I had my appendix out on June 20th, and after I was back to semi-normal eating, drinking and standing I immediately wanted to get back to my yoga practice. I was surprised how little there was about this kind of recovery on ashtanga blogs!
Ardash at the Yoga Circus posted about his own recovery journey (http://ahyoga.blogspot.com/2010/01/slowly-slowly-starting-back-yoga-after.html – for some reason hyperlinks are not working today), which I consulted several times (so thank you!). But mine was a different journey so I wanted to put it online – maybe another post-appendectomy ashtangi can benefit.
Since I’m working from six weeks of accumulated research on this (which is admittedly not much, but more than I had when I went into the surgery) I’m going to share what I’ve learned up front.
First, what is a laproscopic appendectomy? It’s a surgery where a camera and two instruments are inserted into your body in three small incisions. The biggest incision, for the camera, is in the belly button, the second toward the left hip-bone in my case, and the third right above the pubic bone. Doctors use the camera to see their way toward extracting your appendix.
What this means for your mula bandha is that you have three punctures through your abdominal muscles, and the soft tissues that hold your organs together (which is what we all typically look like inside – not like a toybox of organs next to each other, but a spiderweb binding them) are snipped through so that the appendix can be extracted and removed.
When the instruments are removed, the surgeons close the innermost musculofascial layer of the abdominal wall with sutures (see http://www.swedish.org/About/Blog/February-2013/Activity-after-open-or-laparoscopic-abdominal-surg#axzz2bv3ilOgY) and these are what take time to heal – if you don’t let them close properly then you are at risk of an abdominal hernia. Undesirable.
There’s the newly acquired knowledge.
My practice had to change a lot to accommodate this kind of physical re-arranging – having a tunnel drawn right through the middle of my bandhas wasn’t easy to get my head around.
More importantly, what this meant was that my intuition was, frankly, not all that accurate. I continued to think that I was “ready” for more practice and had to let my body correct me – that is, by experiencing sometimes painful sensation in my injured areas.
Part of what the practice does – or has done for me – is teach how to react with awareness and self-possession. Sometimes this means not reacting. When I encounter pain during my practice, I wait to experience it and examine it. (The Confluence Countdown hosts an ongoing conversation about the differences between pain and discomfort and their utility for the practice that addresses what that means for different practitioners: http://theconfluencecountdown.com/2013/07/17/in-defense-of-yoga-that-hurts-you/) Part of this process is teaching yourself not to automatically respond to pain by letting the accompanying fear and anxiety throw you off completely, and continuing to breathe and keep the mind focused is a part of this. I.e., you keep practicing.
In the case of surgery, you’re dealing with a pain that requires more deference, in body-depths that you don’t know as well. (I’m less familiar with the capabilities of the innermost musculofascial layer of my abdominal wall, for example, than I am with my hip flexibility – which is why twinges in supta kurmasana don’t throw me off, but post-surgery ouches in surya namaskara A perhaps should).
Recovery and healing is delicate, and it isn’t something you can “do”. I had, and have, to get my asana habits out of the way in order to let the deep-level healing happen. This is a way slower process than I thought was going to be right for my ashtanga body – yet another proof that the magic of yoga does not include transcending biology.