A physician practicing yoga? Not surprising. Medicine, after all, can be quite stressful. And someone looking for ways to relax after a hard day’s work - but is not into the usual workouts - has a perfect alternative in yoga.

Take it from Dr Sigrid Agcaoili, a surgeon at the National Kidney and Transplant Institute, with specializations in Urology and Regenerative Medicine. She’s been into yoga since 2012 and swears by its benefits.

Beyond the obvious physical rewards, yoga is about mindfulness. “It teaches you to take care of yourself,” she tells MIMS in an interview.

Yoga is a set of physical, mental and spiritual practices or disciplines that originated in ancient India. It has been listed as an “intangible cultural heritage” by the UNESCO, and in recognition of its contribution to health and wellness, United Nations member-states observed International Yoga Day last June.

Time well-spent

The medical specialist tries to maximize her time every day. Surgeries are scheduled in the morning, while meetings and appointments are weaved in between clinic hours. Aside from NKTI in Quezon City, she also holds clinic at Cardinal Santos Medical Center in San Juan City.

Typically, her day ends at 5 p.m. Then she heads off to yoga class, which takes all of 75 minutes. It is time well-spent because every session not only energizes but also helps balance work and personal life.

“When I wake up, I feel rejuvenated... I sleep better, and I feel that I can do more," she says.

Dr Agcaoili loves to move. In high school, she participated in sports fests, playing volleyball, but she was also fascinated with dance. So there was ballet along with volleyball.

In medical school, aside from joining medical missions organized by her alma mater University of Santo Tomas, she joined her college’s dance troupe.

After completing her residency, she wanted to get into some form of exercise to de-stress. “But I’m not into running. I prefer dance,” she says. Eventually, she heard about yoga being a good alternative and gave it a try.

Dr Sigrid at the Beyond studio: Yoga has become a way of life
Dr Sigrid at the Beyond studio: Yoga has become a way of life


Dr Agcaoili started with a light schedule, going in three times a week... more, if work permitted it. She has since joined two commercial yoga class companies and more than just being into it for health, yoga has become a way of life.

How heavy is her workload? Aside from practicing urology, Dr Agcaoili is also the Technical Section Head of the Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics Laboratory at the NKTI. So a relaxing activity is a must.

Union of mind and body

Yoga, Dr Agcaoili explains, comes from the word ‘yuj’, which means to bind or the union of the mind and body.

“It’s what I love about yoga. It has a lot of benefits. Aside from the physical, there is mindfulness. And a lot of principles you can really apply off the mat - [when] you’re being a doctor, a surgeon or a friend.”

Like most who practice, it took some time before the busy surgeon came to realize that it was more than just physical.

“Yoga has other benefits… about calmness of the mind. It is also taught that you have to think of the present - don’t think of your day, or your future, what you’re going to eat later. Just be mindful. Listen to your body, you have to feel what you’re doing.”

The urology specialist acknowledges that while gym sessions do result in improved physical well-being, she still prefers a more calming activity. And what really draws her in are the mindfulness and attention to the spirit, aside from the physical merits.

“[Though yoga may seem simple and low-impact,] it teaches us self-care. We are taught to take our time... to take care of ourselves, so that we can take care of others,” she said.

For Dr Agcaoili, yoga is a practice that addresses the whole, instead of just parts of, and it encourages one to look inwardly and improve.

Self-discovery

One of the perks of practicing yoga that often comes belatedly is the discovery of one’s self, she says.

“Eventually as you practice, you’ll be able to do some of [the harder poses]. I never imagined myself being able to do a headstand. You discover a lot more about yourself, that you have that strength all along,” Dr Agcaoili said.

Dr. Sigrid Agcaoili on self-discovery with yoga: I never imagined myself being able to do a headstand.
Dr. Sigrid Agcaoili on self-discovery with yoga: I never imagined myself being able to do a headstand.


Yoga includes standing, sitting, and twisting poses, among others. Asana refers to the posture in which a practitioner sits.

A widely-known yoga instructor, Sri Dharma Mittra, has photographed himself with over 1,300 asana poses and suggested that there are infinite number of asanas.

Deep breathing

Breathing is essential to yoga. You have to learn how to breathe properly, Dr Agcaoili emphasized. “That’s really the practice. It’s the reason the other benefits will follow. It will slow your heartbeat, calm you, and remove stress.”

Breathing is a cornerstone of yoga. Pranayama is a yogic discipline referring to a set of breathing techniques. It is the conscious awareness of breath, and it energizes and relaxes the body, according to Yogapedia.

“That’s the first thing they ask of you. You have to breathe even with the harder poses. You don’t have to perfect the pose, just learn to breathe,” she explains.

She goes on that when a person is hyperactive, they tend to have short, shallow breathing, or shallow, fast breathing. “To be calm, you need to breathe in and breathe out,” she said.

Deep breathing carries with it the physical benefits of better blood flow, healthier sleep, and release of endorphins throughout the body, according to Livestrong.

Ego out the window

Other than mindfulness and proper breathing, one important lesson taught by yoga is to set aside ego. “There are times you have to admit that you can’t do some poses - that you are not as bendy,” the doctor points out.

Egoism in yoga, according to Yogapedia, prevents samadhi or what is called “bliss.” Yoga practitioners are encouraged to look inward, towards the needs of the body and the self, and not towards the perfection of the poses as this is egoism.

“They don’t force you to do all the poses. All poses have modification, there is advance and there are those for beginners.”

Dr Agcaoili adds, “you just have to accept what your body can accomplish at the moment. You’ll never know, you’ll just be surprised... that you can already do the “fold” or even splits.” MIMS

Photos courtesy of Dr Sigrid Agcaoili; headstand photo taken at The Farm at San Benito.

Read more:

180 countries observe International Yoga Day
Yoga: 10 basic poses for beginners
Patient care may come with an emotional cost