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Nov 6, 2007


One way that I have survived medical school is through my regular Ashtanga yoga practice. I started practicing yoga in college in 2001 and have practiced to some degree since. However, last year I decided to start taking it very seriously and practiced six days a week, studied the writings, and tried to implement the lifestyle. That lasted for about five months until I injured my knee. I had to take three months off and am now slowly working back up to a daily practice (damn lateral collateral ligament).

In my study of the writings, one concept caught my attention. But first, a little background.

Ashtanga means "eight limbs". There are eight guiding principles of the practice (the third being the physical postures of the exercise form). The first limb is called yama, or moral codes. There are ten yamas and are listed in order of priority. The first two are ahimsa (non-violence) and satya (truthfulness). To clarify, in order to follow this code, one must only tell the truth if it is non-violent and does not hurt anyone in the process.

I have thought about this a lot recently. How can this apply to me? As a physician, it will one day be my job to tell people things that will hurt them tremendously. Their family member is dead. The cancer has spread. The damage is irreversible. The patient will never recover. Initially, I thought that telling the truth is non-violent in that it is less hurtful than to lie or prolong knowing the truth, but I think that this is a cop-out. Now I think that it simply is not possible to be non-violent all the time.

Sometimes there are situations that involve pain and suffering. It's not my fault and I will do everything I can to help. But these things exist anyway and I have come to believe that it is necessary to experience them. Without the pain, we could not know joy.

And there is a lot of joy to be had. Just check out the Labor and Delivery Ward if you're lacking.

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