Behind the scenes of the sports industry operates a strong support network of power players. One of these is Ashok Bhandari, ND, MSAyu at SageMED, a naturopathic physician in Bellevue, Wash. For those who won’t settle for anything less than elite performance, Dr. Bhandari plays a unique role by providing expert care that incorporates both cutting edge therapies and the empowering foundations found within Ayurvedic, naturopathic, and regenerative medicine.
Superfans of athletes wonder about the playlists they listen to before the big race and which protein powders they drink. Those who strive to match that level of athleticism dig deeper to learn what techniques will give them a leg up in competition and who these athletes rely on to optimize performance or help recover following injury. If you’re in the Pacific Northwest, that person is Dr. Bhandari.
From Athlete to Naturopathic Sports Physician
Similar to how Olympic athletes aren’t simply handed gold medals, Dr. Bhandari didn’t become Dr. Bhandari overnight. In his preteen years, he was an avid martial artist and eager soccer player who was fascinated by all things exercise physiology, anatomy, and strength conditioning. He thought he would grow up someday to be a strength conditioning coach for professional athletes. After studying exercise physiology in college and working directly with those very athletes, he encountered his own health struggles and ran into dead end-after-dead end for treatment options both as a provider and as a patient.
Eventually, he crossed paths with a naturopathic doctor who opened up a whole new world of options oriented towards first understanding root causes of his challenges and then shifting focus to prevention of those and other issues. “That significantly altered the trajectory of my health,” says Dr. Bhandari, “and seeing that approach in action really made me want to go into medicine.” Going into medicine, a strenuous and long road, is still a broad path with many different options.
So, why naturopathic and ayurvedic medicine? Dr. Bhandari elaborates, “the process as a patient of naturopathic medicine made me realize that combining the naturopathic approach with sports medicine fills a void very uniquely [in this industry] – we were working towards figuring out why things were going on instead of just pushing issues and pain off to the side.”
His master’s in Ayurvedic Sciences not only connected him to a traditional medicine deeply intertwined in India’s history and culture, but also a system of care that complements the principles of naturopathic medicine. Dr. Bhandari says this combination allows him to work with each person’s own innate constitution or body type, if you will, recognizing that some people function more optimally with certain types of foods, environmental conditions, routines. He explains that a healthy lifestyle can be built from these foundations.
“I was actually fortunate enough to do an externship at the end of that Master’s [degree] in India, and was able to see how [Ayurvedic medicine] is done as a primary system of medicine – integrated with their modern, conventional medical system, and how they utilize both of them seamlessly in the hospital setting.”
Naturopathic Doctor as Teacher
Dr. Bhandari brought this experience back to the Pacific Northwest and into his private practice where he provides seamless collaborative care. When asked if he works alongside his patients’ existing team of providers and specialists, he replies, “all the time.” At SageMED alone there are naturopathic physicians (NDs), nurse practitioners, physical therapists, therapists and counselors, acupuncturists, and more. “I work with surgeons and several other types of providers as well. It works very seamlessly when you have a network that is able to provide specialized, individualized care across a team that understands each other’s approach.”
Dr. Bhandari’s impact goes far beyond the clinical consult. In fact, he may have taught your doctor. In addition to teaching at conferences and in online courses, Dr. Bhandari launched a company dedicated to educating other providers through all of the modalities and perspectives he’s gained throughout his career. This drive to educate is felt in the patient experience, and he makes sure his own education is hands-on, too.
That’s right, Dr. Bhandari practices as he prescribes. He tests newer therapies on himself before ever recommending to a patient. He says this helps him confidently provide not only an additional layer of information to the patient, but also deeper empathy and understanding for the patient’s experience and context for their greater therapeutic journey. His commitment to walking the talk also means he is in the gym working out about three-to-four times a week, and, either playing in a soccer game with the community league or honing his martial arts skills in a local training studio.
“My aim is always to provide the knowledge and resources for others to be able to achieve the health goals that allow them to live the life that they desire,” says Dr. Bhandari…
Optimizing the Body’s Natural Responses
“As an athlete, you end up with pain pretty consistently, you get used to being in pain or, you know, hurting your ankles or hurting your shoulder. The standard is to operate like ‘Well, take some painkillers, pain goes away, start training.’ And my approach was, ‘Well, there’s got to be a reason why I’m in pain, there’s got to be a way to recover better.’ I was always more preventative-minded, naturally-minded, you might say. ‘What else can I do instead of just taking medicine? What else can I do on my own? How can I alter how my body is responding at the level of its natural, innate response to injury …or pain …or training? How do I optimize that response?”
It turns out he isn’t the only athlete who wanted this kind of care. Dr. Bhandari says he tends to work with people who do high intensity/frequency training and participate in high fatigue sports. “So, soccer players, for example, swimmers – they do a lot of high volume training. They’re training 9-to-10 times a week, sometimes ‘two-a-days,’ and also extreme sports athletes like wakeboarders and snow bikers, BMX riders, and rock climbers,” he says.
Anyone from weekend warrior to elite and extreme athlete who uses their mind just as much as their body in performance, benefits from this type of care. Dr. Bhandari’s perspective demonstrates what’s possible for today and tomorrow’s integrative sports medicine. “There’s so much we can do to heal and prevent before feeling like we have to throw in the towel. My goal is to help shift the paradigm toward prevention and regenerative healing, instead of symptom management and waiting until there’s nothing you can do anymore.”
For people who want to be shown that their body can heal; who want support in finding the ways to remove obstacles that are in the way of their body healing; who want to achieve optimal function, performance, and health, Dr. Bhandari is your doctor, your teacher, your support. Whether it’s physical, mental, emotional, he’s the one you want on your team.
Because of his rich expertise and unique background, inherent drive to educate patients and fellow physicians, and ability to translate the latest research into digestible messages for the masses, that in June of 2021, the Institute for Natural Medicine (INM) welcomed Dr. Bhandari onto their Editorial Board as one of the inaugural members.
Dr. Ashok Bhandari is a Naturopathic Physician specializing in regenerative sports medicine. He received his Naturopathic medical training at Bastyr University. He is one of the first ever graduates of the Institute of Natural Medicine’s (INM) Residency program, completing a residency focused in men’s health, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, pain and injury treatment, and regenerative sports medicine.
Alongside his medical education, Dr. Bhandari has completed extensive further training in physical medicine and sports medicine, nutrition and nutraceuticals, and mindbody medicine and biofeedback. Though specializing in regenerative sports medicine in clinical practice, Dr. Bhandari places a heavy emphasis on individualized diet and lifestyle modifications. He believes that all treatments must be built on top of this strong foundation. Dr. Bhandari regularly employs both traditional remedies as well as cutting-edge technology and research when treating his patients.
This article is sponsored by the Institute for Natural Medicine, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, partnered with the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. INM’s mission is to transform healthcare in America by increasing both public awareness of naturopathic medicine and access to naturopathic doctors for patients. INM believes that naturopathic medicine, with its unique principles and practices, has the potential to reverse the tide of chronic illness that overwhelms existing health care systems and to empower people to achieve and maintain their optimal lifelong health. INM strives to achieve this mission through the following initiatives:
- Education – Reveal the unique benefits and outcomes of naturopathic medicine
- Access – Connect patients to licensed naturopathic doctors
- Research – Expand quality research of this complex and comprehensive system of medicine
Griffin McMath, ND is the Editor-at-Large at INM and a licensed naturopathic physician in Hawai’i. Dr. McMath is the recipient of the 2017 American Association of Naturopathic Physicians President’s Award as well as a 2016 Founder’s Award from Bastyr University. Dr. McMath serves as a leader at several other nonprofits across the naturopathic medical profession, and has helped establish language best practices for communicating about naturopathic medicine in the USA. She is also an artist, nature enthusiast, dog mom, and avid maven of how humans interact with their built environment.