Women In Wellness: Dr. Ingrid Yang on the Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing

 

Article originally published via Medium – view here.

Travel- if there is one thing that makes us feel more alive and at the edge of our comfort zone, it is travel. It can be travel to connect with nature, see old friends, meet new friends, try new foods, experience foreign cultures. That is why I lead yoga retreats in a different place every year — so that people can come and have new experiences with me, step out of their comfort zone, but all with the grounding of yoga and breathwork.

Asa part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Ingrid Yang.

Dr. Ingrid Yang is a physician, certified yoga therapist, Reiki master and an advisory board member at wellness company obVus Solutions, where she contributed her expertise to the breathing exercises featured in the new minder® posture corrector + breathing coach app. When not practicing medicine, Dr. Yang leads yoga trainings and retreats all over the world, with a special focus on kinesthetic physiology and healing through posture modification, breathwork, meditation and mind-body connection. Dr. Yang has authored two books: Hatha Yoga Asanas and her latest release, Adaptive Yoga, published in November 2020.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Iam a physician, former attorney, yoga teacher, Reiki master, author of two books including my latest, Adaptive Yoga, and medical advisory board member at wellness company, obVus Solutions. Having had many different careers, I feel I am truly living my purpose as a physician, advising and educating people on their health. I started practicing yoga because I needed it on a very personal level. But my story is far from straight and narrow, and I’ve often had to ask myself really hard questions at times when the “right” answer seemed impossible to find.

In college, I was a type-A go-getter in New York City, full of ambition and energy. Yet the stress and pressure I put on myself felt suffocating. I was anxious and rigid, both physically and spiritually. Luckily, a friend recommended yoga to help ease my emotional inflexibility. Yoga taught me was that I could just breathe in each moment; I did not have to prove or accomplish anything. I could just breathe and exist. I had never felt so relieved. It was the best gift I could have ever received.

During law school at Duke I taught a lot of yoga, both to relieve stress and hone my skills. I took hours to prepare for each class scouring through yoga books, drafting outlines, and practicing in front of the mirror until I had the plans memorized. Yet it didn’t feel like work because I loved it so much. It was a process, but the hard work paid off as my weekly classes grew from 10 to 60 people within a year, and close to 100 by the end of law school. It was rewarding to have so many students benefit from a practice that I held so close to my heart.

After graduating, I moved to NYC to practice law but quickly realized that a corporate life would not fulfill my desire to make an impact in others’ lives. When my closest aunt passed away that year, I saw that our time on Earth is too short to live a life unfulfilled. So, I packed up my things and moved down to North Carolina to open a yoga center. It was scary. I was leaving a promising career as a corporate attorney at a large, reputable law firm to follow this “pipe dream” to found and run a yoga center. Without question it would not be the most lucrative path, but I decided to take the leap, based on gut instinct alone. Little did I know that, despite all the fears that I had and all the uncertainty ahead of me, this decision would put me on the path towards realizing the life I was born to live. So, I opened up Blue Point Yoga Center and, using money I saved from practicing law, built it from the ground up — no walls, no floors, just a vision. I am proud to say that Blue Point still stands today, a thriving multi-location yoga center in Durham, NC. And while there were hiccups along the way, the right opportunities and people — investors, contractors, teachers — always presented themselves at just the right moments. And I witnessed that — the minute that I would start to stress about something — the solution would come naturally and elegantly. It just goes to show that when you are on the right path, the entire universe aligns to clear the passage for you.

While running the center, I began to realize how connected yoga is to physics, kinesiology and human physiology. The way that we practice pranayama speaks fluently with our respiratory mechanics, and the transitions between postures logically connect to the biochemistry of our brains. As a child I had always wanted to be a doctor; however, I never believed I was smart enough. During my tenure at Blue Point I became more interested in medicine and devoured books and videos on our physiological inner workings. I started to teach through that lens, and because my yoga center was near to the Duke Medical Center, many of the doctors and nurses that attended my classes encouraged me to consider a career in medicine. Although I initially shrugged it off, I began by dipping my toes into pre-med classes at a local college and, after multiple applications, was finally accepted at medical school. Though medical training was grueling and exhausting, yoga provided much needed balance and kept me grounded.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

I think the most interesting thing about my career is that, while it may appear to be a success, it was also riddled with failure. At times, it felt like every turn in the road brought about obstacles to challenge me, leading me to tough questions: How much did I want this? How dedicated was I?

It took me three tries to get into medical school. Then, I failed the first step to my medical certification boards (by one point). My med school threatened to hold me back a year, but I powered through, retook the test, and achieved a great score. Then, halfway through residency, I realized I had chosen the wrong specialty, and switched to Internal Medicine, where I had thrived previously. There was a lot of crying and feelings of disappointment and inadequacy. But I was so sure in my heart this was the right path.

After each hurdle, I continued to forge ahead, despite feelings of self-doubt. I felt like I had no other choice — this was my destiny. But today I am in the specialty that is perfect for me (I work as a hospitalist), with a medical group I love, in La Jolla, a city that I hope to always call home. Each failure taught me an important lesson: failing does not mean you are a failure. What defines us are the actions we take after the failure. Do you reflect and learn from the failure, get back up, and keep moving? Or do you take on the victim role and give up? There is always a choice. And I can guarantee you that the most successful people you know and admire have failed over and over again until they succeeded. Failing is all part of the process, and we must choose to take it in stride.

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

My biggest mistake was believing that if I just muscled through something that it would turn out the way I had envisioned. When you are a student, if you study harder, put in longer hours, then you can achieve the outcome you want. I was used to that because I had spent so much time in school. But the most important lesson I learned from that is to follow your instincts and pay attention to what the signs are telling you. Did a challenge arise to signal you to take a different direction to get to the same place? Or to ask you to turn around altogether? Often, the key is to sit still in order to know your heart’s greatest hopes and receive the answers. Remaining rigid would have caused me to stay in a medical specialty that was not the right fit for me. Instead, taking a step back in order to think about my values and goals led me to the right decision.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I am going to name someone I’ve never met: Michael Alan Singer. He is the author of The Untethered Soul, a book that unquestionably changed my life. The book allowed me to be courageous enough to ask myself difficult questions during what felt like impossibly challenging times. It allowed me to examine the limitations that I placed on myself and decide whether I would move past them or remain imprisoned by them. It taught me to be bold and brave about sharing my vulnerabilities and connecting in a real way with myself, with others, and with nature.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

I consider myself first an educator, then a physician. My job is to educate patients so that they can make informed decisions based on their personal value systems. I am a huge fan of knowledge acquisition because knowledge is power. And if I can empower others by sharing knowledge, I feel that I have done my job. But in all, my patients teach me so much more than I can ever teach them. I have sat aside dozens of people on their death beds and they never say: “Gee, I wish I’d been in the office more instead of seeing my kids,” or “I wish I’d bought that expensive purse.” They say, “I wish I had reconciled with my estranged son,” or “I wish I had apologized to my wife for making her feel unseen during our marriage” or “I wish I had traveled to my parent’s homeland before it was too late.” These are the lessons I have learned from them. What is life really about? Where do we, as humans, find meaning In our connections?

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

  1. Travel- if there is one thing that makes us feel more alive and at the edge of our comfort zone, it is travel. It can be travel to connect with nature, see old friends, meet new friends, try new foods, experience foreign cultures. That is why I lead yoga retreats in a different place every year — so that people can come and have new experiences with me, step out of their comfort zone, but all with the grounding of yoga and breathwork.
  2. Stay curious — having a curious outlook will help your mind stay young and resilient. Asking questions of yourself, your spouse, your parents, strangers — staying curious about the world around you will allow you to experience the world in a manner which feels fresh and new every day.
  3. Move and exercise! — it is the number one (and only proven) way to delay Alzheimer’s dementia, improve your cardiovascular health, decrease your risk of cancer, and improve your overall quality of life.
  4. Use technology to your benefit, not your detriment. Tech tools like the minder® app (to which I contributed my expertise) can help track wellness goals and prompt healthy habits including good posture and proper breathing (essential for lung health, so important during a pandemic). But know when to turn off technology. Use it to benefit health, but put it away when done for the day.
  5. Sleep! — the brain needs time to rejuvenate, so be sure to make sleep a priority. Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. Try to get at least a solid 8 hours every night. It’s the #1 guaranteed way to make you more efficient, productive, and stress-free.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

We are in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic. Now more than ever, we need to look to natural, proven methods to build our lungs, relieve stress, and improve emotional health. As a medical doctor and yoga teacher, I understand the benefits of how both good posture and proper breathing can not only build our lungs, but also alleviate stress, increase self-esteem, and improve positive mood. My advice is to take big deep breaths regularly (that alone improves your posture and brings oxygen to your muscles, which helps you feel invigorated). Technology can be our biggest ally here: studies show that people who wear wearables such as minder are more likely to take steps towards achieving their health and wellness goals by adding encouragement and motivation.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Haters gonna hate. But seriously — there will ALWAYS be nay-sayers. They may feel threatened by you, jealous, or maybe something about you triggers them. Whatever it is, it is not about you. Keep doing what you’re doing and don’t pay any mind to those that have nothing nice to say.
  2. Know your values. Be very clear about your values and you can then more easily make important decisions when you are coming from a place where you can remember your purpose and values.
  3. Maintain healthy boundaries. It is impossible for you to be everything to everyone all the time. In order to do well at what you are focused on in the present moment, you must be able to take a step back and not be pulled in every direction. That links back to remembering your values and staying on the path that helps you maintain these values.
  4. Surround yourself with those that support you and believe in you. Because in the moments where you doubt yourself (and there will be plenty of those moments), those people will sense that and share their belief in you, and by proxy, allow us to believe in ourselves again.
  5. Do only what you love! There are so many things in the world that you CAN do, but what MUST you do? I have been asked how I’ve been able to accomplish “so much”; it does not feel like that much to me, but the only reason I have accomplished anything is because I have only done what I love doing in the moment. In this moment, it is practicing medicine and spreading the good word of mindfulness and breathwork. And when you are doing what you love, it truly does not feel like work at all.

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

Mental Health. We are the masters of our own destiny. If you suffer from anxiety, there is a way out that is not just about pills. You can use breathwork, mindfulness techniques, connection to others. And none of those things have side effects!

 

San Diego Union Tribune Features Dr. Yang and Adaptive Yoga

This article was originally published in the San Diego Union Tribune on January 5, 2021

 

 

‘Adaptive Yoga’ tailors poses for those with 9 conditions, including Parkinson’s, arthritis, stroke and multiple sclerosis

A long and varied path led Ingrid Yang to her multifaceted career. An internal medical physician with the Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, Yang, 41, also has been a yoga teacher for 22 years. Because her residencies included physical therapy and rehabilitation, it was a natural progression to develop yoga poses specifically designed for people with disabilities.

Yang collaborated with physical therapist Kyle Fahey to write the book, “Adaptive Yoga: Designed for a variety of bodies and conditions,” published in November.

“Yoga is intrinsically modifiable,” Yang said. “There’s a huge variety: hardcore hot yoga, laughing yoga, restorative yoga. And yoga offers so many ways to modify, including blocks, bolsters and walls.

“People with chronic medical conditions have an increased risk of depression and anxiety. Yoga is good at decreasing anxiety attacks and depressive responses. Yoga is a tool that’s not pharmaceutical. Using breath is important. When we deepen our breath, we can release frustration and let go.”

The book offers yoga adaptations for nine disabilities: low back pain; osteoarthritis of the hip and knee; rheumatoid arthritis; lower limb amputation; spinal cord injury; Parkinson’s disease; stroke; multiple sclerosis; and cerebral palsy.

These disabilities are fairly common, and Yang has worked closely with patients who have them. Many gave her feedback as she and Fahey were formulating the adaptations.

“Adaptive Yoga” was written for physical therapists and yoga teachers, and for people who have one or more of those conditions. It offers clear instructions and explanations in straightforward language, and each pose is accompanied by an illustrative photo.

But you won’t see supermodels demonstrating Warrior II or downward-facing dog.

“When we think about yoga, we envision the perfect gymnast doing unbelievable positions. And we think: ‘I can’t do that!’ ” said Yang, who tends to acutely ill patients at Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa.

“Every single one of the models in the book has the corresponding disability. That was important to me. What’s the point in me showing an amputee how to do a pose? Working with the models and with my students taught me how to actually write this book.”

‘An incredible feeling’

Nikki Armstrong was one of the first participants in sessions led by Yang and Fahey as they developed an adaptive yoga program at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab in Chicago.

Armstrong, who had practiced yoga since high school, attended a cousin’s wedding in October 2018. A day or two later, the then-24-year-old woke up with what she described as “zombie arms.”

Within a few days, she was unable to walk or swallow.

Armstrong was eventually diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS), a rare autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves. It can result in complete paralysis.

She began to recover through a blood exchange procedure, but the impact of her paralysis was severe. She soon began physical therapy in Chicago, even while on a ventilator.

“That’s how I met Ingrid Yang,” said Armstrong, whose voice wavered from emotion as she recounted her story. “I remember going to class in my wheelchair. I was so touched by the fact that I could still do movement, I could do yoga, even with these limitations. It was an incredible feeling.”

Now 26, Armstrong works full time and can walk, run, and practice yoga like she did before contracting GBS. Besides numbness in her feet and occasional balance issues, she feels back to her former self.

“Ingrid has medical knowledge and incredible expertise in all things yoga, Armstrong said. “I’ve never been in a class so alive — everyone was excited about the possibilities of adaptive yoga. It’s not very well known and I’m glad the book will spread the word.”

‘Truly accessible for all’

Publishing “Adaptive Yoga” now was not ideal. Yang said the initial plan was for her to do book signings and demonstrations at yoga studios across the country.

She immediately put those plans on hold because of the pandemic. She’s trying to promote the book, available on Amazon, through social media and other safe methods.

“I think this book is important,” Yang said. “I didn’t want to write something no one would read. But I want to act in a manner that is responsible. The consequences of actions that would have seemed so benign are so serious now.”

In 2017, Yang transferred from Chicago’s Northwestern University to do her residency in internal medicine at Scripps Green Hospital. Since 2018 she has combined taking care of patients at Sharp Memorial with writing the book. Until the pandemic hit, she was also presenting yoga demonstrations worldwide.

Soon she will be offering livestream adaptive-yoga training seminars, including one on Jan. 16 for yoga teachers and medical professionals.

People who fall outside of those realms may benefit from reading “Adaptive Yoga.” Yang encourages seeking out a teacher or guide to help.

“If you may not be ready to do that, I’d recommend reading the chapter for your specific condition in its entirety. Then, determine by your own good judgment what poses and sequences resonate with you,” she said.

“There may be certain postures that you have been doing naturally without knowing they are yoga. Better yet, there may be poses that you aspire to that you can discuss with your physical therapist or yoga teacher.

“The book was written in plain terms to make it truly accessible for all. No yoga background is necessary, just a curious mind and a belief in yourself.”

Dr. Ingrid Yang’s thoughts on breathing

  • “Dozens of breathing techniques are available. Practice what feels comfortable for you. Some techniques utilize slow, diaphragmatic breathing, and others use a more rapid, energetic breath.”
  • “There is no one-size-fits-all. Once you have practiced a breathing technique and mastered it, you can start to explore others recommended in ‘Adaptive Yoga.’ ”
  • “Be mindful of your breath.”
  • “This mindfulness of the breath in each posture is the essence of yoga and a breathing technique itself.”

Adaptive yoga training

A livestream training for yoga teachers and medical professionals

Instructors: Ingrid Yang, author of “Adaptive Yoga,” and Jennifer Chang, founder of The Movement Mechanic
When: Jan. 16, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: $425
For more information: ingridyang.com/retreats-trainings/adaptive-yoga-training

Wood is a freelance writer.

How meditation helps me cope with COVID-19

Now, more than ever, I have called upon my meditation practice to help me through each day. Every morning, whether I’m headed to the hospital or self-isolating at home, I find my way to my meditation pillow for 30 minutes. This is a very stressful time for a physician. There is no question that I love my job, and I thrive in stressful environments. However, these times are unprecedented. No doctor has trained for this. But my mindfulness practice has guided me through the stressful hospital days and has helped me navigate the challenges with dignity, grace, and compassion.

I remember when I first started meditating; I was living in NYC, 9/11 had just occurred and I felt stressed about everything. I could hardly sit still for even 5 minutes. But regardless of how hard it was (and it was hard!), I would practice every day. Even for just 5 minutes. Eventually, I started to notice the benefits — I was no longer ruled by my concerns about the future or dwelling in the past — I felt more present in my daily life, and consequently, more free.

My meditation practice really took flight during med school. I was filled with so many feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. How could I ever have the knowledge and healing instinct that seemed to come so easily to my mentors? But when I committed to the practice, I found it inside me — that sense of knowing… the confidence and self-love that it took to believe I could be all the things I set out to be. It motivated me to study harder and work longer hours. It took years of practice, and some days are harder than others. But it’s in those moments, I know I must go back to my practice. In moments of doubt and fear, I sit– to stay grounded and centered. In times of discomfort I call upon meditation for comfort and guidance — and it has never failed me. In these times of the

COVID-19 pandemic, I practice meditation daily. And without it, I would be a very different person. Who knows, I may have let the stress get to me. But because of the support of meditation, I know myself better, and I can summon the courage needed to take on these difficulties ahead, and step up to the plate the way my patients need me. You can too.

This is water

There is a story of these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” They nod politely, and the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks “What the hell is water?”

These two fish, so innocent and unknowing merely show ya that the obvious, most important realities are often the ones that are hardest to see, and as a result, we miss simply paying attention to what is going on right in front of us and inside us. This very esoteric idea of being present is constantly bombarding us, but what it means really is learning how to think and learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. So today, I encourage you to make the choice to be here and present in the exact space you are in right now.  Knowing that the choice is yours.  And whatever it is that you are feeling whether it is with fear or inadequacy or joy and elation; it is your job to be present with it.  Be here now.