Integrating yoga and medicine: Lessons from Dr. Satkirin Khalsa

by Christina on February 28, 2011

I am so happy to share this interview with Dr. Satkirin Khalsa with you today. Dr. Khalsa is a family physician in New Mexico where she integrates yoga and medicine into her practice.

Dr. Khalsa answered some of the questions with one of her patients, and their discussion below goes along with a video of her morning yoga practice and pictures from her life… Enjoy!

A Candid Discussion from Sharing happiness on Vimeo.

  • 3.46 – Yoga’s place in medicine: “Everybody deserves to have at least some yogic approach offered, but I don’t typically use the same words “yoga”… they hear me if I speak their language. Some patients don’t even know that we’re doing yoga… they have COPD, they’re smoking, they’re on oxygen, and I’m just talking about breathing.”
  • 4.27 – Learning to breathe correctly. “Within the first 24 and 48 hours of being taught how to breathe properly… it was a wholly transformative experience for me… I realized I had been given a gift with which to help heal myself. And that is huge to have some sense of control over your destiny.”
  • 8.15 – Patient-doctor relationship as collaboration. “I’ve always looked at the patient-doctor relationship as collaboration. No one has answers, no one has a crystal ball. It must be a collaboration.”
  • 11.05 – Wellness and health doesn’t come from a bottle. “[I] try to bring the message and idea that wellness and health doesn’t come from a bottle, doesn’t come from a potion, but it can come from within, and our affirmations, and the food that we put into the body.”
  • 13.12 – You only need a morsel. “Some patients do need more information on nutrition and I’m there to give it to them and provide it when they need it… but there are some aspects of medicine and in healing where you only need a little piece, a morsel, and the patient can make their picture and complete the puzzle. In medicine, as physicians, we think we need to give all the pieces, or patients request or demand or expect that they are given all the pieces and that we put the puzzle together for them.”
  • 14.15 – Give 1% and let patient run with it. “I’ve only given you 1% and you’ve taken that 1% and made huge milestones… This is not a one-way street. I am only here to help and guide and show and educate. I can’t go home with every patient… no one would want me in their home doing this, walking with them through the grocery store… patients can take what I have to say and apply it to their lives as is applicable.”

Below are more written questions with Dr. Khalsa… enjoy her fabulous responses!!!

Tell us about your yoga path. How did you get interested in yoga?

I was raised in a Sikh community, and have been doing yoga ever since I can remember. I was sent to boarding school in northern India at age 8, returned at age 16. I then went to military school. I taught cadets yoga in the school chapel I taught yoga in college, in medical school and began doing more literature searches for the evidence-based benefits in residency. Now I use yoga routinely in my patient care. There is not one patient that wouldn’t benefit from yoga and nutritional education.

I don’t have all the answers. I never will.  But I will never stop learning, and asking. I can offer what I know, and understand, and what I will continue to learn. Yoga is awareness, and having this tool, alone, is a big tool that would benefit many.

Who have been your most influential yoga teachers?

Every teacher has something to offer.

What made you decide to pursue a career in medicine?

When I was 12, when I met Mother Teresa, I knew I wanted to bring eastern healing modalities (yoga, nutrition, homeopathy) into western medical practice. Mother Teresa brought hope to millions through her open heart, selflessness, and devoted compassion. I realized healing requires much more than what is offered in the mainstream system.

How has yoga influenced your life and career?

Hopefully my life and career are guided by living the teachings of the 8 limbs. I’m not perfect, and never will be. I strive, however, to live by these teachings everyday, no matter what I’m focusing on.

What is your daily routine like? How do you fit yoga into it?

In the morning!! Or else the day gets away!

Tell us about the food that you eat.

Balanced, healthy. But I LOVE ice cream 🙂

How does yoga help you in your life?

Focus, attention and awareness of myself. Always to learn more of myself so I can better serve others.

Where do you see the practice of medicine in the United States going in the next 10-20 years?

My goal is to see the practice move towards awareness and using yoga to: 1) know who we are as providers, 2) offer more to patients seeking health and wellness, 3) integrate health and healing modalities so patients can take back control and start implementing health and healing into their lives.

My big concern right now is our peer’s wellness. Our peers, the workforce you will be joining very shortly, are not all that well. This impacts their lives with patients, at home, and with colleagues. If our health care system is to be sustained, and functional, our health care workers need to be well themselves.

Tell us about your experience during residency (a particular interest of mine since I’ll be starting in a few months!). How did you maintain a yoga practice through that?

Absolutely! I was tired no matter what – but have no fear!!!! Residency was by far more enjoyable than medical school. I went to practice if the studio had mysore early in the morning, and I dashed out of clinic to get to evening class, when I could. Practice was essential to keeping me mindful and focused. It kept me present. It’s very easy to ‘lose yourself’ during training. My advice is same as any yoga person would say, “go with the flow, remain mindful, every challenge is a lesson and a blessing…”

What advice do you have for medical providers to stay happy and balanced?

Care for yourself first, the caregiver, so you may care for all your patients. (Put your own oxygen mask on before helping those around you get theirs on…..It’s not being selfish….it’s the only way you can help others around you!!).

What is your current medical practice like?

I am in private practice. I integrate ‘east and west.’  I look at every patient as an individual, and as a team, we move in the direction that is right for what the patient’s goals are. I incorporate what they want and need, as appropriate, using yoga, acupuncture, homeopathy, nutrition, and of course, prescriptions, surgery, mainstream procedures that may be necessary, etc.

How can we learn more from you?!

Listen to your heart, always. What I say won’t resonate with everyone. I move, as best I know how, from my heart and listening to my intuition. I practice so I can hear, and be mindful and aware of myself. I read and read and read, constantly updating myself on the current literature in integrative approaches. Yoga is my core. My focus. This is what I teach our peers and colleagues most about. But I’m not an expert in anything. I am a student. And if I learn something, I will guide and teach from my place of understanding.

I will be organizing multiple retreats for our peers and colleagues. The retreats coming up this year will be at Sunglow Ranch in Arizona, Osler Symposium in Albuquerque, NM, and Mountain Pose Yoga Festival in Copper Mountain, CO. I’ll be lecturing and doing workshops throughout the year, and further information will be posted to my website as dates are solidified.

Thank you for the opportunity to be interviewed!!

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Kathleen Summers March 1, 2011 at 8:06 am

Great post, Christina. Thanks for sharing. As a physician thinking about opening an office as a solo primary care doc that integrates Yoga and nutrition, I’m most curious about how she manages the financial aspects. Our third-party payer system is so complicated and burdensome. Does she is accept private insurance/Medicaid/Medicare? Is she “insurance free?” I am considering the latter along with using a platform like HelloHealth. It may seem too early to be thinking of such things yourself, but there will be some hard decisions right around the corner.


Christina March 1, 2011 at 3:24 pm

Hi Kathleen,
Thanks so much for this important question – I’m looking forward to what Satkirin says about that too, and I’ll be curious to hear what you end up choosing… I think the HelloHealth platform is excellent (I spent some time with a doctor here in Philly that uses it).

BTW – I LOVE your blog/website and wish I had discovered it sooner! Looking forward to keeping up with your work — best of luck starting your practice!


Satkirin March 3, 2011 at 3:10 am

Dr. Summers, that is a great question! For my patient’s sake, 4 months out of residency I set up my first meeting with local health care administrators to consider covering my services, including yoga. I was at it for over three years, and despite securing a contract for my integrative approach, my actual services were still not ‘coverable services’. Patient’s would still be required to pay out of pocket for services rendered. So I don’t accept insurance at this time.
(But I haven’t given up!!!)


Chris palmer March 2, 2011 at 2:48 pm

Dr. Satkirin Khalsa is the kind of family doctor I would love to have. I am so impressed by her thoughtfulness, her knowledge, her modesty, her devotion to constant improvement and learning, and her dedication to her patients. If only more doctors were like her! Thanks so much for interviewing her. Dr. Khalsa is also an amazing athlete! I was very interested in her comment that as a general rule, doctors themselves need to pay more attention to their health and take better care of themselves (in order to be better care providers).


Satkirin March 5, 2011 at 5:26 am

Thank you for your feedback!


Erin Woods March 2, 2011 at 4:24 pm

Thanks so much for your interview with Dr. Satkirin. I hope you and your followers can join us for Mountain Pose Yoga Festival: FOR HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS &WELLNESS ENTHUSIASTS
The first annual event features medical researchers and professionals, yogis, musicians and motivational speakers, in a breathtaking mountain setting. Earn up to 6 CME credits.

Presented in collaboration with Dr. Satkirin Khalsa, Integrated Health Medicine.

See you in Colorado in July!


Gurubachan Kaur March 5, 2011 at 6:54 am

I loved this interview. I agree with Dr Sat Kirin about health care providers being more aware of their own health. I do not like going to doctors who look unhealthy & only prescribe drugs to cover the problem instead of helping you heal yourself. Dr Sat Kirin is an incredible doctor, woman, yogi &, human being who cares for the well being of her patients. I am very impress with the wealth of knowledge she has & how she helps people heal themselves. Hope there will be more doctors like Dr Sat Kirin who care for their patients as she does. In the old times doctors were pay to keep their patients healthy, now they are pay to give you drug after drug which they cause many health problems. Thank you Dr Sat Kirn ………… Blessings


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