After my abdominal surgery, my doctors kept telling me I could return to normal life—which included my beloved yoga practice—after six weeks. What they didn’t tell me was when I returned to my yoga, I’d be starting from scratch.
When I stepped back onto my mat, after more than a month away, I was so disappointed. What had happened to my flexie hamstrings, and what about the strength in my arms, legs, and my core, which was still healing?
Once I realized I was starting from the beginning, I realized I could reimagine my yoga practice with a fresh perspective. If you’re recovering from a recent surgery, these tips can help make your return to yoga as safe and rewarding as your practice ever was.
Important: If you’re on restricted activity, respect that advice, and if you have any questions at all, consult with your health care professional before you return to your practice.
1. Release Your Expectations
Your body after surgery is not the body you knew before. It may take days, even weeks, for your body and you to get reacquainted. So when you return to your practice, don’t expect to kick up into Peacock Pose or do five rounds of Sun Salutation. Things are different now, and they may be different for a while.
Release the idea that you “should be able” to practice the way you used to. Meet your body where it is, and practice in a way that feels good for your body at the time.
2. Practice Compassion
Once your pain of surgery is gone, you’ll be excited to begin rebuilding your strength and endurance. It will take time, and you’ll probably be confronted with the reality that you’re not as strong, flexible or fit as you were before your surgery.
Surgery is major trauma for your body. It’s important to show yourself compassion during this time. GO SLOWLY. Love yourself and your body in its current state. Your body has lessons to teach you about how it’s changed; the best thing you can do for yourself is treat your body with grace and love, and listen attentively to its messages.
3. Play Your Edges
Even as you’re patient with your body, don’t become complacent. Pay attention to the place where you experience challenge, whether in poses brand new or tried and true. Be respectful of the boundary your body sets for you. Now is not the time to push your body.
But if you’re experiencing challenge—not pain—don’t back away from that challenge. Meet your edge in a pose with full, smooth breath. Just as it did before, your body will let you in and you will discover new depth and presence in each pose.
4. Break Bad Habits
Because you’re not as strong or flexible as you were before surgery, it’s a great idea to rid your practice of some of bad habits. For example, if your elbows splay out when you move from Plank Pose into Chaturanga Dandasana, lower your knees and focus on building strength and alignment. A diminished capacity gives you the opportunity to rebuild each pose with integrity and mindfulness. In time, not only will you regain endurance and flexibility, but your poses will be safer and better aligned.
Take this time to rediscover why you practice yoga. Approach your practice with openness and curiosity. What happens when you breathe and move this way? How does yoga help your daily life, how does it quiet your mind, or even connect you to Something Greater?
Enjoy returning to your practice. Laugh at yourself if you fall out of a pose, talk sweetly to yourself when you’re challenged by a pose, and reconnect to all the fun that yoga has to offer.