In this interview, Dr. J. Justin Seale, MD, talks about the power of yoga, from a spine surgeon’s perspective. Dr. Seale specializes in surgery of the spine, specifically outpatient minimally invasive spinal decompressions, and he has built a highly successful practice in Little Rock, Arkansas, around surgeries correcting spinal deformities. He is a highly experienced and specialized spine surgeon who is able to deal with all spinal needs, and he is board certified.
Dr. Seale is also a devoted practitioner of yoga. We recently asked him a few questions about what he believes the greatest benefits are from yoga, from his perspective as a spine surgeon. Read on…
YOU ARE BOTH A SPINE SURGEON AND ALSO A DEVOTED YOGI. FROM YOUR UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE, WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF YOGA?
For the overall health of the body, yoga provides myotendenous flexibility and strengthening which ultimately produces stability to the joints. When specifically speaking about the spine, the benefits of yoga are unique to each area.
For example, yoga improves posture and range of motion in the cervical spine. This is achieved by strengthening the chest muscles, intrascapular muscles, and shoulder muscles. By improving range of motion and posture, chronic neck pain can often be improved.
The thoracic spine is an area with minimal joint movement; however, certain yoga poses (seal, upward facing dog, cobra, etc) help to increase extension of this area. This produces various benefits to one’s health including improving one’s ability to breathe deeply as well as improved posture.
Yoga greatly improves the health of the lumbar area. One will improve his/her rotational flexibility and core strength while maximizing the mobility of the muscles and ligaments. What makes yoga unique is the ability to simultaneously increase range of motion of the lumbar spine while increasing the strength of the lumbar spine.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PRACTICING YOGA?
I have practiced yoga for two years.
COULD YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT HOW YOU GOT STARTED WITH YOGA?
I watched the benefits yoga provided to my wife who is a devoted practitioner. My wife began practicing yoga as she was recovering from surgery on her cervical spine. Following the surgery, she continued to suffer significant pain due to the muscular imbalances she acquired from the injury and subsequent surgery. After practicing yoga for a few months, she experienced relief from the persistent pain. Many of the poses were placing her in a position simulating traction, which helped to build strength in the affected area while improving her posture. This ultimately provided pain relief that she was unable to achieve through any form of exercise.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS YOU’VE EXPERIENCED WITHIN YOURSELF SINCE YOU BEGAN PRACTICING YOGA?
I have noted significant improvement in my posture while standing and sitting at work. I spend hours each day bending over patients while operating. For years, I would develop lower back pain while operating. This pain has completely resolved with the increased core strength and improved posture that yoga provided.
Additionally, the breathing techniques I have learned in yoga are helping my concentration and my ability to navigate stressful situations at work. I also have a quicker recovery from my other workouts (Orange Theory) as a result of my yoga practice. I did CrossFit for several years before beginning yoga. The overall spiritual health, core strength and global flexibility I achieved once starting yoga is not comparable to any other form of exercise I have tried.
HOW DOES THE HEALTH OF A PERSON’S SPINE IMPACT THE REST OF THEIR BODY?
The spine and core are at the center of our bodies and are the location from where everything originates. This means one cannot have a hip health without spine health; one cannot have shoulder health without spine health, etc. Inadequate spine range of motion and strength can lead to shoulder and hip injuries as these joints are forced to compensate during poses and/or daily routine movements.
IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT YOGA HELPS TO KEEP THE BODY YOUNG, OR AT LEAST SLOWS THE AGING PROCESS. WOULD YOU SAY THAT IS TRUE?
Yes, I agree. The body and joints are meant to move, and from an orthopedic standpoint, joint mobility equals longevity. I also attribute yoga’s youth promoting properties to the spiritual aspect of yoga. In my opinion, spiritual health is the ultimate key to longevity.
WHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE STYLE OF YOGA?
I like vinyasa yoga the best, but I also practice yin yoga and hot power yoga.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE YOGA POSE AND WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT IT?
Not to be cheesy, but my favorite pose is seal pose. The extension of the back feels amazing. It is such a natural-unnatural movement.