I’m sitting in my doctor’s office staring at the all-too-familiar wall décor demonstrating how blockages occur in the heart. I realize that I’m holding my breath, and inhale. This could be the visit, the visit when he tells me that I’ll need open heart surgery. In fact, I know it is. I begin calling on resources that I’ve learned over the years on the mat to center myself. A few weeks later I am scheduled for surgery. Unfortunately I had several complications, but through the terror, pain, and overall healing process I was able to access and use yoga’s benefits every step of the way.
Depending on the type of surgery performed, there are different levels of physical limitation and length of recovery time. It’s important to first listen to our bodies to find out what is needed moment by moment throughout the healing process. It’s also important to work with the healthcare team, especially during the days following surgery. I began to use yoga the minute I was coherent in ICU; during the next two days I wound up needing a transfusion and my lung collapsed. I continued to center myself and with determination, little gasps led to full breaths, tiny movements in bed led to sitting up and then to walking around the room with oxygen. The key is to be positive and move in every way possible. Challenge the spirit within. There will be good and bad moments, and that’s where yoga comes in.
Here are some tips and techniques to implement in the process of minor/major surgery:
- Breathe—When we expand our lungs every chance we get, we will bring in fresh oxygen to nourish the cells. Then when we exhale, we get rid of stale air and waste. Deep breathing will bring in a parasympathetic state to keep the stress levels down. That will contribute to lowering our blood pressure, reducing muscle tension and chronic pain, reducing anger and frustration, and boosting confidence.
- Keep joints active—Here’s where we can do the little things like neck stretches, shoulder rolls, lifting each arm and leg. Again, depending on the surgery, varying options will be available. It may only be a thought at first and then the smallest of movements. If we keep listening, we will find a way to get to the area in need. Every time we inhale, we send breath to all the places that hurt or are feeling tight and compressed.
- Meditation and affirmations—It is helpful to have a selection of meditations and affirmations on paper or pre-recorded on an electronic device. Having someone read them or listening to them on our choice of device helps to maintain in a positive mental state that enables relaxation, which allows for the true healing process to begin. This can also help with pain. One of my affirmations was—Remember not the former things nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing. Isaiah 43.
- Visualizations—This is something we can do on our own or again, we can do it with another. Visualizations will work similar to meditation and affirmations in helping us remain positive and can also alleviate pain. One of my first visualizations was seeing my lungs expand fully. Over and over I saw the gaseous exchanges and the ribs open with space as my body filled with breath.
- Relaxation techniques—Some of these techniques we can use during recovery and others may have to wait a few weeks. All are invaluable tools for the healing process.
1) Hot baths—(not scalding) do wonders for the mind and body. When we throw in some Epsom salts and lavender oil, we can soak into relaxation. This is also a good way to help the wounds heal faster and reduce scarring.
2) Aromatherapy—Diffusing essential oils such as lavender or eucalyptus can be very soothing as well as kill germs that may be lingering in the air.
3) Massage—Someone we’re comfortable with can help by using massage to relax the neck and shoulders with gentle pressure (if it’s available), and when able, we can have a professional do a complete full body massage.
4) The spa—Saunas and steam rooms are a great way to relax and rid the body of toxins.
5) Finding a space and making it personal—We can gather our favorite pillows, blanket, books, magazines, music and anything else that will make us comfortable in our retreat spot.
6) Back to the mat—And of course once our doctor has cleared us and we’re ready, we can start up our yoga practice from the beginning, always listening and honoring the body’s needs.
Here’s to a fast and speedy recovery!