By Keith Wise
If you’ve taken a look at Razz’s specialty workshops recently, then you may have noticed that we host a few recurring events. However, there’s only one that we host on a monthly basis. I’m referring, of course, to Yoga Nidra. The class, which on occasion has filled up in pre-registration, is in high demand for many reasons, but arguably one in particular. Its popularity can largely be attributed to our yogis’ appreciation for its instructor, Gina Sager.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Gina and ask her a few questions about not only Yoga Nidra, but also her personal connection to both western and eastern medical philosophies. In 1986, Gina graduated from the University of Virginia’s medical school, before serving a five-year residency at Baltimore’s Union Memorial Hospital. Afterwards, she became one of Maryland’s few female board-certified, general surgeons and opened her own medical practice. In 2000, she was named one of the city’s best doctors by Baltimore magazine. But in 2002, she closed her practice, and walked away from her career as a surgeon. She turned to yoga as a stress reliever, and along the way began learning about eastern medical philosophies. Today, Gina is a well respected, holistic healer.
Now, you might be thinking: but don’t the principles of western and eastern medicine run contrary to one another? The former is characterized as being concerned with pathology and immediacy, while the latter is known to enlist more holistic approaches. Gina has learned to find the balance between both.
“Medical degrees are seen as important in western medicine,” she says. “I’m in a special position because I was a doctor and understand the weak points of western philosophy.” Because of her background, Gina has found that people are more willing to listen to her holistic teachings. She is very aware of this privilege, and uses it to open the minds of those she meets, creating new perspectives.
“We have to think about the bigger picture,” she says in regards to the western tendency to address only immediate medical concerns. In this case, the bigger picture includes the human body and the mind. One area where western medicine has consistently fallen short is the treatment of chronic diseases, specifically those linked to pain. With her understanding of neurology, Gina reminds me that studies have found time and time again that the placebo effect is real. Eastern medicine has the ability to work with the brain in ways that western practices cannot. “People cannot argue with feeling because there is power to our thoughts,” she says.
Gina talks to me about a project that she once had to complete, which required her to predict what the future of medicine will look like. She explains that patients need to stop giving up their awareness to the expert. “Medicine should be a partnership between the patient and doctor, rather than so patriarchal.” In her philosophy, the doctor serves more as a guide to the patient because at the end of the day, we know our own bodies best. We have to trust ourselves, which is a major tenet in yoga philosophy.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t always listen to our bodies. “We treat our bodies like cars,” says Gina, as if we can just go to the doctor when we break down, have a repair, and then go about our routine as normal, again. Instead, the equation for human health should be more holistic. “If we’re constantly in fight or flight, then something is bound to break.” Then, she told me of a recent study which found that 86% of Americans are sleep deprived. “Our culture is out of alignment,” says Gina. Though she made a complete career change from general surgeon to yoga instructor and holistic healer, there is a lesson to be learned by everyone in regards to living a healthier and fuller life.
If you’re looking for the first step to, as Gina puts it, “clear your subconscious and unprocessed emotions” or “to rest and digest,” then you might want to consider enrolling in a Yoga Nidra workshop. Full class description below:
Yoga nidra is an ancient yogic practice that means “Yogic Sleep.” This guided practice has the physiologic effect of 2-8 hours of restful sleep, balancing the autonomic nervous system by turning off the fight or flight response that is so familiar in our 24/7 existence. By choosing to rest in the relaxation state, we restore resources to areas depleted by our constant stressful existence and restore balance and ease. Yoga nidra offers us the opportunity to reconnect with our truest, most authentic self, and is restorative and healing, calming and of benefit to the immune system. It may benefit those who suffer from insomnia, pain, chronic diseases, life stresses and anxiety, yet we all could use an opportunity to pause, rest and come into greater balance. It is the perfect antidote to the speed at which we live life!