Laparoscopic surgery is one of Western medicine’s marvels, as it enables surgical treatment to be carried out using one or more small incisions without the need to be cut open. As a result, recovery time is less and post-surgery pain isn’t as prolonged or intense.
As with any surgery, abdominal laparoscopies still involve bed rest and cautious movement, which can cause the rest of the body to feel uncomfortable and sluggish. It is remarkable to see how much we depend on our core for most of our day-to-day movement.
So how do we keep the rest of our body agile after this type of surgery?
Today is Day 5 following my ovarian laparoscopic surgery that involved the doctors making four incisions in my abdomen to remove a tumour from my right ovary. One incision was made over each of my ovaries, another in the middle of my lower abdomen, and the fourth through my belly button.
I was released after overnight observation, prescribed initial bed rest, and then encouraged to make very gentle attempts at sitting up and moving thereafter. The abdominal discomfort can be described as what I would imagine doing 500 sit-ups in one go would feel like, and then suffering from intense muscular pain as a result. I also had secondary pain through the shoulders, sides of my body and chest, which made it hard to breathe deeply. This was caused by prolonged periods of lying in awkward and rounded positions.
By the second day, I was sitting up in bed and started to bring some very gentle movement and soft stretching into my morning routine to free up my shoulders, chest and the sides of my body, to give my rib-cage more room to accommodate my breath. I also focused on my neck, hips and legs. These stretches are helping my body to stay comfortable, whilst allowing my abdominal area to continue to recover.
Post-laparoscopy yoga sequence
Each of us is different, our surgery will be unique to us, and how healing progresses in the body will also be individual. Take things slow, be patient and do not attempt these poses or any form of stretching or exercise without consulting your doctor beforehand.
1) Sukhasana / meditation pose
- Take a moment to find your seat and centre yourself. If sitting is uncomfortable, kneel with a cushion or bolster under your sitting bones.
- Ground your sitting bones into the mat or cushion and start to climb up your spine, imagining that you’re stacking your vertebrae one on top of the other, slowly bringing your spine into its natural curvature.
- Release your shoulders away from your ears and gently bring your shoulder blades a little closer together, broadening across your collar bones.
- Aim the crown of your head up to the ceiling.
2) Neck stretches
- Keeping length in your spine, rest your right hand over the left side of your head, and allow your right ear to move towards your right shoulder.
- Without pulling or forcing, allow the weight of your hand and gravity to encourage length into the left side of your neck.
- You can experiment by turning your head so that you’re gazing underneath your right arm.
- Move your head around a little to find where the tightness sits in your neck, and then pause there.
- Release both shoulders away from the ears as you do this.
- Hold for ten breaths and then repeat on the other side.
3) Garudasana / eagle arms (shoulders and shoulder blades)
- Bring your left arm underneath your right and cross them above the elbows (if this isn’t possible for you, then hug yourself, inching your fingers towards your shoulder blades – release your shoulders away from your ears).
- Wrap your arms around each other, bringing the palms together, or the backs of the hands together, or aiming the hands towards each other if they don’t reach.
- Lift your elbows, move your forearms away from your face and release your shoulders away from your ears.
- This will bring a stretch into your upper back, between the shoulder blades and maybe down your upper arms.
- Hold for ten breaths and repeat on the other side.
4) Chest opener
If you’re seated with your legs crossed, change the cross of your legs at this stage before you carry on with your sequence.
- Interlace your fingers behind your back (or hold a belt between your hands if you have very tight shoulders).
- Release your shoulders away from your ears and bring your shoulder blades together.
- Start to straighten your arms if this feels comfortable for you, otherwise just focus on bringing your shoulder blades together.
- Hold for five to ten breaths and then slowly release your grip.
5) Upper body release
- With your arms in a relaxed T position, on an inhalation, open your arms aiming your heart up to the ceiling, gazing upwards if it’s comfortable for your neck.
- On an exhalation, round your upper back, being mindful not to crunch through your abdomen. Wrap your arms around an imaginary beach ball, separating your shoulder blades, and bring your head and gaze down.
- Repeat five times, keeping your shoulders away from your ears.
6) Gentle side stretch
- Press your left palm on the floor, and very mindfully and slowly start to stretch your right arm up towards the ceiling.
- Be very gentle with this, as you don’t want to overdo the stretch on your right side or compress too much on your left side – be guided by what you’re feeling.
- The objective is to bring a little length and space into the right side of your body, not go as deeply as you possibly can.
- Hold for up to three or four breaths and then slowly switch sides.
7) Hamstring stretch (with a belt)
- Lie on your back and extend your left leg out – flex your left foot.
- Bring your right knee into your chest and wrap the belt around the ball of your right foot.
- Keeping your elbows in contact with the floor, slowly begin to extend your right leg.
- Flex your right foot, keep a micro-bend in the right knee, and gently press your foot against the belt whilst creating opposite force by gently pulling the belt towards you.
- Hold for ten breaths and change sides.
8) Outer thigh and glute stretch
- Bend both knees at a 90-degree angle.
- Cross your right ankle above your left knee, opening your right knee out to the side.
- You have the option to stay here and use your right hand to press your right knee away from you.
- If you want go further, interlace your hands behind your left knee and gently bring the knee towards you – you may be able to use your right elbow to press your right knee away from you.
- Don’t bring your left knee too far in, so as not to compress your abdomen.
- Hold for ten breaths and then switch sides.
9) Supta baddha konasana / reclined butterfly pose (inner thigh stretch and lower back release)
- Bring the soles of your feet together and allow your knees to fall out to the side.
- If you feel you would like extra support, place blocks or blankets under your knees.
- You have the option to do a supported variation of this pose by placing a bolster or rolled up blanket underneath the length of your spine, and raising it using blocks.
10) Supported savasana / relaxation pose
- Place a bolster or folded blanket underneath your knees.
- Allow your feet and legs to release and fall out naturally.
- Release your arms alongside your body, palms facing up.
- Stay for at least a few minutes or for as long as you feel comfortable.
Surgery takes a tremendous amount out of you. Bear in mind that the simplest action, such as getting yourself a glass of water can take all your energy to achieve. In addition, if like me you’re not used to taking medication, the after-effects of anaesthesia coupled with medication can have an effect on your mood and morale.
So be kind to yourself. Do things mindfully, gently and patiently. And remember that doing less is sometimes more beneficial than overdoing it. Focusing on just one of the poses above might be enough 🙂