MD Shares Rx for Stress by Teaching Yoga

MD Shares Rx for Stress by Teaching Yoga

Interview by Dolores Radding

Rajiv Misquitta, MD, was exposed to yoga during his childhood in India, but he never took it on as a personal practice until a life-changing event 5 years ago.

Dr. Misquitta was on his way to work at Kaiser Permanente’s South Sacramento Medical Center when he experienced excruciating chest pain and difficulty breathing. Tests confirmed it was a heart attack. The Internal Medicine physician had just turned 40.

After undergoing cardiac bypass surgery, Dr. Misquitta took a hard look at his lifestyle and underwent what he calls “a transforming experience.”  He had gained 20 pounds over the previous 10 years, and was only exercising occasionally.

“As a physician, I have seen the problems created by saturated fats, fast food, inactivity, and stress in my patients. Yet, I had been too busy to take heed. Obviously, something had to change,” Dr. Misquitta said.

He began eating a more plant-based diet, and started exercising 6 days a week. In what he calls “my quest to become superfit,” he also became a certified personal trainer through the National Association of Sports Medicine and a yoga instructor. Now Dr. Misquitta teaches free yoga classes twice a month for employees and physicians at KP South Sacramento.

Tell us about becoming a personal trainer and a yoga instructor.

I’m the kind of person who likes to go above and beyond. Just learning how to exercise wasn’t enough for me. By becoming a personal trainer, I was able to learn about the science of exercise, and how to design workouts to fit into a busy schedule. I also realized that stress was a major problem, and yoga is a great way to relieve stress.

I didn’t want to learn yoga in a haphazard way; I wanted to become good at it, and be knowledgeable enough to tell my patients about it. As I learned more, I felt I needed to not only improve my life, but also help others in the same circumstance. An opportunity came up at the medical center through our wellness program, so I started teaching.

Describe your KP yoga class.

I teach a 40-minute lunch-time class twice a month. I get from 4 to 14 students, ranging in age from the mid-20s to the 60s. The majority of students are at the beginning level of yoga, and they love it. Most of them spend time at work sitting in front of a computer or hunched over a desk, so I try to incorporate yoga positions to address that. For example, backbends to counteract forward bending, and deeper relaxation poses to reduce stress.

When I recommend yoga to people, they often say ‘I’m not flexible.’ But that’s exactly the kind of person who needs yoga. Flexibility develops over time. And, when you stretch the longer muscles in the body, it initiates a relaxation response that can be quite useful during stress-filled days.

The other important benefit of yoga is mindfulness. When you coordinate breathing and stretching as it’s done in yoga, you become more mindful. There are many studies that have shown that increased mindfulness not only reduces stress, but also improves people’s performance in whatever activities they pursue.

How has yoga changed you?

Personally, I feel more balanced.  I’m more mindful in my day-to-day activities, and when I have to do something, I’m more focused.  In my exercise, yoga helps me stay flexible, so I’m less likely to get injured. I feel the yoga also helps me recover faster from long bike rides or running races.

At work, I find I enjoy my practice more. I’m more present and more focused. I’m also able to do more, but I find I’m not as stressed as I was before.

Teaching yoga has also been great. I teach the class so that others can experience the relaxation I’ve enjoyed, but I feel I get more back than I give. I feel an unusual sense of exhilaration in doing this and expecting nothing in return.