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Pigeon Pose to Medical Practice

On your mat, you struggle to lie on a bent leg, intensifying your stretch as your hip pleads for you to give up. Many yoga instructors describe hip-openers as a “dynamic” pose because the body is in a constant flux between comfort and discomfort. But there is a moment when your internal struggle abruptly ends. In this moment, your body seems to let go of all tension and struggle, allowing you to relax into your pose. I’ve witnessed this feeling happen in people across all boundaries. No matter a person’s age, sex or ability, everyone has a pose that provides an inner struggle until his or her body decides to relax.

As medical students, we frequently encounter this moment in our studies as well. In the beginning of a new class, exhaustion and motivation often battle for our efforts. We work our hardest to find a new sense of balance in a course that is often drastically different from our last. Then, the same moment happens where we seem to relax. Some call this “hitting your stride” or adjusting to the situation, but I believe that it is more analogous to your body spontaneously relaxing. This state never comes naturally and you never know when you are going to hit it. No one can predict the exact moment he or she will feel stable, but inevitably, this moment of clarity and comfort will arrive.

In yoga, “dynamic” poses are often also accompanied by an aside from the instructor. Usually, this centers the message on accepting what your body can accomplish without pushing it beyond its limit. Instead of judging yourself, replace those feelings with gratitude for your body. Still, what happens when this moment isn’t always enough. When the internal struggle finally becomes resolved, the result isn’t necessarily what you expected. In life, you may feel comfortable and sure, and then perform poorly on your next exam. You may feel fulfilled and happy, and then not achieve your goal.

This feeling of judgment and regret is the sensation that many of us focus on in our medical education career. With applications, acceptances and advice all requiring our best performance, it is unsurprising that only achievement elicits happiness. We are constantly reminded to compare ourselves with others, mentors and especially ourselves. We have become a field obsessed with test scores and perfection. This drive to reject our body’s relaxation has led to the same effects as an over-worked yoga practitioner: we have become tired, unsatisfied and injured.

This internal conflict between your achievements and your goals has become mainstream in the medical field. Recently, there has been a barrage of studies and articles reflecting on how students feel burnt out and how they can change their routine to fit in their many priorities. Students are flooded with a seemingly endless supply of advice in order to push themselves even harder. Yet, none of the articles, advice or adjustments ever focus on the system of a medical career; instead they focus only on the ways a student can conform to meet the needs of the ever-increasing challenges of their education.

Currently, there seems to be a contradiction in medical training. The evaluators in our lives verbally stress the need to look beyond test scores and focus on the person while silently reaffirming the fact that everything is a competition. While stagnancy will never benefit medicine, neither will relentlessly upping the ante. Just as hip opener poses test the areas that grow tight as we grow sedentary, we need the moments where the struggle ebbs and we can simply be without judging where we land. In these moments, we gather strength to once again face the struggle and ultimately push ourselves to become better doctors.

Rebecca Russell Rebecca Russell (2 Posts)

Contributing Writer

Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Rebecca is a student in the Class of 2019 at Sidney Kimmel Medical College.