I get asked by a lot of people about exercising with a stoma, especially yoga. In this post, I will be speaking about my experience from starting yoga altogether post-surgery, so if you have had to step off the yoga mat to have surgery, getting back into yoga isn’t something I have experience of. First things first, yoga is not something I know loads about so what you are going to read is merely from my understanding and experience only. As always, it is best to consult a medical/trained professional before attempting yoga as everyone’s needs and limitations are different.
What are the benefits of yoga?
Yoga is said to have many health benefits & what these benefits are can vary from person to person. Generally, yoga can gently help to increase physical activity, as well as helping you to develop more strength, balance and flexibility. This is done through different postures along with a large focus on breathing. There any many forms of yoga meaning that the chances of finding a type of yoga that best suits you are high. Yoga can also have mental benefits and there has been research to suggest that it can help to alleviate stress, anxiety and depression.
Why did you decide to give yoga a go?
My stoma nurse was the first person to suggest yoga could be beneficial for me a good few years ago. It’s taken me from then until September to pluck up the courage to actually go to a class but I am so glad I did! I gave some online Yoga videos a go a few times in the past but never really got into them as I’m someone who prefers to have someone who knows what they’re doing advising me with it and showing me what to do. I like the fact that in a class (or before or after) that if you are concerned about whether you are doing something right or have any questions, then a teacher is always on hand to help.
How did you pluck up the courage to go to a yoga class?
Before I started my yoga class, it took me absolutely ages to convince myself to give it a go! However, my other half is really into his fitness and had been helping to give me the push I needed to go, so it was something we decided to do together. I have been to a class by myself a few weeks ago which was nerve-wracking, but I had no problems with it at all once I got there as I had started to get to know people in the class. I was worried about so much and still do worry, but I know I can work around my worries as the benefits of going to yoga do outweigh the little worries. My main worry was having a bag leak or having a lot of wind in my bag so that other people would be able to see or tell I have a bag. I always take a spare stoma bag kit in my backpack to yoga which has more than enough spares in & I always wear high waisted leggings, with my Comfizz waistband underneath, a sports bra and a really floaty top in case I do get wind and I don’t want to leave the room mid-class to go to the toilet (although people do go to the toilet mid-class and nobody bats an eyelid…if you gotta go, you gotta go!)
I had to fill in a health questionnaire before I started (this is standard practice for anyone) and discussed my surgery with my teacher. The thought of this may seem a little daunting, but it won’t be the first time your yoga teacher has come across someone who has had surgery, has an illness or has physical limitations that they have worked with and found a workaround so that they can still partake. I strongly recommend giving your yoga teacher a heads up beforehand with any worries or concerns you may have. As the saying goes, “it’s better to be safe than sorry!”
Is yoga hard?
This is something I always asked myself long before I decided to give yoga a go. From searching online or seeing pictures of others doing yoga, I thought it would be something I could never live up to in a million years. You search “yoga” on social media and the most complex poses seem to come up, so it is understandable that we are all lured into the pretense that it must be difficult. The class I go to every week is actually advertised as “Gentle Yoga” which has been a great level for me to start at. The class is for mixed abilities & my yoga teacher usually gives us 2 or 3 ways we can vary each posture to push ourselves or simply take the class at a more relaxed pace if something doesn’t feel comfortable. I have had 1 session so far where I’ve found it tough, and that session was focusing on the upper body and core. I have always found that the bottom half of my body is a lot stronger than the top and from speaking to people, this is not uncommon, especially considering that I enjoy “leg day” when I do it in the gym the most. I could definitely feel the tension on my core in that class, but it wasn’t to an uncomfortable level. It was more the fact that I’d had a particularly difficult week mentally & physically & I found it really hard to zone out and control my breathing along with my posture. It’s completely normal to have those weeks, and it did upset me a little at the time, but I reassured myself it was just a bad week and to not become disheartened then the next week was one of the best yoga sessions I have had.
Can you do yoga if you’ve had open abdominal surgery?
I have quite a scar (or warrior wound!) down my stomach as I had to have open surgery to form my ileostomy and remove my large intestine (colon) & rectum etc. My stomach muscles (rectus abdominis) were cut through in order to do this meaning for a considerable amount of time after my surgery they were sore, fragile & had to knit back together. I do yoga with a stoma despite this, but my operation was in 2011 and we are now in 2019, so that’s fast forward a good few years! From my own experience and talking to other people, I think it’s best to stay away from any exercise around the core for at least several weeks post-surgery. However, if you feel that you may be up to giving any exercise a go before this, then this is something you should speak to your doctor or stoma nurse about. Your doctor or nurse may even be able to get in touch with your yoga teacher to discuss a suitable exercise plan which can start things off gently.
Is yoga heavily core orientated and are there certain postures I should avoid?
As this article explains from Exercise UK core strength relates to the whole midsection of your body, mainly your belly, your back and sides. Pretty much every posture in yoga involves the core indirectly but a lot of the time this isn’t in an intense manner. The postures in the article are core orientated, so as I and the article have explained, it’s best to seek medical/professional advice before giving them a go.
I always ensure that I have some form of support wear on for yoga. Usually this is a Comfizz level 1 waistband, although there are different levels of support you can use depending on your needs and length of time after surgery etc. The Comfizz team will be happy to discuss these options with you to ensure you get the product best suited to your own case.
The general rule I tell myself and also advise others with any exercise post-surgery is that if it feels painful or like you might push something too far, don’t do it! I strongly believe that there is a difference between being a little sore from exercise (the “good” sore!) and pain & you can definitely tell the difference!
Can I get injured from yoga or get a hernia?
The simple answer is yes, as with all exercise. Through taking the right steps such as warming up, stretching, cooling down & listening to your body, these risks can be significantly reduced. Injuries such as lower back pain, wrist pain & hamstring tears or pulls can happen as a result of yoga, but again, this usually happens down to pushing yourself too far, not listening to your body and/or not warming up and cooling down properly.
As for getting a hernia, hernias are very common after abdominal surgery both short term and long term. Everyone really worries about getting a hernia, including myself, but listen to your body and know when to seek advice before trying things such as certain yoga postures you aren’t sure on! If a posture feels like it may be pushing you too much, or even if you think it may be pushing things a bit too far before you have even attempted it, then simply don’t do it. There is no competition in yoga and it is important to try and adopt a mindset within a yoga class that it is your time for yourself on your mat. You are not there to compare yourself with others. You are there to take some vital “me time” and focus on your own needs outside what can be a very hectic schedule in our daily lives.
I am quite a big believer in the phrase “life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Obviously, you have to be sensible with this phrase and not take it super literally. Going to yoga is one of quite a few ways recently that I have pushed myself out of my comfort zone & still continue to do so with each week. I do enjoy welcoming the challenges of yoga, big or small, and already have found pushing myself to turn up to yoga every week has benefitted me in a lot of ways.
Do you do yoga or would like to give it a go? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org!