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VCU School of Medicine (MCV)

“All parts of the body which have a function if used in moderation and exercised in labors in which each is accustomed, become thereby healthy, well-developed and age more slowly; but if unused and left idle they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly.”
Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, ca. 400 B.C.

It’s now common knowledge that physicians suggest yoga as a method of alleviating pain and stress. Few physicians, however, have had personal experience of this ancient discipline. I have taught yoga practice to medical students at MCV since the inception in Fall 2008 of an elective, Yoga Anatomy, Physiology, and Medicine – because I want to help doctors understand through direct experience its benefits.

Allie Lynch, fourth from left. Me, green shirt. Dan Fitzgerald, to my right in blue-gray shirt.

The class is held once a week for six weeks in the spring and fall, with a one-hour lecture given by a medical student, faculty member or community volunteer, followed by an hour and a half practice taught by me.

Daniel Fitzgerald and Allie Lynch, currently fourth-year medical students, have spent considerable time and effort creating and directing the elective.

Mary Shall, PT, PhD (Department of Neuroscience and Anatomy, and Department of Physical Therapy) is faculty advisor and lectures on neuroplasticity.

Stephen Gudas, PT, PhD (Department of Neuroscience and Anatomy) lectures on the anatomy of yoga.

The value of yoga lies in consistent practice. Therefore, my main focus as teacher of the practical portion of the course is to motivate students to cultivate a daily self-practice. The students who practice on their own during these six weeks will exit the course having engaged in a personally meaningful experiment in the meditative and holistic healing benefits of the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga, and having memorized about half the 90-minute practice.

Dan Fitzgerald in Parivritta Parsvakonasana.

The following people who take (or have taken) private yoga lessons with me have graciously volunteered their time to come speak to the medical students. Ellen Williams, 65; Brenda Bailey, 70; Marianne Miller, 55: these wonderful women have made essential contributions to the lecture portion of the course, by coming each year to share their engaging stories of the healing benefits of their yoga practices. Included are important accounts of the ways in which traditional Western medicine had not successfully addressed the same ailments that yoga practice subsequently ameliorated.

Ray Long, MD, orthopedic surgeon and author of Scientific Keys Volume I: The Key Muscles of Hatha Yoga (2006), has contributed as a guest lecturer and has taught a practice class. Dr. Long has also loaned use of the images in his texts, which serve as important adjuncts to the lectures.

Diane Westbrook, RYT has lectured on yoga as related to multiple sclerosis. Diane, herself an MS patient, practices regularly, and teaches yoga to people with MS.

Patricia Kinser, NP and yoga instructor, lectures on prenatal yoga.

Randi Weiss, yoga teacher at Ashtanga Yoga Richmond, and her husband, Joshua Weiss, MD (Anesthesiologist) have each contributed talks about the impact of yoga practice in their lives, and Randi has guest-taught a practice class.

Catherine A. Mathews, MD (Urogynecology and Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery) lectured on yoga practice as a vehicle of stress reduction critical to the “type A” lifestyle of a highly successful professor and surgeon.

I also want to thank the Rev. Canon Dr. Alonzo C. Pruitt, Chaplain and Undersheriff of the Richmond City Jail, for allowing the inmates who participate in my thrice-weekly yoga class to practice side by side with the MCV yoga students at the jail.

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