Yoga practice & Back surgery

Maintaining my yoga practice before and after back surgery

By Johanna Paddick

Just over a year ago I had a Posterior Lumbar Spinal Fusion. It had taken about 8 months to determine that this was needed – 8 months of varying degrees of pain and discomfort, difficulty sleeping, and reduced ability to maintain my usual yoga practice.

I was able to continue with a modified practice, and for this I am very grateful. I found relief physically from some poses, including Supta Padangusthasana with the raised leg supported by a wall, and relief mentally with the escape from discomfort. I felt fortunate to have Stephanie guiding me in my practice. Prior to the surgery my practice was slow and mindful. I used plenty of support – a table or chair for standing poses and plenty of height when sitting. I remember I could not manage Virasana at all, no matter how much height I used. The transitions between poses were difficult – staying still felt better. I limited the up and down movements; standing poses like Parsvottanasana from dog pose worked well.

The misalignment that was causing my discomfort was a result of degeneration of my 5th Lumbar vertebra. Parts of it had cracked and it had collapsed down onto the sacrum and slid a little forward. There was compression of the nerves, and I was informed that nothing would alleviate the problem except the surgery.

So I went into the surgery with high hopes that all would be well. And it is. I had virtually stopped my practice for three months prior to the surgery – it was just too difficult. Recovery from the surgery took 4 months; in this time I could not bend forward or twist at all. I did despair that I would ever be able to do Uttanasana again! After receiving from the surgeon the all clear – the bone had fused and was strong – I began the slow process of reclaiming my body and my practice. Twists are still challenging. It has taken a long time to feel strong and capable again.

A year on and I am doing backbends including Urdhva Dhanurasana, and every week noticing improvements. Again I have Stephanie to thank for taking me through the slow process of building up with support and patience. Yoga has been, and continues to be, a very important part of my life. I am regularly surprised by the small improvements that I can recognise. The mindfulness and body awareness that I have from yoga have been valuable tools in aiding my recovery from the surgery. Thanks go to my surgeon, but particularly to my yoga teachers and students. Yoga enabled me to deal with this set back with grace and courage.

Johanna Paddick
March 18, 2018