60 seconds with … Philip Stevens

3 November 2010

Philip Stevens

Name: Philip Stevens
Title: Clinical yoga and Health Enhancement Program tutor and academic advisor
Faculty: Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences
Dept: General Practice
Campus: Clayton

How long have you worked at Monash?

Five years

Where did you work prior to starting at the University?

I was a sleep scientist in the psych dept at Beleura Private Hospital and in private practice as a consulting neurophysiologist using clinical yoga.

What do you like best about your role?

I enjoy teaching medical students about health and well-being. They are smart, motivated and keen to help society through their chosen vocation. The life of a medical student is one of study and exams, often involving a great deal of stress. My role is to teach them how to avoid stress, to get better quality sleep and to maintain personal health and well-being throughout their student lives, hopefully carrying that knowledge and expertise into their professional practice by using evidence-based techniques such as asana (physical poses) pranayama (breathing) and meditation practices for themselves as well as in clinical applications.

Why did you choose your current career path?

In my early days of yoga, teachers of different styles would often teach contradictory breathing techniques. I wanted to better understand how the practices work from a neurophysiological perspective, particularly the breathing and meditation techniques so I studied psychology and physiology as undergraduate degrees.

Using self-designed human-research projects, I explored different yoga practices on the body and mind then completed an honours degree through The Centre For Sleep Research at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in South Australia looking at yogic lifestyle and meditation techniques for better sleep, mainly measuring the neurohormone melatonin. My aim was to explore yogic techniques to alter states of consciousness using measures such as EEG, ECG, melatonin and polysomnography and to find clinical relevance in mind/body medicine.

What did you want to do for a career when you were young?

Either a clockmaker or a research scientist. Interestingly, I ended up as a chronobiologist in the field of human circadian-neurophysiology.

What research are you currently working on and what does it involve?

Currently establishing yoga-research programs through the Swan Research Institute in NSW looking at chronobiology, clinical applications of yoga, literary and human-research skills. We have already established an Asana Research project, a Pranayama Research project and am now establishing a Meditation Research project exploring the evidence-base for clinical and therapeutic applications and running clinical trials. Have also developed a new BMedSc course in Clinical Yoga as an honours degree for medical students at Monash.

My own PhD research is exploring clinical applications of evidence-based yoga techniques for medical and mental-health professionals, focusing mostly on a neurophysiological comparison of the benefits of 'Yoga Nidra' relaxation (see http://www.yogalinks.net/yogalinks/downloads.html for a free 10-min MP3) and Mindfulness Meditation plus various yogic breathing techniques claimed to have benefit.

What is your favourite place in the world and why?

Tasmania. I love the mountains, the forests, the lakes and clear air. It's a bit like the Himalayas in places but smaller and closer, with more coastline and beaches, plus its easier to get to.

What is the best piece of advice you have received?

Dr Craig Hassed once said of Mindfulness Meditation, which is known by different names in different traditions over time, is that it doesn't matter what you call it, meditation has been practiced by many cultures for thousands of years, the important thing is that you need to practice it to get the many health benefits.

Tell us something about yourself that your colleagues wouldn't know?

I used to make handmade, personally fitted shoes and boots for a living. I still have all my shoemaking equipment, including a Singer boot-patching machine older than the oldest machine in the Tasmanian sewing-machine museum.