The UNLV School of Medicine’s 180 inaugural students are enjoying a fully renovated and improved (2017) learning center which will serve as the interim medical education facility until the new medical school building on just over nine acres is built. Recently I was given a mini tour of the facility by Dr. Anne Weisman, the school’s Director of Wellness and Integrative Medicine. Dr. Weisman holds a masters degree and a doctorate in public health; her emphasis is in social and behavioral health. Vibrant, excited and very friendly, Dr. Weisman welcomed me and proudly showed me some interesting spaces in the school; the virtual anatomy room caught my eye. Donated cadavers are scanned and images put into the system for the students to study human bodies and dissection upon oversized touch screens.
As Dr. Weisman showed me the different classrooms in the facility, we talked about her role in the school. She develops the school’s wellness and integrative medicine curriculum for the students, faculty and residents. In addition to creating curriculum and workshops, she brings in alternative health resources for the students and faculty.
On the day I visited, there was a Trauma Recovery Yoga class and a meditation class available for students and faculty to attend during the lunch hour. Tai chi is also offered during the week. These classes are provided on a drop in basis. Students pay a wellness fee that funds all of the wellness programs.
Trauma Recovery Yoga is a series of postures linked with breath, self regulation tools, meditation, and self affirmations. The postures are carefully selected based on science. These techniques are delivered in a yoga flow that helps to rebalance the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system bringing about an overall feeling of well being. Orientation, grounding, centering and breath are the self regulation tools that can be utilized anywhere, not just on a yoga mat. This can be particularly helpful for extremely busy individuals ~ like medical students ~ who may not have the luxury of time to attend a TRY class regularly.
When Dr. Weisman was first helping to build the school, she searched for a trauma-assist yoga. In 2017, a faculty member connected Dr. Weisman with Joyce Bosen, founder and CEO of Trauma Recovery Yoga (TRY). TRY aligned with the work she wanted to do. The student resources encourage health, wellness and balance as these high-achieving, Type A personality, extremely focused, selfless students strive towards their medical degrees. The school currently offers a workout room, locker room, meditation room, yoga, tai chi, and meditation classes. Every student was given a yoga mat on day 1.
“By being attentive first to their own wellness, students will be more compassionate and more attentive to the health needs of their patients.” ~ AW
The yoga class is taught by Tiffane Wheeler who learned about TRY during a yoga teacher training workshop in 2018. She enrolled in the TRY teacher training with the goal of taking the method to a weeklong residential summer camp for child burn survivors. A burn survivor herself, Tiffane has attended the camp in California for 20 years. She considers yoga life-changing, “It gives you the tools to slow down and to see what needs to change.” TRY is her anchor to Las Vegas; she has stayed in the community because of her love of teaching the method. She wants TRY to be accessible to everyone. She is passionate about TRY and teaches it full time; some of the places she has taught include the Mindful Movement by TRY classes for economically disadvantaged students in Title I schools; after school programs for middle school students; and at Monte Vista Behavioral Hospital for seniors, teens in a referral program, and for trauma and recovery (detox) patients.
In July 2019 I wrote about meditation being used to alleviate the need for some medication. (See my post entitled “Meditation over Medication”.) Meditation is used in schools for assisting with behavior, self-regulation and increased focus for better grades; PTSD survivors use it in combination with other therapies to reduce or eliminate the need for anti-anxiety medication. The 30 minute lunchtime meditation class for UNLV medical students and staff is taught by Catherine Scherwenka. She is a meditation instructor, certified Kundalini and TRY yoga instructor, and one of the founders of Inner Peace Initiative which brings 20-30 minute meditations directly into a workplace. Her goal is to bring a 6 week or 3 month experiential lecture course covering the science behind meditation to the UNLV medical students.
The day I attended Catherine’s meditation class was particularly stressful for me due to some things I had on my plate. As we sat in the darkened classroom, listening to her quiet soothing voice coaxed our minds and bodies to shift from stressed to calmer. Just as in Trauma Recovery Yoga classes, focus upon our breath is key. Visualization plays a significant role in replacing the chatter in our brains with awareness. I felt a noticeable difference in my perspective at the end of the 30 minutes.
Following the class, Catherine and I visited and talked about how science is seeing the effects of meditation on the brain and mind. It actually changes neural pathways, effectively reducing stress and anxiety. The mind can be our best friend; it can also be our worst enemy. The mind brings up past negativity including trauma, hurt, pain, etc. leading to a limiting, destructive distorted filter. Catherine provided an analogy of how meditation creates a window washing that results in a clearer, realistic truthful reality.
It is encouraging to see a medical school dedicating time and resources towards students’ wellness as they navigate the intense curriculum and begin to work with extremely sick people. The calming and stress relief provided by these alternative therapies will be instrumental in developing physicians who are healthy, compassionate and energetic.
Additional information about Trauma Recovery Yoga can be found on their website at traumarecoveryyoga.org. Class schedules and descriptions, workshop information and more about the Downtown Yoga & Wellness Co-op can be found on the website at dtlvcoop.com.