these techniques to improve their own quality of life as well as to that of their patients.

 Here Is The Example That Got My Attention

A doctor arrives at the office, looks at his or her schedule, and sees that the patient who never gets better, who always has new complaints, is scheduled at 3p.m. Immediately, the doctor begins to dread the incipient arrival of that patient. Not only that, but her presence with the preceding six to 10 patients vanishes because the doctor’s mind is troubled and launched into the future. She is worried about the potential adverse effects of the 3 p.m. patient on her own life, rather than residing in the present with the patients presenting in the moment.

Her example closes as the dreaded patient doesn’t even show up and has only provided the opportunity for damaging stress over a nonevent. The lesson of course is that stepping out of the now not only inhibits the doctor from enjoying her job, but it also obscures her presence and mindfulness with the patients that do need her full attention. Yoga and conscious breathing practices are millennia old methods for cultivating the mindfulness that keeps us present and available.

Ultimately, Dr. Khalsa’s vision is the following: “To educate fellow physicians, not with obscure Sanskrit words or catch phrases like ‘you are that which you seek,’ but rather with experience and proven repeatable science.”

 Most Americans Don’t Eat To Live

I wanted to include thoughts on diet simply because sometimes when you are a vegetarian it perplexes people to the point that it is almost as if you are Un–American. Dr. Khalsa has never consumed a meat product. “I have never eaten meat so I really don’t have any direct experience whether it would be better for me or what complications it might cause me, if any.”

She isn’t shy about quoting research that attributes meat to the causes of some colon cancer and shows that it also contributes to inflammation, now considered the source of many mechanisms of disease and aging.  As she dispassionately expresses her findings, never once in the tone of her voice or her attitude do you sense that she wants everyone to become a vegetarian. She is not judgmental in sharing her knowledge and beliefs.

Saving the world or propounding best practices for everyone to live by is far from her cause.

“I don’t consider myself an expert because the word expert feels like ego, and if I think that I know it all, what would l learn tomorrow?” she declares. Her egoless passion is woven effortlessly into her mission.  She is refreshing, honest and deeply knowledgeable.

The threads of yoga as a tool for American physicians may seem enigmatic, impractical and even too simple.  Dr. Khalsa closes this gap. Maintaining and rebalancing the body temple is much easier than we have been led to believe. As yogis know, the subtle discovery here is self-empowerment.

Yoga isn’t a passing phase in American culture. In many ways it is poised to, and in some cases has already become integrated within the American medical system. Substantial data is available that documents yoga and its physiological benefits to health and well–being.

Sometimes I think of yoga as a subtle wind that has sifted into our culture little by little and is now carrying us by its own force. It enchants us one by one, two by two and then ten by ten. Now, like chain stores and restaurants, there are mass outlets for “retail yoga.” In this respect yoga has “arrived” as an artifact on the cultural landscape. (Never mind the fact that historically in India it took years of study under one teacher to even earn permission to teach.)  Yoga has her own mind and she wants to turn down the lights and dance the night away with all of us if she can.

To learn more about the event go to: www.mountainposesymposium.com

To learn more about Dr. Khalsa: http://integratedhealthmed.com


Guided by a natural gift for healing and touch Renee Tormey studied with a variety of teachers from the East to the West. What crystallized is an intimate understanding of the human body, mind and spirit.  She has been doing yoga and bodywork since 1996.




Editor: Edith Lazenby

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