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My yoga practice – post shoulder surgery

Standing wide-legged bend

After my shoulder surgery on January 6, I met with my doctor four weeks after the surgery for my first post-op follow-up. At that time she told me that due to the nature of the surgery which involved the use of a human graft, the recovery is going to be quite slow. It could take up to a whole year before I gain full range of motion and strength. Of course, since using human graft is a relatively new procedure, not much data is available from actual case studies to make a good, realistic assessment of the recovery time. It is not even clear what "full recovery" means. In my doctor’s estimate I may regain full range of motion; however, I may gain only about 80-85% of my previous strength in my arms and shoulders. These follow-ups will continue every four weeks for the next few months.

My current yoga practice

Despite limitations in the arm and shoulder movement, I have been able to maintain my full yoga routine which I practice early in the morning. I am usually up at about 4 – 4:30 AM. After my morning ablutions, I start my practice at around 5:30 AM. The practice lasts approximately 2 hours and 15 minutes:

  • Pranayama 30 – 35 minutes
  • Meditation 30 – 35 minutes
  • Asana 65-75 minutes

Given the situation with my shoulder, I am unable to do any of the asanas that involve movement of the arms and shoulders. For example, I am unable to practice these poses: bhujangasana (cobra), dhanurasana (bow), downward facing dog, plank, any pose that involves raising the arms up and overhead etc. However, despite this obvious limitation, I am still able to do most of the standing, seated and reclining poses that do not involve arm/shoulder movement. In fact, I have been able to spend a little more time on asanas that involve flexibility in the knees, ankles, hips, thighs etc. I have also been spending more time working on the core. As a result I have noticed some improvement in flexibility in many of these areas.

Some of the main asanas that are a part of my daily routine are:

  • Warrior 1, 2 and 3
  • triangle pose
  • Hanumanasana
  • Kapotasana (pigeon)
  • tree pose and variations
  • camel pose
  • standing wide-legged forward bending pose
  • seated poses like head-to-knee pose, seated forward bending pose, seated wide-legged twisting pose, seated wide-legged forward bending pose
  • reclining leg stretches, reclining leg rotations, bicycle moves, pawana-muktasana variations
  • boat pose and variations
  • bridge pose
  • reclining and seated twisting pose
  • and a few more …

The pranayama practice includes: kapalabhati, along with bandhas; ujjayi pranayama, rapid breathing, bhramari (humming bee), alternate nostril breathing with the practice of retention and bandhas. Every now and then I also include sama-vritti (square wave), and interrupted breathing (step-wise) in my practice.

As preparation for meditation I have been doing mostly breath awareness as well as the trataka (candle gazing) practices. After doing these for about ten minutes, I transition to my mantra meditation.

All in all, it is a very satisfying and energizing practice. As time goes by and shoulder/arm begin to gain some strength and range of motion, I will start adding some of the weight-bearing poses like the downward facing dog etc.

I would love to hear your experience with your home practice, especially if you are practicing with any kind of a handicap.

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