Normally, people can hold on to seven
different things in their minds, Shah says, but a traumatized person
can experience cognitive overload, and may not be able to deal with
more than three things at a time.
For some caregivers, strong emotions can develop into an aversion to
going to work.
Shah teaches that just because you have symptoms doesn't mean you're
weak or ill. He has symptoms, too. He had them when he had to visit an
office in a trade center building in Mumbai. The building's name and appearance
reminded him eerily of 9/11.
“This was unconscious initially,” he said,
“but I was avoiding this elevator (in the building). My mind
was saying to me, ‘I don't want to be in this closed, prison-like
With clients and himself, Shah uses yoga as a form of therapy that can
help relieve anxiety and elevate mood. When he was 21, a few family acquaintances
introduced him to yoga. After moving to New York he continued to practice
at studios there.
“I use a yoga perspective in just about everything, though I might
not state it as yoga,” he said. “One of the goals of yoga
is to bring a person into integration, rather than fragmenting parts of
their life. I use breathing techniques for the most part.”
For example, he says, lengthening the exhale of a breath helps calm the
Therapist Angela Cerkevich’s whole approach is through yoga. Cerkevich,
a friend of Shah's, started doing yoga in college, when she was studying
to be an actor. (She later became a therapist). She realized how much
yoga was helping her ability to stay calm and concentrate when she needed
Yoga also increased her appreciation of global affairs. “Thousands
of thousands of years of philosophy can really change your perspective
of life,” she said.
Cerkevich has taught yoga at the Boys and Girls Club and Walter Reed
Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where she is based. She also
went to Rwanda for several months and established a yoga teacher training
program, to reach out to genocide orphans now in their twenties. She's
planning to visit Rwanda again this spring.
“(Yoga) is cheap, it's affordable, it's easily learned,”
Of course, for Cerkevich and Shah, there are language barriers and cultural
differences to overcome.
“That's the great thing about yoga—we were able to communicate
other than just language, other than just verbal,” Cerkevich said
of her clients in Rwanda. “You can still feel like there is an intimate
Shah says he has to tweak his exercises depending on the country in which
he is teaching. In India, for example, therapists tend to speak in a more
indirect and polite manner than American therapists, but they still get
the job done. And in India, it's acceptable to touch someone, on the arm,
for example, while speaking with them. In the United States, therapists
are much more guarded about when it's okay to touch.
Since the age of four, Shah knew he wanted to be a doctor. He was first
impressed by the work of humanitarians when he was ten. As a young doctor,
he figured out how to put those vocations together and make a life out
of it. He founded Greenleaf Integrative Strategies, a trauma education
and consulting firm.
Shah speaks English with an American accent, but
he also speaks Hindi, Urdu and Gujarati. He grew up with Gujarati
and picked up the other two languages when he took a year off before
medical school and journeyed around India, “informally educating”
himself on the country's trains, planes and buses. Since then, he
spends a couple of months every year in India.
He has also worked in Ethiopia, Brazil, Pakistan
and Sri Lanka and hopes to work in Sri Lanka and Pakistan again.
“Because of his medical background, he has the physiological evidence
[for] why something works,” Cerkevich said. “He's one of the
most knowledgeable people I've ever met in my entire life.”
Priyanka Dayal is a journalist in Massachusetts, who recently started practicing yoga.