This is Physician Wellness - Jeff Smith, MD

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What is your favorite wellness activity?

Yoga

How long have you been doing it?

About 8 Years.

How did you get started?

My wife had been suggesting for years that I try yoga to help with my chronic neck and back problems. At first, the physical impact was my only focus. In retrospect, I am amazed at what I have accomplished. When I first started, I was very critical of myself for not being strong and flexible enough. But eventually, I started to see glimpses of progress. There were lots of challenges along the way. I am glad I had a supportive family and that I tapped into some of my strengths to make it happen. I like rituals, and I like proving to myself that I can do something that very few believe possible.

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How does this activity impact your mental, physical, and / or emotional well-being?

Physically, the list is long! Within 6 months, it brought me back down to my ideal body weight. It has helped me maintain flexibility, despite the wear-and-tear and the normal aging process. I have built up strength, endurance, and balance beyond my expectations. Yoga has kept me operating with almost no down time and extended my operating career by decreasing the frequency of severe back and neck pain.

From a mental and emotional perspective, the rest, recovery, and healing is huge. I try not to freak people out by getting into too much detail. In short, I don’t actively go to yoga for emotional and mental well-being. I am just not there yet. However, for me THIS IS WELLNESS! If you want to experience wellness, you have to practice wellness. The yoga studio has been MY place to learn and practice. I am able to bring many of the benefits that I receive from mental and emotional rest, recovery, and healing into the rest of my life as a surgeon. For example, I have always struggled with the concept of meditation. In the early years of yoga, I started to experience “a meditative state” in the last few minutes of a one-hour class. Now, some days I reach that point very early in the class, whereas other days I still struggle with my racing mind for a longer time. While I still don’t meditate outside of yoga, I have been bold enough to LEAD small meditations for other surgeons, and I regularly practice mindfulness.

How does this activity bring wellness to your life when other activities have not?

Again, I find this easier to describe in retrospect. Years ago, I did not have a work-life rhythm. I had allowed surgery and the life as a surgeon to take over my life. I rarely practiced wellness for myself and my family. I don’t blame the system, and I don’t blame myself. Fortunately, about 8 years ago, I initiated two wellness activities nearly at the same time. Yoga and coaching. Both have contributed tremendously to my healing. Both contribute to my practice of mental and emotional rest and recovery. It is not a stretch to say that if I had not discovered yoga and coaching, I would not still be practicing orthopaedic surgery today.

Very similar to my experience in the yoga studio, I now often experience wellness in the OR, on rounds, in clinic, and in all areas of my life. Practicing yoga (and coaching) has allowed me to fight back burnout, build resilience, and bring well-being into many more activities. What I am most excited about is that I have yet to learn the wellness activities that I will experience in the future.