Yoga, Neuroscience and Physical Therapy

Katie Wadden is a PhD candidate in the Brain Behaviour Laboratory she is on a non-traditional career path toward becoming a Physical Therapist.

To this point my academic life has been very diverse, as I have explored many paths in search for a holistically fulfilling career. My story begins when I embarked on a Bachelor and Masters of Science in Kinesiology, where my research interests were focused on studying exercise physiology in athletic populations. I am currently enrolled as a doctoral student in the School of Rehabilitation Sciences at the University of British Columbia, where I have shifted my academic focus to studying neuroplastic change in neurological pathologies. Specifically, my research focuses on using MRI to study gray and white matter in the brain, using methodological approaches such as, functional MRI (fMRI) and diffusion weighted imaging (DWI), following rehabilitative interventions.

Lululemon athletica©, a Canadian based yoga company, invited me to be the primary investigator for evaluating the effects of yoga on the mind-body connection due to my expertise in brain neuroplasticity and exercise physiology research. I was able to obtain a Mitacs internship to support my work with lululemon athletica©. I worked closely with their research team to develop a study investigating the effects of yoga experience on emotional regulation. The aim was to determine if persons with varying levels of yoga practice differ in brain activation (measured using fMRI), in response to emotion-evoking stimuli (i.e., film clips containing emotional content). Currently, I am on my second Mitacs internship with lululemon, studying the effects of a yoga intervention on emotional regulation in varsity athletes. Due to the positive effects of yoga that we discovered through our research studies, I became personally and professionally invested in this practice. This fall I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training.

My winding research road can be summarized by a quote from Cheryl Strayed – “I didn’t know where I was going until I got there.” I now see clarity in my professional pathway as I would like to devote my future endeavors to mindfulness-based practice in a rehabilitation setting. In physical therapy, and specifically neurological rehabilitation interventions, I see great potential for the implementation of mindfulness practice. When I finish my PhD, I am applying to the Masters of Physical Therapy (PT) program, and as a PT-PhD, my goal will be to continue neurorehabilitation mindfulness research and develop and implement mindfulness practices in clinical university programs.