Can yoga help before and after surgeries?

Yoga and its role for people going through surgery is rarely a subject of exploration. Yet, I often have students who are facing surgery come to me with questions. The number one question I am asked is: if they should stop their practice before and for a period after the procedure.

To me, this question reflects some doubt and a lack of understanding of practice. It also works to sabotage the student’s path to health, as their attention and energy is on possible future negative setbacks rather than on how to be constructive in the present. So, let’s be constructive and think about how yoga might serve a student facing surgery.

Firstly, let’s remember that Yoga is our ally, our tool to build holistic health and unleash potential. Our body always responds well to systemic stimuli delivered in a way that aligns with our nature.

That said when we have an injured area we tend to apply simple logic, fearing that adding more pressure and stimulating an area that is in ill-health will be harmful. But how can a healthy stimulus delivered skillfully to an area that is in ill-health be negative?

Furthermore, if you are going to operate on your shoulder, why consider only that region of the body? Wouldn’t it be better to have the rest of the body in a state of good health and fully functioning to aid support the body through the procedure and during recovery? Working on the whole will always be in service of good health, regardless of the conditions one faces. Yoga, when practiced correctly, will only promote current and future health.

Yoga has great value after surgery too. In the Kaiut Yoga Method, we work with a concept from the Austro-Hungarian physician and psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich. He asserted that before physical illness there is energetic illness, which is through the whole body. Surgeries are efficient to treat physical ailments, but they do not act on the energetic matrix in the body that is often part of the need for surgery in the first place. On top of that, the surgery itself can lead to the emergence of new issues across our whole physical and energetic system.

There will always be post-surgery issues that require recovery time. The fact is, surgery is traumatic to our system—most apparently there are cuts and significant physical changes from the intervention, but on top of that people will experience other physical, emotional, and mental reactions. These traumas accumulate in overlapping layers and are stored in the body, and can hinder a full recovery. Yoga is a perfect tool for recovery as it addresses and cleans up the whole system—both the preexisting matrix of issues and the consequences of surgery.

Of course, as a teacher delivering yoga to someone pre and post-surgery requires a great deal of comprehension and technique and taking responsibility for the situation. But it is worth it, as I have observed the life-giving benefits that yoga has brought to students who have maintained continuous practice before and, when released, after surgeries. I hope in sharing more of my experiences, some research, and the inspiring story of one of the teachers of the Method you gain a deeper understanding of the potential role of yoga when someone is facing challenging processes in life, such as surgery. We may need surgery at some point, but we don’t need to unnecessarily suffer! Yoga offers us a way.

Enjoy your reading! Francisco Kaiut


Surgery is proposed as the main cure for many diseases we face in modern life. However, surgery can become a stressor and lead to adverse effects—mentally, emotionally, and physically—that were not related to the treatment.

In countless cases, the mental health of patients is shaken as a result of surgical procedures and their aftermath, a factor that negatively compromises their recovery. An article published in Medical News Today, by Johnson and Legg, entitled Depression After Surgery: What You Need to Know, sheds light on the emotional fallout from surgery. They explain that depression can arise from the health problem itself and the postoperative discomfort and change of routine. During this time after surgery, a patient may have an increased perception of pain. Besides this, he may feel tiredness, apathy, irritability, anxiety, lack of confidence, reduced mobility, and stress, among other symptoms.

Depression can also happen in the presurgery period. This is because many people worry so much about the procedure and the outcome that they increase their anxiety and stress levels. People with depression also postpone seeking medical treatment, delaying the chances of healing. Preoperative depression reduces the effectiveness of the surgery, according to the authors of the study Depression and Postoperative Complications: An Overview. One example offered was patients with morbid obesity and showed signs of depression, experienced lower rates of weight loss after bariatric surgery.

When depression is severe and significant it can warrant a diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD). The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks MDD as the fourth leading cause of disability worldwide. It predicts that these rates will continue to increase and by 2030 the disease will rise to second on that list. The effect on post-operative patients, besides the reduction in general functioning and quality of life, can lead to an increase in morbidity and mortality.

Research out of the University of Iowa reported that people with coronary artery disease, even after a successful intervention, had psychological impairments caused by depression, with increased cases of postoperative delirium, unplanned hospital admissions, arrhythmias, and other symptoms. This impairs the general health status of the individual, recovery takes longer, both physically and emotionally, and the quality of life is affected.

It is true that for most of us, our lives are filled with endless commitments and demands. Given this, the need to face medical treatment overloads us physically and emotionally even before the surgery. When you receive a diagnosis and treatment plan, it is likely you enter the stressful process of reorganizing your work, social, and personal life to find the necessary rest and recovery time. On top of these practical issues, questions and concerns may arise in relation to the possible complications of surgery related to anesthesia, medication, pain, or discomfort and the impact this will have on your quality of life.

All these worries are normal, but if you don’t take care of yourself, depression can easily arise, compromising the whole process of healing and restoring health. Allow yourself not to be overwhelmed. Surgical procedures save lives, but they can cause pain and psychological suffering for the patient. But I know many stories of students who have been able to cope better with the downsides of surgery through yoga. One of the stories I’ll share is of a teacher of mine who had bowel cancer. She kept up the practice before and after her medical procedures, which helped her get through that time and recover well.

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