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Instead of taking off my shoes as in the yoga studio, I put on shoe coverings so as not to track any germs into the operating room. I shed outside thoughts as well. The attending physician’s voice manifests actions in my hands, which become my asanas. The planes of tissue in the patient’s body seem to dissect themselves. There are no waiting patients, no E.R. consultations pending, no dressings to change. No thoughts of what I’ve done or have yet to do. The outside world dissolves, and I am focused in a sacred space. I witness the inner workings of the human body, whose ultimate design and purpose I can’t apprehend. Yet here is where my hands are, and now is where my mind is. I am relaxed, happy. Am I operating so the patient feels better, or so I do? Is this surgery or yoga? The well-demarcated line between doctor and patient gets blurred. I am reminded of yuj, the Sanskrit word meaning “union.”
What I experience in surgery is not so different from what happens in yoga class. One asana flows into the next. Before I know it, instead of worrying about keeping my balance, I am balanced. Instead of worrying if I am flexible enough for a position, I try it and discover that all I need is a flexible mind. I breathe. When outside thoughts arise, I disregard them and return to the rhythm of my breath. As my concentration deepens, my thoughts cease their frenetic ricocheting. I listen to my body and perceive its signals. After the operation, I apply dressings. I glance at the wall clock in disbelief. I was scarcely aware of the passing hours. The anesthesiologist signals that the patient is waking. I look around the O.R.: nurses in scrubs, snipped sutures on the floor, the patient in a robe. I take off my sterile gown and gloves. My awareness shifts to the outside world. I place a hand on the patient’s shoulder and whisper that everything went well. As I wheel the patient over to the recovery room, I feel refreshed, happy, at peace. The two of us—we are not so different.