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From Burnout to Wellness

RN's yoga practice helps her return to the nursing profession

Tuesday November 12, 2013
Toni Scott, RN
Toni Scott, RN
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I stood in front of the hospital in September 2007, shaking both from the cool fall evening and from the release of knowing it was over. Tears flowing down my cheeks, I began walking toward the parking garage.

I stopped to gain my composure, then called my parents. My mom answered, and I began to cry and talk: I just left my job and Im not going back. Im done. Im done.

My mom was silent. Im burned out, I continued. I cant do this anymore. I feel like Im living a double life. Im done.

Id always enjoyed working in large teaching hospitals that serve diverse communities. Newborn intensive care III and pediatric ED were my specialties, so nothing really took me by surprise. Id become immune, or so I thought, to losing patients, to family members who threatened to beat me up and to the minimal respect from some physicians.

Nursing had been my childhood dream; helping others seemed so honorable to me. As I grew in my career, I began to realize there was a mental, physical and emotional side of the profession I was not prepared for, and I didnt feel as though I had any effective coping mechanisms or strategies. Sleepless nights, irritability and depression had become common for me. My burnout was long, scary and lonely.

All this flashed through my mind as I cried into the phone. My inner voice spoke up and said, Stop, take a breath. As my mom spoke, I placed the phone on my chest, inhaled and then exhaled the richest, fullest breath of my life. Instantly things became clearer. I was far from fine, but stopping to ground myself, connecting with my breath, left me confident all would be well.

Yoga, which I began while still a clinical nurse, led me from burnout to wellness. Id begun practicing yoga without any real knowledge of what it was all about. After my first class, I laid on my mat, drenched in tears as puddles formed on either side of my ears. My inner voice screamed get up, but my body would not move. I closed my eyes to stop the flow of tears, took a breath, jumped up and hurried out of the class. I walked home in a daze. I was overwhelmed, feeling like Id been exposed, though Id spoken or barely looked at anyone.

Upon awakening the morning after that class, I felt light and at peace, as if a weight had been taken off my chest. This would begin a practice and study of yoga that eventually led to my certification as a yoga instructor. As I deepened my practice and knowledge, I was growing within, learning how to let go, becoming in sync with myself. Id use my yoga asanas and breathing exercises at work in the nurses station, break room, bathroom, clean and dirty utility rooms, etc.

Ive since become much healthier of mind, body and spirit, going from a pack-a-day smoker who tipped the scales at around 190 pounds to practicing yoga, running, biking and making healthier food choices, losing and keeping off 50 pounds along the way. Gaining self-awareness, learning to honor what my body needs, living a healthier lifestyle and letting go of self-imposed fears that have held me back are only a few of the benefits the study and practice of yoga have provided me.

Yoga also has led me back to the nursing profession, though in a new role. When I left bedside nursing in 2007, I began speaking and presenting at nursing career fairs, community centers, health fairs and guest radio segments as a yoga health and wellness expert.

And after years of doubting my nursing abilities, I returned to school. Yoga has helped provide the energy and determination to pursue my BSN, with a long-term goal of earning a MSN or PhD in healthcare policy.

Ive always struggled with a short attention span in traditional classroom learning. The ability to obtain my degree online and make the deans list has allowed me to reach a goal I thought impossible. I realize I love being a student and learning. A part of me wishes I did this long ago, but it took growth and awareness to break through my self-imposed fears and return to school.

I suspect my burnout would have been much more disastrous and my recovery much rockier if yoga were not part of my life. Who knew 10 to 90 minutes a day could be so life-changing?


Toni Scott, RN, CYT, is a certified yoga instructor and an RN-MSN student at Kaplan University. Look for her at yogatones.weebly.com, Yogatones on Instagram, @Yogatones on Twitter, Toni (Yogatones) Scott on LinkedIn and Yogatones Yoga Health & Wellness Coaching on Facebook. Send comments to editor@nurse.com or post comments below.