Surgery Recovery: A Surgeon’s Advice to Yogis Facing an Operation

Dr. Ryland Stucke for Yoga Medicine® shares some advice for any yogis who will be undergoing surgery or those who are already recovering from surgery.

A Surgeon’s Advice to Yogis Facing an Operation or Recovering from Surgery

On average, every person will undergo six surgical procedures during their lifetime, and the need for surgery is on the rise [1]. If you’re facing an operation, or recently had one, you probably have many questions about what you should or shouldn’t do, and when you can return to your usual yoga routine. Common sense goes a long way, and your surgeon can give you specific information. However, with some basic information, you can speed your recovery and reduce complications.


We all know about the idea of rehabilitation after surgery, but prehabilitation is preparing your body to better handle a major trauma, like surgery. New research has demonstrated that patients can, and SHOULD, actively participate in their recovery starting before they have their operation. Prehabilitation (prehab) helps avoid deconditioning and can lead to better outcomes and a faster recovery [2,3]! The key is thirty minutes of moderate intensity exercise every day to the point that you break a sweat. Your asana practice is a great way to combat the upcoming effects of surgery and lying in bed as you recover. Gentle twists and upper back openers are excellent poses to incorporate.


Beyond the physical benefits of a prehab routine, practices lik meditation and pranayama before surgery will help you cope with the extra mental stress of surgery. Hospitalized patients experience an interruption in their usual routines including boredom, sleeplessness, pain, and frequent interruptions from medical staff. Meditation and pranayama help ease these stressors, and enhance the parasympathetic nervous system which aids in recovery. If you don’t have an active mediation practice, explore it before your operation. Mediation apps also can be helpful. You can also try a simple mantra based meditation using a phrase such as, “Balance and strength” or “I am whole”. Practicing chandra bheda (left sided nostril breathing) can help to counter the inflammation and heat produced by surgery. Additionally, nodi shodhana (alternate nostril breathing) is a great way to balance the body after a major stress.


No single diet plan has been shown to be the best, but a well-balanced diet with good sources of vitamins and minerals matters. Vegetarian and even vegan diets are safe around the time of surgery, but make sure to have adequate protein which is the fuel for rebuilding tissues after surgery. No matter what you eat, a well-balanced diet featuring healthy foods should be the focus.

Additionally, if you smoke, quit right now. Smoking significantly increases complications and impairs wound healing; quitting has huge positive benefits for recovery. Cut back on alcohol consumption, which can suppress the immune system. Instead, try drinking fresh vegetable juices or smoothies for additional micronutrients and an immunity boost.

Surgery Recovery After the Operation

Time to get moving! Regular activity after surgery is important. This helps strengthen the immune system, minimize complications, and speed recovery. Most surgeons will ask you to take a small walk the same day of your operation. You can start with meditation, pranayama, and gentle restorative poses in your hospital bed right away. Even simple movements such as circular movements of the ankle, arm, and neck will improve blood flow and jump-start the healing process. Listen to your body and gradually increase your level of activity as tolerated.

No surgeon can entirely erase the pain, so know that coping with some pain is part of the healing process.

Depending on the surgery you have, you may have a specific rehab routine prescribed to you. However, many operations don’t come with a handbook of rehabilitation exercises. If you are having abdominal surgery with a traditional open incision, you’ll want to be especially careful. No deep twisting, large backbends, or focused core work for at least 4 weeks. If you have laparoscopic or robotic surgery, you may be able to restart your full practice sooner but talk to your surgeon.

If you have joint or orthopedic surgery, your rehabilitation plan and exercises should be prescribed. Make sure you get clearance from your surgeon before you go back to a group class, especially if it’s a more strenuous style. Your yoga teacher is also a great resource for ideas about safe poses and modifications for specific sequences. You might consider putting your yoga teacher and doctor in touch to consult each other on your surgery and a safe exercise plan.

General Rules to Follow

  • If it hurts, don’t do it (a little soreness is OK, pain is not).
  • You’ll have some ups and downs, but should generally keep improving after surgery. If you’re not improving overall, this could be the first sign that something is wrong which means you should talk to your surgeon.
  • Don’t over exert yourself, but don’t be a slug. Now is NOT a good time to binge-watch Netflix. If you can’t do anything else, walking is great after an operation.
  • Nutrition matters…. a lot. Eating nutritious foods helps your body heal and improves your immune system as your body recovers.
  • Everyone’s recovery is different, and every form of activity or exercise has its own risks. Listen to your body and respect the healing process. Personalized advice from yoga instructors or medical professionals is a great way to ensure you’re on the right path. Always consult your surgeon if you have concerns about your recovery.


  1. Lee PHU,GawandeAA. The number of surgical procedures in an American lifetime in 3 states. J Am Coll Surg. 2008;358:S75
  2. GillisC, LiC, LeeL, et al. Prehabilitation versus rehabilitation: a randomized control trial in patients undergoing colorectal resection for cancer. Anesthesiology. 2014;358:937-47
  3. Barberan-GarciaA,Ubré M,RocaJ, et al. Personalised prehabilitation in high-risk patients undergoing elective major abdominal surgery: a randomised blinded controlled trial. Annals of Surgery. 2017; [epub ahead of print].
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