Alumna incorporates yoga techniques among patients

This article first appeared in the WVSOM Magazine’s 2020 winter edition and represents practice prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It isn’t common to pose in the downward dog or warrior position in a doctor’s office, but one WVSOM alumna is incorporating certain yoga techniques with patients to provide a more holistic way of dealing with health concerns.

Jenny Klaus Flaim, D.O., Class of 2009, is a proponent of yoga medicine, which incorporates breathing techniques among patients. Yoga techniques might not be the first treatment you’d expect from a physician whose specialty is radiology, but Flaim said she considers herself to be a primary care-minded specialist.

“I have a subspecialty in breast cancer imaging. We have a multidisciplinary clinic and I make it a point to talk with my patients and interact with them,” she said. “Yoga can be a powerful tool to give to patients. The breathwork aspect of yoga, called pranayama, which includes breathing techniques, can be used with a patient’s own manipulation and can be extremely helpful for those with chronic diseases or in cancer patients.”

Yoga medicine focuses on awareness and visualization of breathing. Being cognizant of one’s own breathing allows individuals to practice reaching a state of mind that increases a sense of calm and comfort about an anxiety-causing situation, such as a surgery or other health procedure.

“This is an immediate tool to help patients get through a difficult moment,” she said. “If they are worried or anxious, or if they can’t sleep, a breathing routine will help them through that. Current research is demonstrating that yoga, meditation and pranayama can have effects on pain control, aging and stress or relaxation response. We can see it on a molecular level. ”

The routine begins with noticing one’s breath and the way oxygen is being inhaled and exhaled. Flaim suggests patients take their pulse, inhale, exhale in twice the time and observe how their heart rate changes. She said that information is powerful because it shows patients that they have a degree of control.

Flaim has been practicing yoga personally for 15 years, but it was just under two years ago that she decided to devote the required minimum of 200 hours to be certified as a yoga teacher. She has used breathing techniques with her patients for the past three years and is working to develop a program that would provide tools to breast cancer patients in Baltimore, Md., and the surrounding area where she works at MedStar Radiology.

“What I find is that breast cancer patients are no longer friends with their bodies,” she said. “It’s like their trusted pet has bitten them and they can’t make amends with it. They feel like their vessel has betrayed them. I want to help breast cancer patients take control of their bodies again and show them these tools that can help them do that.”

The Baltimore native has joined the physician’s wellness committee at her company, and she said she is inspired by the thought of teaching colleagues and student doctors about yoga.

“For students, learning in the classroom and lab is incredibly beneficial, but there are adjunctive topics that could be learned in the first two years of medical school that could help in better understanding patients,” she said. “The research coming out in yoga is incredible. Yoga therapists could be the next step in helping patients.”

Flaim isn’t the only person in her family who has benefited from an osteopathic education. Her husband, Nathan Flaim, is a 2008 graduate of WVSOM, and her father-in-law, Anthony Flaim, is a 1981 graduate who practices in Wyoming County, W.Va. She said she thinks WVSOM does a great job of educating physicians who want to practice in primary care but also osteopathic-minded specialists, like herself.

“I always knew I’d use the philosophies and osteopathic principles [in my practice] because that’s what drew me to osteopathic medicine in the first place. They align with my core values. It’s been a natural progression that osteopathic medicine was going to be right for me because I’ve always been a physically active person and because I come from an open and affective family,” she said. “That component of wanting to be present with the people in my life, including my patients, has always been part of my endgame.”

Date Added: 
Monday, August 31, 2020