The Yoga Approach to Hysterectomy

Jun 27, 2017 | Breathing, Key, Pranayama, Surgery, XHyster, Yoga practices | 33 comments

Image of a uterus made out of a red and pink cookie and ovaries made out of candy

Bad News/Good News

If you were told that you needed to have a hysterectomy, would you consider yourself lucky? Not likely.

Life, The Universe, whatever you want to call it has handed me plenty of dilemmas, especially as I get older. I’ve discovered that, with the right mindset, any ‘bad news’ can be converted into the next learning opportunity. Maybe even ultimately into good luck.

One challenge I had to face a few years ago was undergoing a total hysterectomy. I was diagnosed with “hyperplasia with severe atypia”. This, in layman’s terms, means the lining of my uterus was abnormally thickened, with precancerous cells in the endometrium. The progression to cancer from this condition is 25-30%. My gynecologist recommended the removal of tubes, ovaries, uterus, and cervix.

What a shock! I had been proud of the fact that I’d managed to get through menopause relatively unscathed. I had experienced scarcely any hot flushes and no need for H.R.T.

One of the worst bits of news was that I would need 4-6 weeks to recover. That meant I would be without income for that period. Worse, I would be missing the yoga teaching relationship with my students that I love so much.

But there was another darker feeling that came up – shame. I experienced an overriding, albeit illogical, sense that here I was, a yoga teacher, afflicted with a serious condition. I told myself I should have been able to prevent this through my yoga practice.

When I confessed these negative thoughts to my doctor, she picked me up on them straight away. She told me that my body had been very kind to me by giving an early warning symptom (bleeding). She emphasised that many of her patients didn’t get such signals until they already had progressed to having cancer.

See, this was the lucky bit.

Creating a Plan

It took me some days before I could begin to make the mental transition that enabled me to take care of myself and let others take care of me. In my experience, yoga teachers are great caregivers but need to learn a lot about receiving.

I got busy on the internet searching for yogic techniques for dealing with recovery and rehabilitation from the hysterectomy. Unfortunately, I found very little. I did discover a wonderful website for pre-and-post hysterectomy surgery called Hyster Sisters: www.hystersisters.com. This site provides anecdotal and general information regarding surgery and recovery.

In the absence of internet information, I decided to create my own holistic way of dealing with my upcoming surgery.

  • I let people know what was happening so they could support me if they wished. I sent out e-mails to friends, family and some yoga students to say that the operation was scheduled and when, and would they please send healing energy. The simple fact that I was willing to be open and vulnerable helped eliminate any residual shame.
  • I started keeping a journal in which I could collect information on hysterectomies, and more importantly, write down questions and feelings as they arose.

On the evening of my surgery, as I was being prepped, I started to fantasise about all the things I’d been told that could go wrong. I might succumb to infections, blood clots, and nausea, for instance. My mind was well and truly in the grip of what’s called in Sanskrit citta vritti – eddies of negative thoughts and fearful emotions.

So as I waited for the anesthetist to do his magic, I deliberately turned my mind to thinking about all the people I knew who were sending me healing energy. I felt the small room I occupied immediately fill up with the goodwill of everyone I knew or had known. I felt totally enveloped by love as I went into theatre. And that feeling lingered on in recovery.

My operation was done in the least invasive and most remarkable way – as a laparoscopic procedure. The only evidence that I’d been cut were one centimetre incisions on the outside of my abdomen, with much more invisible stitching on the inside.

More good luck. I had virtually no pain immediately after surgery, meaning that I had little need for drugs as the general anesthetic wore off.

Just twelve hours after surgery I got out of bed and had a shower.

While I was still in my hospital bed, I began my yoga practice. The first day I did a little of the Pawanmuktasana – joint-freeing exercises for feet, legs, and arms. These movements are a good preventative for deep vein thrombosis. I followed my doctor’s advice to take frequent deep breaths, which I instinctively wanted to do anyway.

Three weeks post-op I started doing some soothing, passive poses, using lots of soft props. Gentle, supported forward stretches felt great for my back. I discovered the joys of pranayama (breathing exercises), including ujjayi, viloma, and nodhi sodhana.

These quieter, more reflective practices usually took a back seat in my regular dynamic practice. As I was “forced” to do this kind of yoga for several weeks, I learned a more holistic way of practising that has stayed with me ever since.

The biggest lesson for me in this process was listening acutely to what my body needed. I thought I knew a lot about tuning into my body, but I learned that there are infinite, subtle levels of awareness. I had to pay attention to movements that I used to do without thinking, like bending, lifting, and reaching.

The great thing about cultivating this level of awareness with one’s body is that it can be transferred to being more present with others. I could better attend to those with whom I came in contact.

In this supposedly unwanted recovery time, I got to hang out with friends, while being free from time constraints. I had the time and sensitivity to open up and receive all the healing love that friends, students, my husband, and family were giving me.

As always, a teacher who has struggled with an illness or injury becomes an invaluable resource to his or her students. I can now speak from my own experience about recovery from major surgery and empathise more with those who have trouble dealing with sickness or weakness.

Yoga teachers are notorious for doing too much, and I’m definitely no exception. I was given the chance to rest, renew, and be thankful. I returned to teaching with new insights, creativity, and humanity.

I found out it actually takes courage to take care of yourself.

Postscript

At the end of the sixth week of my recuperation, my husband and I flew out to Broome, W.A. for a holiday. The trip had been planned long before I knew I had to be operated on, and I didn’t want to cancel. It took me a week to find my legs in long walks on the beach. Then we undertook a 100 km walk on the Lurajarri Trail over 10 days with 30 tourists and an extended Aboriginal family. We slept in swags under the stars and ate amazing meals around the campfire. On the tenth day, we finished our trek. One of the indigenous women found a special piece of wood for me to use when we returned to our Broome quarters. I used it like a “smudge stick” to smoke out any dark spirits that might have clung to us after the walk, and also to further ensure my healing was complete.

While I still had many internal stitches that would need months to knit, the tiny abdominal incisions were nearly invisible. As I walked on the beach in 30-degree sunshine I took a deep breath and knew I was truly healed.

Resources: Eve’s Yoga Program for Recovery from Hysterectomy or Other Surgery

Pre-surgery

  • Research your condition and learn everything you need to know about it. You will be a better patient if you are informed and become a partner to your health professionals. You can keep a journal in which to collect information on hysterectomies, and more importantly, write down questions and feelings as they arise
  • Do meditation to reduce anxiety before the surgery. Meditation may also reduce the amount of pain medication you need after surgery and contribute to a shorter hospital stay. Meditation is reputed to create the “biochemistry of healing”, that is it helps the brain produce chemicals that strengthen the immune system. It gives the feeling that you are in control of what happens because you are participating in your own healing.
  • Practice relaxation that focuses on feelings of love, perhaps thinking of a person or pet who is easy to love. Or, recall a specific time you felt a great deal of love.
  • Describe to yourself or a friend how you want to feel immediately after surgery. Imagine an activity that can be enjoyed as a result of having had the surgery.
  • Imagine other aspects of your life that need attention are healed.
  • Be grateful. Gratitude is a powerful practice. Ideally, a person will not want to have surgery, but when it is deemed necessary, it makes a difference to embrace the experience and be thankful for the skills and support of people involved.

Post-Surgery

  • Immediately following surgery—on the very day of surgery—and all during your follow-up treatment, you can begin your yoga practice doing visualisations, meditations, pranayama (the yogic breathing focusing on the abdominal breath), and relaxations. Keep your practices short and simple
  • Depending on the type of surgery you have had, you can begin pawanmuktasana movements.
  • Getting out of bed, doing things for yourself, and walking are activities that are usually encouraged.

Contraindications/Considerations/Modifications

  • Avoid any movements that tear internal or external stitches.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders.
  • Observe and adjust activities to energy levels.
  • Take time for yourself and receive support.

After discharge from hospital

  • Continue meditation. It’s fine to do it lying down.
  • The basic pose – Tadasana, mountain pose – is great for improving concentration, lengthening and strengthening your spine. It will help ground you.
  • Continue abdominal breathing.
  • Do savasana each day for total relaxation.
  • Do yoga nidra to any audio recording you like.

Sequence At 3 weeks

  • Pawanmuktasana.
  • Seated forward bends, head resting on a chair, Baddha Konasana and Upavistha Konasana against the wall sitting on a bolster, Setu Bandhasana using 2 bolsters.
  • Meditation, lying or seated.
  • Pelvic floor exercises.
  • 3-part breath. It bathes your lungs in energy (prana), and provides a mindfulness meditation method.
  • Alternate nostril breath—to calm your mind.
Setubandhasana - Supported Bridge with 2 bolsters

Setu Bandhasana – Supported Bridge with 2 bolsters

 

After six weeks

  • Gentle yoga, possibly for the next 3 months.
  • This may be a good time for Svadhyaya. Learn about the philosophy of yoga: non-harming, living in the present moment, being disciplined, letting go, the release of fear, respecting your limits, non-judging of yourself and others, giving up attachment to your illness, establishing a connection with the universe.
  • Restorative poses – supported backbends.
  • Pawanmuktasana.
  • Sitting: Janu Sirsasana, and other head supported forward bends.
  • Gentle arm exercises.
  • Standing poses: Virabhadrasana 2, Vrshkasana.
  • Cat/cow, supported uttanasana, adho mukha svanasana.
  • Lion pose just for fun and a laugh!
  • Get out into Nature

3 – 6 months

  • Begin to do more abdominal exercises.
  • Backbends—cobra, locust—to strengthen your back and provide an energy boost.
  • Gentle salutes—to get you going!
  • Dolphin pose for arm strength.
  • Gomukhasana, maha mudra
  • Pranayama

Yoga and Hysterectomy – References for healing from surgery:

Pawanmuktasana Exercises – Asana, Pranayama, Mudra, Bandha, Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Bihar Yoga Bharati, India, 1997

Yoga Nidra – The Meditative Heart of Yoga C.D. and book, Richard C. Miller

33 Comments

  1. Hi Eve,
    Thank you for such a great and inspiring article. I could really identify with your feelings when you are told that you have to have a hysterectomy. Although I wasn’t a yoga teacher I had been doing yoga for over ten years and thought I had it “all under control”. Mother Nature really does have a way of brining us back to earth! The good thing that did come out of it all is that during my searches for how and what yoga I could still do post operation led me to doing my teacher training through Bliss Baby with Ana. I am now just starting to teach women, mostly mature age, that have not known the joy of yoga before. It is fun and although I couldn’t see it at the time, I am kinda thankful that I had to make the decision. (Even though I don’t think I am quite “at terms” with it yet?)
    Warm regards, Ros.

    Reply
    • Thank you for sharing I really identified with your experience as also diagnosed with same and scheduled for my procedure in about a weeks time. I too was totally shocked as I’m in peri-menopause & considered the bleeding to be hormonal and nothing more. I also felt shame and disbelief that I could get this as always been health conscious and a yoga teacher. My diagnosis is quite new & adjusting to the idea that my body isn’t going to be as strong & independent. Reading your comments has really helped me come to terms and prepare. Thank you so much

      Reply
      • You’re very welcome Yvette. I wish you well in your surgical procedure and gentle healing.
        Kindly,
        Eve

        Reply
  2. Hi Eve,
    I cannot thank you enough for sharing your journey through all this. I recently had to have an emergency hysterectomy which had infection complications due to a large fibroid which had caused me problems for years. I think as a trained yoga teacher and also having tried alternative ways to heal the fibroid I think I felt like I had failed having to have the hysterectomy! But now realise it actually saved my life! I am two weeks out of hospital and a dear friend sent me your blog post and I just want to send you the biggest hug and love for sharing this information, as you said there is so little out there. You are an absolute star and inspiration. Much love to you.
    Mel xxxxx

    Reply
    • Hi Mel,
      So glad my post helped you get through your hysterectomy. It’s no little thing you’ve been through, and now, as a yoga teacher, you will be a great resource for others.
      And, big hugs and love back to you!
      Eve

      Reply
  3. Can we do headstand or handstand after 1year of hystrectomy?

    Reply
  4. Hi Eve. I’m 54 and had a hysterectomy under 2 weeks ago. I’m findung the slow recovery a challenge, but my 20 years of passionate and faithful yoga practice really helped me in the eeeks leading up to the surgery. I’ve been doing daily meditations every day since surgery, but I must admit I cannot wait for the full 6 weeks are up so I can resume my classes. Im not a very good patient, as I’m a bit of a pocket rocket, and this has forced me to slow down and rest. I really enjoyed reading your blog, thank you.

    Reply
  5. Hello, I had a non invasive hysterectomy, I still have my ovaries, over year ago. I’ve been struggling in deciding to return to Yoga, as my doctor said to avoid any poses that bear down. So many of the common yoga poses (such as warrior one and two) bear down. Has anyone had a vaginal hysterectomy and could you please share your expertise? Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Bev,
      I wouldn’t think that your doctor’s advice would apply after your recovery from the hysterectomy.
      Perhaps there is a risk of prolapse if you have had a total hysterectomy. In yoga, cultivating the bandhas (developing a strong core) and including some inversions like legs up the wall or shoulderstand would be good regular practices, too.
      You could get another medical opinion, too. Kindly, Eve G.

      Reply
  6. I recently had my hysterectomy due to complications with fibroids and I appreciate you sharing your experience. At 43 years old with active teenagers, I’ve found it difficult during this recovery period to be patient regarding getting back to normal activities. My doctor at my 2 week post-operation appointment gave me a stern warning not to overdo actitivities and honestly, I felt a little frustrated at the limitations of recovery. Your article has reminded me that I need to be patient with myself and listen to my body as it recovers. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • Best to go slowly and gently to avoid any ill effects post-surgery. You’re likely to be back in life in what seems like no-time, feeling better than before!

      Reply
  7. I have been laproscopic hysterectomy on 7dec 2018.. can I start Surya namakar?

    Reply
    • I can’t really advise you, Indhu, without knowing you. Check in with your gynaecologist to see how you’ve rehabilitated in this four-month period since your operation. I would imagine that you can do gentle yoga and gradually increase the physicality of your practice.

      Reply
  8. Hi, I just got a complete hysterectomy almost one month ago was an abdominal surgery. I’m a yoga teacher as well and in dealing with ¿what to do? ¿What not to? I want to teach again , I think I might be back teaching the 27th. But for my practice I’m still afraid of what to do so u don’t do nothing…. childs pose is the one that I tried but with a bolster. I’m so thankful I found your page.

    Reply
    • Thank you for your email. I think that because I’m late in replying to you that you are probably well on your way to recovery. My main advice is go slowly and listen to your body’s wisdom.

      Reply
  9. I’ve just had a total hysterectomy via midline incision. I’m researching exercises that strengthen the pelvic muscles- and I’ve practiced yoga for more than 30 years. Maybe it’s due to the rather large scar I now have from pelvis to belly button but my doctor said forward bends wouldn’t be a good idea and can cause hernias. Any ideas about when forward bends could be recommenced after this type of procedure?

    Reply
    • Hi Liz,
      I’m sorry I’m a bit tardy in replying but I’ve only recently returned home after travelling.
      I hesitate to advise without seeing you in person, but I would say generally….
      if your forward bends are mainly neutral spine extensions, that they could be beneficial.
      What I mean is using a strap or your hands on the seat of a chair to stay more upright that bendy.
      This way you could get space along your spinal column, opening through your chest and some good hamstring stretches.
      seated forward bends are good for the organs of the lower torso and for grounding through the pelvis.
      Always, always, your body has an inherent wisdom, if you are in touch with the sensations and clues it offers.
      Kindly, E.

      Reply
  10. Hello Eve
    I am a 49 yr old broken woman on the war path of healing and reclaiming my whole self. I am 2 wks post op of a LAVH. Hysterectomy was due to Essure device being placed 7 yrs ago. Essure is a birth control device made of nickle, polyester fibers, titanium, stainless steel and silver tin which is inserted into the fallopian tubes that causes scar tissue to form rendering ovulation. I have had a severe allergic reaction to the contents of this wonderful crappy device since it was placed. Prior to Essure I was a healthy vibrant woman. I am new to yoga techniques and feel this needs to be my first step back into myself. Do you have suggestions of books/videos that will put me on the track of self teaching. I thank you for any insight you can offer.

    Reply
    • Hi Kimberley,
      Thank you for your message.
      You’ve been through a lot, by the sound of your story.
      Yoga could be very helpful as a way back to your body/mind healing.
      Where do you live? Joining a gentle yoga class could be helpful.
      A book I can recommend is ‘Intelligent Yoga’ by British yoga teacher, Peter Blackaby.
      Kindly,
      Eve G.

      Reply
      • Good Morning Eve
        Thank you for your reply. I live in Colorful Colorado…the best state ever! I will be looking into a class and will be going to the book store today. Blessings to you!
        Kimberley

        Reply
        • Enjoy! Yoga has been my companion for nearly 50 years. But it’s never too late to start.
          Kind regards, Eve

          Reply
  11. Hi Eve,

    It seems you answer people so I will take a dive in and hope I am not asking something you already answered. I did skim through first… I had my surgery on 8/16. Robotic Arm and kept my ovaries. However, I am 100 pounds overweight, have not done yoga much before and am curious if the same gentle yoga would apply to someone like me who is ready to get healthy but has not really done yoga before or should I wait longer?

    Reply
    • Hi Christine,
      I hesitate to give any advice without having met you. I can say that yoga has been my steady companion for nearly 50 years. Through emotional and physical difficulties, without letting me down.
      Most surgeons, I believe, would ask you to wait for 6 weeks of healing before taking on gentle exercise.
      It’s always important to find a good yoga teacher and a good fit of style for you. Maybe a one-to-one session at the start to build your confidence. Here’s a link to an article on finding a teacher: https://www.verywellfit.com/how-to-find-a-good-yoga-teacher-3566767
      Kindly,
      Eve

      Reply
  12. Dear Eve,

    Thank you so much for publishing your story in this post. It has given me realistic guidance and an encouraging place to turn to for motivation over the past 9 months.

    I am 45 years old with a loving husband and healthy 8 & 10-year-old kids. I had a laparoscopic partial hysterectomy (uterus and fallopian tubes, LASH) 6 months ago due to a rapid growing benign fibroid. I was extremely nervous, but the surgery and recovery went well. I was practicing yoga regularly before my surgery and used breathing techniques & massage starting from day 1 after the operation. I began very slowly with stretching and breathing exercises 3 weeks after surgery and have been building up my daily yoga practice slow & steady ever since.

    Your timeline, helped me to gauge where I was, could be and shouldn’t be. Practicing yoga after surgery was very humbling but I got the chance to get to know my body & spirit better. Now I practice more mindfully and am grateful for the whole experience.

    Thank YOU for being a part of my journey. Wishing you continued good health.

    Namaste & Love,
    Whitney

    Reply
    • I’m very happy that the story of my journey was helpful to you, Whitney.
      I felt grateful to my gynaecologist/surgeon for her skills and advice. Perhaps the procedure is ultimately life-saving. We don’t know that as we can’t fully predict the future.

      But I do know that it’s an important thing to talk (or write) about our feelings, so others can benefit from our experience.

      May you heal quickly and completely.

      Namaste!

      Reply
  13. very useful article. it is mire than a year after i have undergone hysterectomy. can i do surya namaskar now

    Reply
    • I think if you have gotten clearance from your doctor/surgeon, it would be fine to take your former practices.
      Kindly,
      Eve

      Reply
  14. Thankyou so much, this is sweet. I’m not having a hysterectomy, but rather another major operation. I was looking up `Savasana after surgery’ and your’s was the first article I found – but so much more. I’ll definitely refer back here for inspiration (I’m an experienced yoga practioner….. so I know not all of the physical practices are necessarily going to be appropriate for me with my surgery) – thankyou so much, I love the way you write, I can see the beauty of yoga coming through your spirit

    Reply
    • Hi Sally,
      Thank you for your kind words. It’s the feedback that I get that keeps me writing. If you like, subscribe to ‘Yoga Suits Her’ and then you can hear my voice each time a post appears 🙂
      I also have a YouTube channel with a few nice resources on it: http://www.youtube.com/c/YogawithEveGrzybowski
      Kind regards, and Namaste,
      Eve

      Reply
  15. Dear Eve,

    I had a myomectomy surgery done 4 years ago but the fibroids grow back again. Fibroids are growing on my uterus and are sucking my blood, which causes me to be anaemic. So i had a hysterectomy done in end jul 2020 and only my right ovary remains. I just started having yoga lessons in Dec.
    Was glad to see your article and to know that it is safe to do yoga after the hysterectomy. But is it normal for my right side of my abdomen to feel cramp when doing some poses?

    Reply
    • Hi Elaine,
      Your question relates to how long you have been in recovery and whether you had a keyhole operation or vaginal op.
      Since it’s been perhaps only a couple of months, not so long for major surgery, you may have internal stitches that still need time to heal. Take small steps in your practice and go slow. That seems like good yoga practice, in any case.
      Kind regards, Eve

      Reply
  16. Thank you for your tips. It would be useful if you could make a video for post hysterectomy yoga posture, in a sequence. Thank you

    Reply

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