Namaste: TUSDM Tries a New Pose

It’s not typical that standing in warrior pose would afford such a magnificent view.

But for the past few months, the American Student Dental Association (ASDA) has been offering exercise, mindfulness, and, yes, a great view with their weekly yoga classes in the Alumni Lounge at One Kneeland.

Stacey Cha, D15, poses during a yoga class in the Alumni Lounge on the 15th floor of Tufts Dental School (Alonso Nichols for Tufts University)

The yoga initiative is part of the new Health and Wellness Committee, which was formed last November by ASDA members at Tufts. They saw that the Boston University Goldman School of Dental Medicine had a similar committee, and wanted to provide a similar service for the students, faculty and staff at TUSDM. The classes began this June.

“We wanted to build a community, bring together people who want to make healthier choices,” said Mitzi Liu, D15, one of the members of the Health and Wellness Committee.

The group asked TUSDM alum Dr. Peter Chang, D12, as well as yoga teacher Patricia Winterfield, to be instructors. Besides being a licensed yoga instructor, Dr. Chang is an associate in practice with Dr. David Ward, D89, in Rhode Island. He’s also a break dancer, snowboarder and skateboarder and martial artist who incorporates dance and martial arts to create a unique yoga experience. He is particularly concerned with connecting his yoga to his work in as a dental practitioner.

“I accumulated a number of injuries that prevented me from practicing dentistry to the best of my ability,” Dr. Chang said. “Yoga has taken away these injuries or changed my relationship to them, and I find that my embodiment practice also elevates my ability to care for patients; by its nature it allows me to overcome obstacles and increase sensitivity to what’s going on with my body.”

Dr. Chang’s background in dental medicine also means he is particularly attuned to the physical needs of dentists and dental hygienists.

“He works specific muscles and joints that people working in dental care typically injure,” said Stacey Cha, D15, a committee member. “These kinds of exercises can create an awareness of your health now and prevent future problems later.”

The classes take place with the alumni lounge with the Boston skyline outside the window, and a variety of TUSDM staff, students, residents and faculty in attendance. The committee instituted a “pay what you can” system for the classes. Their hope is to make the classes as accessible as possible.

“We are so grateful that the university has enabled us to use the space,” said Lalita Nekkanti, D15, a committee member. “We get to interact with other students, residents and faculty in a different way. It’s so refreshing to see people outside the clinic space, in their gym clothes, just having fun.”

Attendance in the classes steadily increased in June and July, though the Health and Wellness Committee has postponed classes until September when the majority of students and faculty return to campus. The committee will continue to try out programs like the yoga classes throughout the year to test the response from the TUSDM community. Cha said that anyone who has an idea for a class or program should contact the Tufts ASDA.

Besides the health benefits, committee members agree that the classes are a way to meet the tremendous challenges of being a dental student.

“It’s a stress outlet for when things get too crazy. After a class, you feel like you can do anything,” Nekkanti said. “And the view is terrific!”