Anatomy is a critical subject that medical students must master, and many do so by attending lectures, then spending hours studying textbooks, flash cards and taking exams.
Students at the Touro University California College of Osteopathic Medicine (TUCOM) in Vallejo can now supplement their traditional anatomy studies by taking a new elective course that teaches anatomy through the practice of yoga.
In search of a more interactive way to teach anatomy, Stacey Pierce-Talsma, DO, MS, an associate professor at TUCOM, and her husband, Joel Talsma, an anatomy instructor, developed the course together and taught it for the first time to 32 students during the spring 2016 semester. They’ll be teaching the course again in the fall 2016 and spring 2017 semesters.
“Our goal was not only to teach anatomy in a really kinesthetic way, but also to introduce students to yoga as a form of stress relief they can practice themselves and recommend to patients in the future,” Dr. Pierce-Talsma says.
The course consists of eight two-hour sessions, during which students spend the first hour discussing various anatomy concepts and how they relate to osteopathic medicine and the practice of yoga. For the second hour, Dr. Pierce-Talsma, who is also a certified yoga instructor, leads a group yoga practice focused on a specific area that was examined in anatomy lab, such as upper extremity.
Practicing and studying yoga helps students dive deeper into their anatomy studies by learning how different body parts are interconnected and how they affect one another, Dr. Pierce-Talsma says.
“At the end of the course, we asked students about their understanding of fascia and structures in the body,” she says. “They talked about how fascia is very interconnected, and they hadn’t necessarily understood that previously. They talked about specific nerves and finally feeling like they understood where, why and how they travel.”
With a greater understanding of the physiological underpinnings of yoga, students will be well-equipped to recommend yoga as a non-pharmacological tool patients can use to reduce anxiety and musculoskeletal pain, Dr. Pierce-Talsma noted.
Mind, body, spirit
In their end-of-course surveys, many students noted that in addition to enjoying a new way of learning anatomy, they found the course to be a source of stress relief. Dr. Pierce-Talsma often focused on specific stress-relieving tactics while leading yoga sessions.
After taking the course, Hiroe Hu, OMS II, says it was a nice break from learning hard sciences in the classroom.
“Electives like this help students see that medicine has so much more to offer than what they learn from textbooks, and it helps them remember why they are in medicine,” she says. “The course reminded me of the importance of incorporating mind, body and spirit into practice.”
Hu says she also enjoyed studying the parallels between the philosophy of yoga and the tenets of osteopathic medicine.
“Both yoga and osteopathic medicine are based on the idea that we are not just a physical body with a mind,” she says. “Our human existence consists of mind, body and spirit, which interact with one another in very complex ways.”