The Doctor’s Iyengar Yoga prescription: Move for a healthy life

By Bridie Walsh

“Yoga is my drug of choice,” says Doctor Greta Prozesky. “It’s much healthier than a glass of wine.”

Greta is a faithful regular at Griffins Hill Retreat yoga classes on Wednesdays and Thursdays. She’s made yoga a priority as a way to tackle stress and strengthen her body with movement.

“The worry and anxiety of modern world is a huge burden and it comes out physically and mentally,” she says. It’s something she observes in many of her patients.

Trained in medicine in her home country of South Africa, Greta spent time in the Middle East before arriving in Australia. She lived in a compound in Bahrain working for an oil refinery with a hospital alongside several specialists.

“My patients are my best teachers,” says Greta. “I’m less interested in using medicine to put a Band-Aid over a symptom, and far more interested in the impacts of nutrition and lifestyle on our physical and mental health.”Long hours as the local Coleraine-Casterton general medical practitioner for the past 16 years led to Greta’s own health crisis eight years ago. She quickly realised she was becoming unhealthier than many of her patients. To turn things around she needed to change habits that a pill couldn’t fix.

“I had to make exercise and movement a priority,” Greta says. “Changing my habits, changing the way I eat, the way I think and the way I was moving. Yoga was a part of that lifestyles change.” She lost 20kg and has maintained a healthy lifestyle ever since. Hiking, good food and time out for herself are bedrocks for her wellbeing.

Everyday Greta sees patients with chronic illnesses. “Western medicine has become good at treating acute illness like infection quite easily. But emerging chronic illnesses such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and muscular skeletal issues are increasing.

“More and more people are diagnosed with fibromyalgia for which there are no tests, you simply rule out everything else going on. Or take irritable bowel syndrome, it is actually a symptom not a diagnosis,” she argues.

The prevalence of chronic physical problems like rheumatoid arthritis and autoimmune diseases related to the thyroid has roots in lifestyles concerns. “A healthy diet, stress management and exercise makes a huge difference or can certainly help a great deal,” says the doctor.

Inspired to help

Greta’s mother inspired her interest in integrative medicine. “She introduced me as a child to homeopathy and other styles of healing,” she says. Plus her mother was a regular yoga practitioner.

Greta’s interest in biology grew. When it came time to choose a career, medicine was a practical choice and viewed with less scepticism back in the 1980s.

A lesson in year 12 about philosopher, musician and physician Albert Schweitzer captured her imagination. He’s an Albert Einstein looking character who worked in Africa as a missionary. “His motto is ‘reverence for life’,” Greta explains. It resonated with young Greta and sealed her path in medicine.

“As a trainee doctor you really think you are going to save the world,” she says. “Then you learn and grow. You realise you are a catalyst and option for people – a helper in the larger journey of their health.”

Eastern medicine is often much better at getting to the root of health complaints.

“Over and over again I come back to gut disorders and indigestion. What I put in my mouth – like gluten and sugar – all the ingredients in excess in our modern food can be the overriding problem.”

Greta believes unearthing root issues is the best approach to treating health problems. A recent patient presented with headaches, the unexpected cause was an allergy to wheat.

Greta encourages people to “become empowered when it comes to your health”. She says, “The information is out there. Don’t rely on someone else or another thing (a pill) to fix it. And be patient – the chronic issues take some time to heal.”

If you ignore nutrition, mental health and physical activity, you can miss a lot and it ultimately will affect your health and wellbeing.

Find healing on the yoga mat

“I’m stronger now than I was 10 years ago,” says Greta. “I can do handstands I never could as a child. Plus it helps with fear and trusting yourself. At first I could not get off the floor – and now I can do a full handstand.”

Yoga also provides time out from a busy life. Greta drives an hour each way in order to make her two classes. It’s a commitment to taking time out for herself: “I don’t always feel like going but I never regret having been.”Before Frank arrived at Dunkeld to run yoga classes at Griffins Hill Retreat there were irregular yoga teachers in the region. Greta would occasionally get involved in line dancing (where she met hubby Rodney) and rock’n’roll but it wasn’t enough activity.

“You have to make exercise a priority. If it becomes something you do when you have time, you will never do it. Particularly if you’re not a natural exerciser,” says Greta. “I make sure it’s in my diary and I schedule other things around it.”

Greta’s favourite yoga pose is downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). It works your hamstrings, arms and back. “Breathing meditation (or Pranayama) is also really challenging for me, because all I want to do is sleep,” says Greta. But it is another reason why the physical yoga Frank teaches – especially if you are in a tight, tense, rushed body – is great to help you switch off and meditate.”

Husband Rodney started yoga four years ago. “He’s a farmer. He’s never been sick, but did have a back complaint,” says Greta. “It was a lesion that a surgeon would have happily fiddled with. I gave him the options of yoga or a surgeon, so now Rodney gets up with me at 4.30am in morning to travel to yoga.”

“Yoga is not going to be for everybody. People have to find the thing that makes them excited, rings their bell and really gets their juices flowing. There’s no point exercising in a gym if you hate every second of it.”

Greta says that simple measures can turn your health around. Find what you are willing and able to do and take steps toward better health.

Make your health a priority and join the Being Well Hamilton Expo

Join over 2,500 of your peers and get monthly articles delivered to your in box.

Subscribe Here