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The ‘Hormony’ of Yoga


Dr. Calisa Cruickshank is a down to earth, easy to talk to, flexible yoga expert and she takes her work seriously without being too serious. You see, the thing is, Dr. Cruickshank has studied endocrinology, which is a cool way of saying she understands you at the hormonal level, so she understands how taking something too seriously affects your hormones.

Dr. Cruickshank has been working with our local hospital services since 2014, first as a Medical Officer and then, after going for more training to get her Masters in Diabetes and Clinical in Endocrinology, she returned as a Medical Registrar. It’s the latter part of her training that peaked the attention of VI Life&Style. This interview is meant to be something that would support women’s health and what is more important than a woman understanding her body’s hormones and diseases that are caused due to a hormonal imbalance?

You see, when the hormones are not balanced, a woman’s life can be more hectic than it really is. She may have:

  • unexplained weight gain or weight loss
  • unexplained or excessive sweating
  • difficulty sleeping
  • changes in sensitivity to cold and heat
  • very dry skin or skin rashes
  • changes in blood pressure
  • changes in heart rate
  • brittle or weak bones
  • changes in blood sugar concentration
  • irritability and anxiety
  • unexplained and long-term fatigue
  • increased thirst
  • depression
  • headaches
  • needing to go to the bathroom more or less than usual
  • bloating
  • changes in appetite
  • reduced sex drive
  • thinning, brittle hair
  • infertility
  • puffy face
  • blurred vision
  • a bulge in the neck
  • breast tenderness
  • a deepening of the voice in females

To name a few symptoms. Dr. Cruickshank explained the different glands starting from the brain that can secrete too many or too few hormones and cause the symptoms listed above. The glands of the endocrine system are the:

  • pineal gland,
  • hypothalamus gland,
  • pituitary gland,
  • thyroid and parathyroid glands,
  • adrenal glands,
  • pancreatic islets, and
  • gonads (testis and ovaries)

Some diseases that can be caused because of an imbalance of hormones are those such as:

  • Type 1 Diabetes,
  • Type 2 Diabetes,
  • Osteoporosis,
  • Thyroid Cancer,
  • Addison’s Disease,
  • Cushing’s Syndrome,
  • Graves’ Disease, and
  • Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis.

Some of these diseases are common in the Virgin Islands. Considering diabetes is on this list and is very common here, it makes sense that Dr. Cruickshank would study diabetes and do her clinical in endocrinology.

School can be stressful for anyone. While Dr. Cruickshank was in medical school, she needed a way to unwind to ensure her mental well-being was tended to. She didn’t want to party; drugs and alcohol were not an option, and things her classmates were into didn’t entice her. Her aim was to focus and feel relaxed. She met a lady who invited her to yoga class. Dr. Cruickshank felt yoga wasn’t for her as it was something the tourist always did, but she tried it anyway. After doing the class, she was not only de-stressed, she found that it relaxed her so much, she began to look forward to the yoga sessions each week. She was hooked! After a while, Dr. Cruickshank saw a difference in yoga that she didn’t realize before: yoga was an opportunity to look at treatment holistically – mind, body, and soul. When she sees patients now, she does not label them as their condition. Rather she thinks of them as a whole person. She asks questions such as:

  1. How does the patient’s condition affect their job?
  2. How does it affect what they can eat?
  3. Can the patient afford what would be recommended to eat?
  4. How does their condition affect their day-to-day functioning?
  5. Are they depressed? Is this why they aren’t taking their medications or why they are missing clinical appointments?

Dr. Cruickshank shared that many medical conditions are caused by chronic stressors like the current COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, a person who has high blood pressure may be admitted to the hospital because their blood pressure levels are uncontrollable. This then leads to other complications such as stroke or heart attack. Another example she shared is a person being diagnosed as a diabetic who was not diabetic before a chronic stressor like the pandemic. For those now with this precondition now have more conditions to contend with. She even shared that after the Virgin Islands’ lockdown period in March and April, the hospital saw more admissions than prior, although some of the numbers indicated that there could be new patients who could not leave the island to see their primary provider due to closed borders or patients who did not have access to their medication(s) or food requirements, or patients who were unable to make their appointments. Nevertheless, the extent of complications the patients had was not that common before the lockdown.

For Dr. Cruickshank, yoga and medicine go hand-in-hand.  Deep breathing and meditation can lead to lowered blood pressure. It can help you feel grounded and more relaxed.  Because she could feel the tension in her coworkers during the lockdown periods, Dr. Cruickshank would lead her coworkers in guided breathing exercises and movements to ensure they were mentally and physically relaxed to be their best for any patients the hospital may see. This was important to her as she felt they could not treat their patients if their stress levels were already high.

When looking at women’s health (and men’s), she desires to combine the medical and physical of each practice to help women understand the benefits of each pose. She wants women to understand that their level of stress wreaks havoc on their hormone levels and yoga is one way to get the levels balanced. Dr. Cruickshank does not want to see women admitted because they are unable to manage the stressors in their life. Instead, she offers an alternative to complement whatever medical treatment and advice they may have received.

Dr. Cruickshank teaches hatha yoga. Hatha in Sanskrit means “force”. She indicated that you transition from 30-45 poses, from standing to lying down. Each pose works on a different part of the body. The physical poses are just one of the eight lanes of yoga. Practitioners may be more aware of their surroundings and the foods they consume; they may start to desire to move away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of life and start to appreciate what they have more, or they may simply benefit from the ‘talk therapy’ from socializing with those practicing with you.

Dr. Cruickshank teaches her classes from 5:30pm-6:30pm every Tuesday and Thursday on the lawn of Lady Sarah’s Farm (restaurant) on Main Street. She named her business The Sangha BVI. Sangha in Sanskrit means “community”. Her class is for the community of the BVI. All are invited. The first lesson is free so you experience it. Each class is for 60 minutes and all levels are welcomed as yoga is about YOUR journey. It’s about YOU. To join, you would send a message on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/sanghayogabvi.

One piece of advice Dr. Cruickshank would give to all is to focus on health-seeking behaviuors that will decrease stress levels. Yoga is an obvious choice for her but she wants people to look for things they love to do. Stress affects your physical and mental wellbeing. She said that being in endocrinology, she knows that stress can affect your hormones in different ways. She encourages all readers to look at ways to decrease their stress and try to focus on where you want to be health-wise so you can have a good quality of life in the near and far future.

Remember to be grounded within yourself. #namaste https://www.facebook.com/sanghayogabvi