Yoga for Recovery - Yoga for Injury and Surgery Recovery

Yoga for Recovery - Yoga for Injury and Surgery Recovery

Yoga for Recovery - Yoga for Injury and Surgery Recovery

The time after an injury or surgery can feel long and challenging. There are different elements to the recovery phase: rest, diet and correct movement. It is often very beneficial to work with yoga, meditation and breath work to manage possible stress, pain and darker thoughts that may appear. 

Perhaps we can’t move like we used to, or do the things that made us smile. Recovery is a time when we possibly experience stress in the physical body, the mind and in our heart. As you already know, just like we can train our muscles to become stronger and more flexible, in a similar way, (with different methods) we can train our minds to become more resilient and happier. 

Injury and recovery (of physical body and mind) might lack what we use to call "happiness". At the same time, we can choose to let this time be much more, perhaps even find a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in life. We can turn struggles to growth, and stress to strength. 

Yoga offers lots of tools and techniques to ease into recovery, pain management as well as personal growth. It can seem daunting or overwhelming to get started, but even the smallest step counts. Recovery can also be a moment in life where we find ourselves with more time, where the things we used to do are on hold, and we get an opportunity to look to new horizons for knowledge, wisdom and inspiration. Learning something new, doing yoga and creating a breath-work practice can be great ways to keep the mood high and make the recovery phase more enjoyable.

To get you started on your recovery process, here are 4 Yogic practices.

These 4 Yogic practices will support you holistically during times of surgery and recovery.

Be sure to always check in with your healthcare provider. Movement is medicine, yes, but when and how much is something to be aware of.

1) Gentle movement

Our bodies are incredible and they can endure a lot. However, depending on the type of surgery, certain amounts of body mobility and movement may be restricted or impossible. This can be frustrating to experience, especially if you are otherwise active or have a regular āsana practice. For many, movement is medicinal in itself, and therefore it is important to invite movement in post-surgery.

Let’s leave aside what your body cannot do, and now look at what your body can do. This will empower you to explore different movement practices and it will also form a deeper body awareness, perhaps even a gratitude for what you can and where you can make progress. When we are forced to modify and change the way that we do things, we gain a deeper appreciation for and understanding of our body. 

Moving well will get us moving more, and moving more gets us moving well. A lot of the systems in our body (like the cardiovascular system, the lymphatic system and the muscular system ect) benefit greatly from movement. It keeps our synovial joints juicy, and our metabolic system efficient. Movement, when done correctly and mindfully, can help us to maintain muscle mass and basic range of motion (flexibility) which is essential for a long happy life. Movement is even great for our mental health. Movement is essential. Gentle stretching and nourishing movement will help the body recover from surgery and jumpstart the healing process. Restorative movement will help with blood circulation, mobility, immune system response, nervous system regulation, sleep and stress. 

Even a few minutes each day of stretching and circular movements of the joints will prove deeply beneficial. A gentle walk in the fresh air might be just the thing.

Is Movement really medicine?

"Motion is lotion" or "movement is medicine". There are lots of sayings that we love to use, sometimes it is worth stopping to look deeper. 

Let's unpack these sayings a little bit. Between many of our joints, or within them, we have synovial fluids, we also find menisci and cartilage, all important parts of our joints, offering nourishment, support and cushioning. These types of tissue, along with tendons and ligaments are avascular tissue, meaning they have little blood flow in comparison to muscles. Therefore to ensure that our joints receive nourishment, and oxygen and to help them clear our damaged tissue, we have to move. Exercise flushes the synovial fluid around. This is important because avascular tissues don't have a heart pumping fresh blood around, so we need movement to squeeze and soak for our joints to remain healthy.

Another aspect of healing is scar tissue. When we heal scars within, the body creates something called type three collagen. Type 3 collagen acts like a thin scab on a wound on your skin. Your thin scab is delicate, and so is type 3 collagen. We want to make type 3 collagen durable and turn it into the stronger type 1 collagen, this is called collagen remodelling. The key to this is movement. Further, the movement also helps the scar tissue fibres to organise themselves and realign in such a way that it makes them more effective for movement and living. So, yes, when done mindfully, with awareness and constant cheking-in, movement is really medicine.

2) Breath-Work - Grounding pranayama

Surgery can stir feelings of powerlessness and helplessness and a sense of anxiety and vulnerability. When our bodies are not working the way that we are used to or would like, it is common to feel a sense of loss of safety and confidence in your body. 

Breath-work, or Prāṇāyāma, practices in Yoga can help you land back in your physical body and ground your awareness in the present. Breath is one of the best ways to become present, as we can not breathe in any other moment than now. Our thoughts and minds can wander off, the breath stays present.

The breath is both involuntary and voluntary, meaning that we can control the breath (voluntary) but we can also leave it to be automatic (involuntary). The breath is a part of our ANS (autonomic nervous system). The breath is like a translator, fluent in multiple languages. By breathing in different patterns we can change our physiology and shift our state of mind in a very short period. The breath is the gateway into our body and the parts and systems that we otherwise wouldn't be able to affect and control including our mind and thoughts. By practising different ways of controlling the breath for a set period we impact our breath even during the involuntary phases too. Breath work trains the breath and has immediate benefits and long-lasting benefits too. We can lower heart rate, activate the two different parts of our nervous system, improve HVR (heart rate variability) relieve stress and anxiety and lower blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. 

There is breath work to get more energy and breath work to calm the mind. Here we share a powerful breath practice with you to calm the mind, gain clarity and become present. According to a Harvard study, one of the keys to happiness is being able to turn off the wandering mind. It is often the wondering mind taking us to our to-do lists, our worries and fears. With breath (and meditation) you get breaks (longer or shorter ones) from your wonderful wondering mind and might be able to find moments of peace, presence and less pain.

Coherent Breath:

This way of breathing is also called "The Perfect Breath". This is a breathing exercise where we are synched at 5.5 breaths per minute which is a 5.5-second inhale and a 5.5-second exhale. It doesn't have to be exactly 5.5, just a little more than 5 seconds. A slow 5-count works well. This way of breathing has been shown to put us into a deep state of calm, or coherence. 

Tip: Make sure that you are inhaling through your nose as this will bring the body into its parasympathetic nervous system. Nostril breathing will take the body out of a state of ‘fight or flight’ and into one known as ‘rest and digest’. It is important to stay relaxed during each stage of the breath. You can do this anytime and everywhere and no one even needs to know that you are doing it.

How to: 

  1. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes. Find a comfortable seat with your spine straight.
  2. Inhale for a slow 5-count 
  3. Exhale the breath for a slow 5-count
  4. Repeat until the timer goes off

3) Meditation

Again, as there are many ways to breathe and move, there are also so many beautiful ways to meditate. Here we will just share one powerful meditation practice with you: Word/sound Repetition.

Let me just remind you, you can meditate, we all can. Meditation isn’t to stop the thoughts. Meditation is a practice where you become present by noticing your thoughts and gently bringing yourself back to the present moment. It is a practice, a process. It might be that you are bringing yourself back more often to begin with, than when you have been engaging with your meditation practice for a longer time. But even the most experienced meditator will experience the mind wandering off, and that wandering mind, is the practice. 

Here is a simple yet profound meditation practice for you that will induce the relaxation response. The relaxation response is a term first used by a Harvard researcher Dr. Herbert Benson, to describe the natural deep state of relaxation that happens when our body enters our parasympathetic nervous system. The relaxation response has great benefits for the body and mind. It is a form of mantra meditation, which involves a word or a phrase you repeat. It can be any natural or pleasing word. For now, we will use the number and word “one”. One represents unity and connection.

How to:

Set a timer - Setting a timer, so you can forget about time and zone out of whatever might be going on in your life. Set it for 5 or 10 minutes, a short timer is better, as it gives you a great chance to be successful.

Get seated- Sit in a comfortable pose, either on the floor or in a chair with your spine straight and tall. Lift the crown of your head towards the sky and send your shoulder slightly back, creating space in your chest. Relax arms, stomach and legs. Soften your face. Let the eyes close or soften your gaze.

Get settled - Scan your body from top to toe, relaxing muscles along the way. Take a deep breath in through your nose, top up the breath a little more and then exhale with a sigh through your mouth. Do this two more times.

Meditate - Begin to repeat the word One, slowly, silently, to yourself. Perhaps you say with each exhale or whatever past feels right for you today. Keep repeating the word one. When your mind wanders off, gently with a kind attitude, bring it back. 

4) Incantations

Last, though perhaps most powerful and profound is the practice of incantation. Incantations are empowering phrases that you say and repeat mentally and out loud with absolute certainty. When “incanting”, you are engaging your entire nervous system with the full force of your focus, emotion, and body to induce new physiology and instantly cultivate new beliefs.

I like this one:

"Every day in every way, I am getting healthier and healthier, happier and happier, stronger and stronger"

Great, I loved having you reading along. I would enjoy hearing from you.


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This blog post was brought to you by Miffany Rose and Malene Vedel.

Miffany Rose is a Yoga teacher and practitioner from Australia. She has spent months training in India and has deep reverence for Yoga’s ancient roots in South Asia.

Her primary teaching styles are Vinyasa flow and restorative yoga. Alongside her deep passion and love for teaching Yoga, Miffany equally enjoys learning about and sharing Yogic philosophy and teachings. She is also a writer and traveller and has her Bachelors in Liberal Arts.