Yoga after heart surgery

Yoga can efficiently and gently nurse you back to health after heart surgery

Man doing meditation on the beach

After a heart surgery, life never remains the same. You could either look at it as an unfortunate incident or as a new lease of life, in which you’ve come out of the darkness and are privileged to be alive. This is your chance to nurture your body.

The wisdom of yoga can help you transition through this phase of your life and speed recovery. However, the first step in healing yourself is to have an attitude of gratitude. Only then, can your efforts really bear fruit.

The following is a set of safe and easy kriyas, asanas, mudras and pranayamas that you can start practising from day four of your heart surgery [Counting the day of the surgery as day zero]. You can continue doing them for the rest of your life for lifelong benefits. Don’t worry though, if you give up the practice for some reason, it will not bear any adverse effects. Remember, the practices are best done 2 – 3 hours after a light breakfast.

KRIYAS

For practising these kriyas, sit in a comfortable position. Initially, you can even practise them lying down. When you practise, start from the temple, work down to the ears and then finally to the chest.

Kapalrandhara dhauti [Temple rub]

Place the ring fingers of your hands on corresponding sides of the bridge of the nose. The middle and the index fingers should rest on the centre of the forehead. Now, glide the three fingers, up and moving outwards, towards the temples and back. Repeat 20 times. The pressure should not be too soft or hard; just enough to create mild heat leading to cleansing and healing.

Kapalbhatti

Kapalbhatti is rapid, shallow, non-forceful breathing from the chest. The focus is on the exhalation, and the inhalation is passive. The abdomen is not involved at all. Engaging the abdomen to forcefully exhale needlessly increases the heart rate.

Take a slow, deep breath and start rapid, non-forceful exhalations. The sound produced on exhalation should be barely audible to you; not too loud. One exhalation and one inhalation make up one round. Start with about 30 rounds and gradually, over a period of four weeks, build up to 300 rounds. This will clean the sinuses, air passages and increase the efficiency of the heart.

ASANAS

Warming-up

The following gentle poses involve mainly circular movements, which lubricate the joints and relax the muscles. The sequence given below begins from the neck working towards the toes.

Greev Chukker [Neck rotation]

Breathing in, take the neck backward, breathing out bring the neck forward, letting the chin touch the chest. Starting from your right, make a circle with your neck, breathing in for half the circle, and breathing out for the other half. Repeat, starting from the left side. Do five times on both sides.

Skandha Chukker [Shoulder shrug]

Breathing in, bring the shoulders forward and raise them to bring them near the ears and rotate them back. Breathing out, slowly bring the shoulders down. Repeat five times. Relax.

Now, breathing in, take the shoulders back and raise them, bringing them near the ears and rotate them forward. Breathing out, slowly bring the shoulders down. Repeat five times. Relax.

Kehuni Naman [Elbow flexion]

Open your arms to shoulder level in front of you with your palms facing up. Make a fist of your hands. Breathe in, and bend your elbows, making your fists touch your shoulders. Breathing out, straighten your arms, opening your fists at the same time. Repeat about five times. Relax.

Doing the above movements will get you ready for the asanas, which are to be done with a slight smile on the face. Do them at a gentle pace, at your own comfort level, with your eyes closed. Appropriate breathing while practising yoga asanas is important; its significance cannot be overstated.

Tadasana

Breathing in, lift your arms from the sides, and interlock your fingers over the head. Turn your palms so that they are facing skywards. Breathing out, straighten your arms and stretch upwards. Keep breathing. Turn your palms so that they are facing down, breathing out, bring your interlocked fingers to rest on your head. Relax.

Tiryaka Tadasana

From the last position of Tadasana, breathing in, lift your arms and turn your palms so that they are facing skywards. Breathing out, bend towards the right side, and stretch your arms outwards. Keep breathing. Breathing in, come back to centre. Repeat on the left side. Relax.

Parvatasana

Breathing in, lift both your arms from the sides, join them together in a namaste position over the head. Keep breathing. Breathing out, let the arms float down. Relax.

Paschim Pranamasana

Take a breath. As you breathe out, join your palms behind the back, with the fingers pointing downwards. Breathe in. Breathing out, rotate the wrists and hold in a namaste behind the back. Gently come out of the asana. Relax.

Ardh Titaliasana [Half butterfly]

Sit with your legs stretched, toes pointing skyward and palms resting on the floor near the buttocks. Fold your right leg at the knee and place your right foot on the left thigh near the hip. Keep the left leg straight. Keeping the back erect, gently flap your right leg about 10 times. Straighten your right knee. Repeat, with the left leg bent. Gently come out of the asana. Relax.

Leg cradle

Sit with your legs stretched. Bend your right leg at the knee and place the right foot in the crook of your left elbow. Bring the right arm around the right knee and interlock the fingers of both the hands and gently rock from the hips in a circular motion about ten times. Gently straighten your right leg and put it down. Repeat, with the left leg bent. Relax.

Yastikasana

Lie flat on your back. Breathing in, stretch your toes outward and gently lift your arms up. Let them come to rest behind you so that the body is in a straight line, giving you a gentle stretch. If you’re unable to take the hands all the way up, go as per your comfort level, without straining yourself.

Shavasana and yoga nidra

Relax and lie on your back with feet slightly apart and toes pointing outward. The hands should be about six inches away from the body with the palms facing skyward. Feel all your joints and muscles totally relax. Use auto-suggestion to relax every joint and muscle in the body, starting from the toes and working upwards to the top of the head. Drift off into yoga nidra. About 20 minutes of yoga nidra equals about three hours of sleep; however, it is not a substitute for sleep.

Slowly, sit up and settle yourself in a comfortable position for pranayama. Initially, the pranayamas may even be done while lying on the back.

PRANAYAMAS

Breath of joy

Breathing in, let your neck drop back, spread the arms wide open at shoulder level, a sign to welcome the Divine. Breathing out, let your chin touch the chest and give yourself a big hug, feel the Divine energy embracing you.

Ujjayee breath

Keeping the lips sealed and the glottis partially closed, breathe in through the nose. You should be able to produce a rasping sound, caused by the breath touching the back of the throat. Now, breathe out through the nose, with the same technique making the sound. There should be no forced breathing. The breath should be slow, long, full and deep.

Surya Bheda

Using the right hand, place the forefinger and the middle finger at the centre of the forehead, place the ring finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. Gently, close the left nostril and breathe in slowly and deeply through the right nostril and slowly breathe out from the left nostril.

Chandra Bheda

Using the right hand, place the forefinger and the middle finger on the centre of the forehead, place the ring finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the right nostril. Gently, close the right nostril and breathe in slowly and deeply through the left nostril and slowly breathe out from the right nostril.

Naadi Shodhan

Using the left hand, place the forefinger and the middle finger on the centre of the forehead, place the ring finger on the left nostril, and the thumb on the left nostril. Now check which nostril is dominant. To do this, gently close any one nostril, and breathe in through the open nostril. Slowly, breathe out using the same nostril. Do the same, this time closing the other nostril. The nostril from which the breath is flowing more freely is your dominant nostril.

Once you have established the dominant nostril, gently close the other one. Now, breathe in slowly and deeply from the dominant nostril—gently close the dominant nostril, while opening the other nostril and breathe out slowly. Now breathe in slowly from the non-dominant nostril—close it, while gently opening the dominant nostril and breathe out. Relax.

MUDRA

Hridaya Mudra

Smile and gently close your eyes. Place the tips of your index fingers [both hands] at the joint at the base of the thumbs, and join the tips of your thumbs to the tips of your middle fingers and ring fingers, the little finger is not actively used. Take slow and long breaths.

MEDITATION

Smile and gently close your eyes. Just become aware of your breath. Feel the breath coming in slowly, become aware of a small natural gap between breaths, when there is no breath. Watch the breath make a U-turn and go out slowly; again there is an even smaller gap of no breath, before the next breath comes in. Become aware of this cycle, watch it, and relax.

Thumb rules

Follow these thumb rules for breath, while practising yoga asanas [only].

Never hold your breath while going into, reposing in, or coming out of an asana, as this puts tremendous pressure on the internal organs, muscles and joints.

When you bend forward [or when the neck and/or arms are coming down], you have to breathe OUT. Similarly, when you bend sideways, you have to breathe OUT as the neck is going down, albeit sideways, [and NOT breathe in]. Simply put, whenever the body is in contraction or compression mode [or when the neck and/or arms are coming down], breathe OUT.

When you bend backwards, breathe IN. When the body is in expansion mode [or when the neck and/or arms are going up] or reverting to the starting position from the contraction mode, that is you are decompressing, breathe IN. You will not be able to bend backwards or sidewards properly, if you breathe IN.

Initially, they are to be held only for about 5 – 10 seconds, increasing by about five seconds every week.

No force is to be used while practising the asanas. It is perfectly okay if, for a few days, you cannot do them. You will get the hang slowly— just visualise them in the mind and your body will follow suit gradually. Do not be in a hurry to do them. Just relax.

Doing the kriyas, asanas and pranayamas gently and having a smile are integral to the suggested treatment.

The yoga recommendations are not meant to substitute your doctor’s advice, but to supplement it and complement it.

This was first published in the March 2016 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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