Yoga is one of the few activities I was able to keep up – at least most of the time – throughout my illness, and it was one of the first activities I was able to take up after my surgery. Yoga practice has been extremely healing for me, both inside and out. And after having ileostomy surgery, I really felt that I needed the healing to happen both inside and out.
On the outside, yoga is particularly effective at loosening up joints, aligning bones, and restoring flexibility. During my last year of illness leading up to surgery, and certainly for a few weeks during and immediately after surgery, I spent a lot of time sitting or laying down. My muscles were atrophied, and I was all locked up. About one month after surgery, a friend of mine who is a yoga teacher offered to come to my house and lead me through some restorative yoga. FYI, restorative yoga is awesome, and just the thing after all the trauma of illness and surgery. It is offered at many yoga studios and athletic clubs. I found that even though it was only one month after surgery, I could do it, and it felt really good.
On the inside, yoga has helped me most with acceptance, and by that I don’t mean just the obvious, like accepting the fact that I’ve had this surgery and that my body is permanently altered. More fundamentally, it has helped me to become aware of whatever is going on in my psyche, and to accept that. It has helped me to pay attention to the flurry of thoughts and emotions that pass through me, and to regard that stream with patience and compassion and honesty.
One of the things that is emphasized in yoga is that you are not there to compete with anyone. You simply come to the mat, and you do what you can do on that day, which might be different from what you could do yesterday or what you will be able to do tomorrow. You listen to your body, and you respect its limitations. I have found that I have to remind myself of this more frequently with my ileostomy, because there are things I used to be able to do in yoga or things that I feel like I should be able to do, that presented new challenges for me.
For example, there are numerous poses in yoga that involve a backbend. After surgery, my abdominal muscles were extremely sensitive, and with a vertical seven inch scar everything was extremely tight. I couldn’t bend backwards very far, and I felt frustrated. I used to be able to do a full backbend (or wheel pose) with no problem. But the lesson of yoga is that it doesn’t matter what you used to be able to do. Let go of the frustration. Just try, and go as far as you can, and be patient. Now, a year later, I can go into this pose and hold it for several minutes. However, there may be some poses that I will never be able to do – for example, in the cobra pose you lay on your stomach, and lift your upper body using your back muscles. At least for now, I do not have the strength in my back to lift myself up enough to not put pressure on my stoma. And it doesn’t make sense to lay there on my stoma in an attempt to build up those muscles. I often find this is a great time during class to get a drink of water and go into child’s pose until everyone else is done with their cobra.
On the practical side of my tips and tricks for working out, see my post Working Out.
Whether it is yoga or some other activity, I think that as an ostomate having some kind of physical practice is essential, for health as well as for confidence. And whether someone is an ostomate or not, I think having some kind of meditative practice is extremely helpful in finding peace and happiness through the tribulations of life. I love yoga because it brings these two things together, and it feels great.