Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yoga! Yoga! Yoga!

If I'm losing balance in a pose, I stretch higher and God reaches down to steady me.  It works every time, and not just in yoga.  ~Terri Guillemets

With cancer officially behind me, I am galloping ahead into recovery. Because my particular form of cancer was asymptomatic, the process focuses exclusively on healing my body from both the traumatic and invasive surgery, and the post surgical complications. I've missed yoga more than I can possibly express. Because I've been practicing yoga steadily for 12 years, and teaching for 6 years, having that support mechanism taken away from me was incredibly difficult. Not only was I anxious and in pain, but my usual 'go to' method for dealing with those problems was impossible! So, I'm especially thankful to be back into taking three classes per week. It's given me a way to regain strength in my body, my mind and my spirit.

I've been asked often enough in the past few weeks which poses (or "asanas") seem to be the most healing for me right now. I've put together a little list to give for my fellow yoginis, as well as for those interested in creating a practice. This list is by no means the limit of poses that I am practicing right now. These are only a few of the many that I'm working through during each class. Additionally, my teachers have been wonderful about helping me find what my body is asking for right now. I fully expect to continue to add to this grouping very soon. These just happen to be 'hitting the spot' literally, and metaphorically, at this time. Would I recommend another person to attempt these following major abdominal surgery? Not at all! I went into surgery in pretty good shape. Each person is different, and each procedure effects our bodies differently. So, please talk to your own physician before beginning yoga, or any other exercise program, following any surgical procedure.

Without further ado...here is the list:

Staff Pose (Dandasana) has proven to be the most difficult asana for me post surgery. While it appears to be incredibly simple, the amount of lower abdominal strength that it takes to keep me in proper alignment has been a challenge. I lost much of my involuntary abdominal muscles. What I didn't lose altogether was cut and sewn back together using artificial tissue. Therefore, it's been very difficult for me to sit up without slouching, slumping off to one side or to just give up. I breathe more heavily during this pose than any other one right now. But, I also find that it's helping me to reestablish those muscle, and nerve, connections.

Downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) has had the opposite experience in my new 'post surgical' practice. I've found it to be incredibly affirming, exhilarating and inspiring. I've rediscovered strength I was afraid I'd lost forever. Each time I move into Down Dog, I'm reassured that I will overcome these physical obstacles. Additionally, the variations of this pose ("Walking the dog", Standing Split and Half Dog--dropping down to my forearms) have provided me with the ability to work from a place of strength. Down Dog strengthens many different muscle groups all at once. It also has helped me to open up my overly tight hamstrings that had begun to become painful, after all that lying about. I have felt exceptionally motivated to keep moving in my practice when I am in my Adho Mukha Svanasana series.

Sphinx pose has been enormously helpful, as have many of the back bend series asanas. When you lie in a hospital bed, or do a great deal of sitting, your spine compresses. I found that my back became quite painful...simply from doing nothing. Literally. Sphinx was the first back bend I attempted when returning to class. It was as if I had been sitting in the dark for weeks and someone turned on a beautifully shining light! Just opening up my shoulders alleviated nearly all of my back pain. Sphinx pose also was my starting point to move into more challenging back bends, such as Upward Facing Dog, Seal Pose, Locust Pose, Bow and Camel. Back bends, my yoga teacher once told me, are a way of healing the past. Often people who have unresolved issues in their hearts and minds have a very difficult time with them. I found that regularly practicing Sphinx has helped me let go of a lot of the drama the past few months created.

Child's pose (Balasana) was another one that seemed so simple before my surgery, and was such a challenge immediately afterwards. Because my abdomen remained so swollen, and so sore, for a long time, just getting into this position represented some difficulty for me. I began easing into Child's Pose by creating a V with my knees. Now that my flexibility is beginning to return, I'm working diligently to create space by working towards the traditional 'belly on knees'. When used with the 'arms over the shoulders' variation, I've also been able to stretch out tight deltoids. I focus my breath into my lower back, and am able to renew my energy there.

"Legs up the Wall" pose (Viparita karani) has been a salvation for me. I have a very difficult time letting go of my "Monkey Mind". It's as if my brain is constantly flitting from topic to topic, replaying conversations on a loop, creating to do lists and just not turning 'off'. Imagine a Spider Monkey jumping from branch to branch, tree to free. That's the way my brain works most of the time. Regular exercise is the best way for me to keep this bad habit at bay. When that's not possible, my mind runs out of things to think about and begins to worry anxiously and needlessly. Other restorative poses, such as Corpse Pose and Reclining Butterfly, are wonderful. But, they're not as effective in battling my evil Monkey Mind. Legs up the wall gives me a leg up (pun fully intended) in shutting my brain up for ten minutes so that it, too, can relax. Inversions have a spectacular way of taking the guesswork out of restoration. I can't help but sigh in repose.

Finally, if anything is going to get me back into shape, it's going to be Boat Pose(Navasana). I used to be able to hold this pose for ten minutes and carry on a conversation with a class of my own students, and not even think about the difficulty. Times have changed! This pose is now a struggle for me, but it's also one that I've found becomes easier each time I practice it. Beginning with my knees bent in half boat, I have slowly gained strength and am inching my way, slowly, back up to full boat. Am I chatting and laughing? Heck, no! I'm sweating, and would probably swear if if I could get away with it. But, I do find that Boat Pose is helping me to renew, restore and regrow muscle. It just isn't much fun yet.

This series of six poses is not all inclusive to what I'm doing now. But, I do try to include each one of these along with whatever else I'm doing each day. They're helping me me to bring balance back into my life through my yoga practice. I'm mindful to cut out all negative thinking (and this includes "I hate my body now!") because it really does set me back. Full descriptions of each one of these poses are available at Yoga Journal online. Have fun perusing the various asanas! You may just discover a few you'd like to try.



hann said...

Doing abdominal exercise, such ascrunches, reverse bicycles and push-ups will help you have killer abs as theabdominal fat comes off, but other exercises should be included in yourroutine as well. With that, you may in fact be able to achieve the perfect abs after some point but this is often coincidentally left out of the advertisements.

Ellen said...

Thank you very much for your thoughts...as I pointed out...this isn't the only series of movements I'm doing right now...eight weeks after surgery. As a Registered Yoga Teacher myself, I do know the mechanics of both healing and practice. However, my patience is short with my body right now, and my bravado and intention far exceed my ability right now.

I do appreciate your suggestions, however, and have been doing all of them (admittedly, before I was allowed to medically).