As the daughter of a NASA scientist I was raised to have an analytical mind. A part of me craves method, data, and evidence. I started journaling at the age of seven, carrying my notebooks everywhere. I filled them with charts, graphs, observations, and plans concerning everything from what I ate that day to what to rent at the video store. I was a curious child, constantly asking, “Why?” My parents would send me to the trusty encyclopedia to look up the answer. At the same time, I have always been artistic, creative, and interested in spirituality. My notebooks are also filled with elaborate stories, poetry, and colorful drawings. My undergraduate studies in art led to burnout. Like many people, I came to yoga hoping to relieve stress and anxiety during a difficult time—with the added bonus of staying fit. I didn’t expect that yoga would transform me in an ineffable, seemingly magical way. When I started practicing, I aimed to make the pictureperfect poses. I slowly realized that yoga isn’t about performing the pose “perfectly,” but instead about being perfectly okay with my body and mind in the moment. Now I know that many of the most profound effects of poses transcend my anatomy of muscles and bones to shape my neurology, psychology, and energetic body.
I vividly remember lying on my mat at the end of a yoga class with my eyes wide open, looking impatiently around when I was supposed to be relaxing. I thought “What a waste of time; I have work to do!” With practice, I started to enjoy the way relaxation and meditation practices made me feel. Now, through reading research, I know that when I meditate, I am literally reshaping my brain. Ultimately, I am impacting every single system of my body, and optimizing function. What more important work could I possibly do? My shifting mindset drew me to the Himalayas to study yoga, massage, and healing arts. My teacher, Yogi Sivadas, renewed my interest in science. I returned to the US and completed the pre-medicine courses, in pursuit of understanding how and why yoga works in such life-changing ways. I will never forget the first time I held a human brain in the cadaver lab. The experience was neither antiseptic nor clinical, but deeply spiritual. That three-pound folded gray mysterious mass once both computed mathematics and felt the depths of love. Holding that brain, I knew that the mind-body connection was a key mechanism behind yoga’s benefits.
Dr. Abdullah is a professor and a doctor teaching students to get there med license.
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