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Balancing act for Dr Yoga

Cate Swannell
Med J Aust
Published online: 20 May 2013

Yoga, poetry, music and general practice combine to make Dr Arjun von Caemmerer one chilled-out medical man. He talks about how he strives for balance in everything he does, from caring for his patients, to making his visual poetry.

In late July of 1998 when a “boil water” alert was issued after Cryptosporidium and Giardia were detected in higher than healthy levels in the Sydney water supply, Dr Arjun von Caemmerer applied his poetic soul to the question of how to sum up the situation.

He came up with this:

logorrhoea

SydnEyWatER

Originally published as a letter in The Australian, it later appeared in a self-published volume of his visual poetry, Graves’ tome.

Dr von Caemmerer has published eight volumes of poetry and has a long list of credits with magazines, including Unusual Work, Extempore and EXT 2012.

Last year, his short story Doors (https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/197/2/doors-dr-eric-dark-creative-writing-prize) was entered in the MJA Dr Eric Dark Creative Writing Prize, and was highly commended in the Practising and Retired Doctors category. He has entered again this year with another haunting piece.

Much of his writing is based around his love for and knowledge of music. He has collaborated with pianist Michael Kieran Harvey on a 2010 Frank Zappa tribute CD, 48 fugues for Frank, for which he wrote visual poetry and notes for the CD booklet.

The pair teamed up again in 2011 for a celebration of environmentalist Peter Cundall.

If poetry and creative writing are how Dr von Caemmerer expresses himself, it is through the discipline, practice and teaching of yoga that he centres and balances himself.

Born in England in 1964, Dr von Caemmerer’s childhood was spent in Scotland and Kenya before his family emigrated to Australia, settling in Queanbeyan, New South Wales, in 1975. He graduated in medicine from the University of Sydney in 1987 and completed his internship at Concord Repatriation General Hospital, with a stint as a resident medical officer (RMO) for a year at the Auburn and Nepean hospitals in Sydney’s west.

After a few years as an emergency physician at the Royal Prince Alfred, he moved to Hobart, Tasmania, in 1993, where he completed his general practice training the following year.

Now established at the Hopkins Street Clinic at Moonah in Hobart, Dr von Caemmerer sees patients only in the mornings, because his afternoons are dedicated to his other great love, yoga.

“There had always been books about yoga around the house”, Dr von Caemmerer told the MJA.

“In 1988, one of my housemates was a yoga practitioner. I was halfway through my RMO year and there was a bit of a gap, so I looked around and gave yoga a try and found I enjoyed it.”

He enjoyed it so much that he began training as a yoga teacher, setting up the Hobart Yoga Room in 1995 and the Hobart School of Iyengar Yoga in 2000.

“It keeps me less unbalanced”, Dr von Caemmerer said. “There is no such thing as a final stage of balance, but yoga keeps me engaged on many levels.”

Iyengar yoga has its foundations in the structural alignment of the physical body through the precise performance of the postures.

The school’s founder BKS Iyengar said: “Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”

Dr von Caemmerer incorporates his yoga teachings into his medical practice, particularly for patients with back problems.

“Three or four times a year I run a 6-week back care course”, he said. “If other modalities of treatment have not worked, then yoga is another low-cost management tool that is not passive. It is something the patients can do for themselves.

“People come to yoga for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they feel out of balance in some way. Yoga looks at the body as a complete entity — it’s about attempting to find balance between the physical, the physiological, the emotional and the spiritual.”

And has yoga made him a better doctor?

“I don’t know about being a better doctor, but I am certainly more content, and that has to be a good thing”, he said.

“It adds another dimension. The general practice subsidises both the yoga and the art. Medicine has been a really good thing. It’s freed me up to do other things without the economic pressure.

“I’m happy with where I am.”

  • Cate Swannell


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