Guest Post by Adrienne Jurado
When you’re just coming home from the hospital, whether it’s after delivering a baby, undergoing surgery, or receiving an intense medical treatment, starting up a yoga practice is probably the last thing on your mind.
You’re dealing with not only the physical pain and changes, but the emotional ones as well. There are worries about how different your life will be, the fear of hurting yourself or getting injured again, and the frustration of not being able to do what you once could.
The road to recovery can be long and difficult.
But it doesn’t always have to be. You have a lot more power over your recovery than you might think.
Many people assume that after a body-altering event, such as pregnancy or injury, they are barred from all physical activity–especially something like yoga. They may think that yoga was too difficult before their condition–how could they possibly consider it now?
The truth is, it’s during these times that thousands of people have turned to yoga–and found greater relief, comfort, and peace than they ever believed possible.
One of the reasons many people shy away from yoga is because they have a misconstrued idea of what yoga actually is, and more importantly, what it could be for them.
My aim in this article is to shine a light on the true nature of yoga, how it can help smooth the road to recovery, and how you can get started right now.
The True Nature of Yoga
What’s the first image that pops into your mind when you think of yoga?
Is it an old Indian man contorting himself into a pretzel? A room full of young girls in tight pants cranking through a series of challenging moves? Or something else entirely?
This is part of the beauty of yoga–it has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. There are now hundreds of different styles of yoga, each emphasizing different aspects of the practice.
For starters, the early yogis were not all about bodily pretzel-making. This was only done as a way to spread the message of yoga, and indeed it worked. This tactic is what first landed yoga on the shores of California.
However, it’s NOT what has propelled yoga to the become the phenomenon it is today. There are a lot of “exercises” people can do to become more flexible and get in shape, but yoga is so much more than that.
Yoga has the power to heal us–physically and emotionally.
Yes, yoga can be a physical practice, but it’s also a mental one. Both aspects are extremely beneficial when trying to recover from a physical condition or injury.
One aspect of yoga is to put the body into poses that are physically beneficial in a variety of ways. However, the real power is not in the poses themselves, but in your mind.
During each yoga pose, you are invited to bring your awareness to your breathing and the sensations of the body, both physical and emotional.
This does two important things for us:
- It allows us to see our pain in new ways. Perhaps more importantly, it allows us to stop focusing on the pain. It invites us to just be in the present moment.
- It allows us to develop greater self awareness–to begin to tune-in to our truest selves.
After an emergency appendectomy and hysterectomy, freelance journalist and longtime yoga practitioner, Kathy Wyer, had this to say of her yoga practice,
“The very physical limitations that bind us expand our understanding of our bodies and ourselves. We can learn to recognize the patterns of tension that create the conditions that plague us, not by trying to conform to some external picture, but by turning our attention inward to see what’s there and allowing it to emerge. In time we come to appreciate that injury, limitation, and pain are our body’s teachers.” Yoga and the Road to Recovery
Yoga and the Road to Recovery
Turning the attention inward and developing greater self-awareness can take us great lengths in the healing process and can even speed our recovery.
On one hand, we become better acquainted with our own bodies. We learn to recognize triggers and releases, as well as what is working and what is not. We begin to respect our limitations and to gently work to expand them.
On the other hand, as yoga instructor Kim Anami reminds us, “In yoga, the poses are a vehicle for the breath.” Yoga’s emphasis on breathing helps us to breathe more deeply, to calm the nervous system, and to find a greater sense of relaxation and well-being.
Furthermore, self-awareness allows us to know when and how to modify our yoga practice.
Modifications are key when it comes to yoga. It’s always important to be in-tune with your own body–to know your boundaries and limitations. This becomes critical when dealing with different conditions or injuries.
One of the best ways to ensure you are modifying positions correctly is to work one-on-one with a yoga instructor. Yes, this is a bit more expensive, but can also be very worth it. You won’t need to work one-on-one forever–even two or three classes is sufficient to learn the proper modifications for your condition.
Believe it or not, it’s even possible to work one-on-one with yoga instructors online through avenues such as Skype. Whichever route you take, I highly recommend speaking with the yoga instructor before-hand to ensure they are comfortable and sufficiently knowledgable to work with your particular condition.
If your condition happens to be pregnancy or recovering from child birth, you are especially in-luck! There are a wide variety of pre and post natal yoga classes–both online and in-person–that already tailor the classes with the necessary modifications.
The wonderful thing is, nearly any yoga pose or sequence can be modified. Even if you are stuck in bed and unable to move, you can still practice yoga! You can do this by modifying to a breathing-centered practice, known as pranayama.
It’s all about starting exactly where you are, and expanding from there.
The key to a safe and smooth recovery is to be compassionate and patient with yourself. Yoga is never something that should be “pushed through.”
When practiced consciously, with openness, love, and respect, yoga becomes the path to not only healing, but also to greater health and happiness.
How You Can Get Started with Yoga
Speak with your doctor. As I’m sure you’ve heard and know, it’s important to check with your physician before beginning any physical practice, including yoga, especially after an injury or childbirth.
Do a little research. Once you’ve been given the okay, decide if you would like to go to a studio to practice, or if you would rather practice in the comfort of your own home.
In either case, you will want to research the particular style of yoga being offered, whether it’s a physical classroom or a virtual one. Certain styles of yoga are better suited for beginners, elderly people, and those recovering from injury or childbirth. Depending on your condition or injury, you will most likely want to begin with a gentle style, as opposed to more powerful styles.
In general, good places to start include: traditional Hatha, Iyengar, Anusara, Parayoga, Viniyoga, and Yoga Nidra. The last one is especially good if you are unable to perform any physical activity, as it is a breathing and meditation-centered practice.
Also in general, you may want to initially avoid anything that calls itself: power yoga, vinyasa, hot yoga, or any type of “fit” yoga, which is typically offered at local gyms.
Know how you are affected by your condition. Before going to a studio or beginning a home-based practice, it’s important for you to understand how your movement is affected by your condition.
How do you feel when you are: standing? Sitting? Bending forward or backward? Putting weight on particular body parts, such as your feet, hands, and knees?
If you decide to go to a studio, speak to the teacher before class to make them aware of your condition, and that you are new to yoga (if that is the case). Already having a good understanding of how you are affected by your condition will go a long way in helping you and your teacher choose the proper poses and modifications for you.
Give it time to work. Once you find a teacher and style (whether in a studio or online) that you like, stick with it for at least a few months. When recovering from an injury, your body needs time to adjust and rebuild strength, balance, and flexibility in particular areas. This will be easier on your body if you are repeating the same sets of similar movements, rather than throwing a bunch of new things at it every week.
What You Can Do Right Now
As I’ve mentioned, breathing is a key aspect of your yoga practice. You can get started with fuller breathing for greater relaxation by practicing a technique known as Full Yogic Breathing.
Full Yoga Breath is divided into three parts: belly (diaphragm), chest, and collarbone.
We will practice each part individually before putting them all together. To prepare for this practice, begin lying on your back. This can be done on any comfortable surface. Ideally, allow the legs to fall loosely away from one another, and relax your arms out to your sides with palms facing up.
- Belly (or Diaphragmatic) Breathing. Place both hands lightly on your belly. As you inhale through your nose, concentrate on filling your belly with air, causing it (and your hands) to gently rise. Exhale through your nose and observe your belly lower. Continue to breath slowly and deeply through the nose, observing the rise and fall of your belly. When you have a good feel for this type of breathing, move on to chest breathing.
- Chest Breathing. Place both hands lightly on the outsides of your ribcage. As you inhale through your nose, concentrate on filling your chest with air, causing your ribs (and hands) to expand gently up and out to the sides. Exhale through your nose and observe your chest and ribs lower. Continue to breath slowly and deeply through the nose, observing the rise and fall of your ribcage. When you have a good feel for this type of breathing, move on to the collarbone, or clavicular breathing.
- Clavicular Breathing. Place one hand lightly over your collarbone. As you inhale through your nose, concentrate on filling your upper chest with air, causing your collarbone (and hand) to gently rise. (This movement will be more subtle than the first two. If you are having trouble feeling any movement in your collarbone, just imagine that you are breathing up towards the hand on your collarbone.) As you exhale through your nose, observe your upper chest lower. Continue to breath slowly and deeply through the nose, observing the subtle movements. When you have a good feel for this type of breathing, move on to Full Yogic Breathing.
Full Yogic Breathing. For this exercise, we will link the three breathing exercises above together, creating once continuous wave of breath. Begin by placing one hand on your belly and one on your collarbone. In one slow, deep and continuous inhale, begin to first draw the breath into the belly, then allow the breath to expand your ribcage before finally filling all the way up to your collarbone.
Imagine a wave of breath that begins in your low belly and flows through your ribs all the way up to your collarbone. As you exhale, slowly ride the wave in the opposite direction, allowing air to first exit the upper chest, then the ribs, and finally the belly. Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times.
As you become more used to this type of breathing, you can begin practicing sitting or even standing. Moreover, you can call upon this breathing practice anytime you would like to create a sense of calmness or relaxation in the body–whether it’s at the doctor’s office, sitting at your desk at work, or feeding your baby.
If nothing else, please give simple yogic breathing practice a try. When you’re finished, leave a comment letting us know how it went for you!
Adrienne Jurado is on a mission to create greater happiness and fulfillment in life and to inspire you to do the same. Check out YOGADRIENNE to explore her simple tips on yoga and meditation at home, and learn how you can start your own journey to greater health, healing, and happiness through the conscious practice of yoga.