Yogic Preparation for Surgery

Dr Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd.)

If you are facing a surgical operation in the near future then yoga can help you both to prepare for and to recover most effectively from the procedure. If surgery is unavoidable for your condition then you can use yogic techniques to pass through this period of your life most efficiently and to assume a healthy and vital lifestyle as soon as possible afterwards. All recommended techniques should be carried out under a doctor's guidance and learnt from a competent guide.

In preparing for surgery the practice of cleansing techniques, pranayama, yoga nidra and ajapa japa is especially recommended. Your respiratory system must be strong and clear so that your body can undergo surgical anaesthesia without any difficulties. So firstly, if your condition allows, you should practice neti and kunjal kriyas daily for at least a week prior to entering hospital. This will ensure that the sinuses, nasal passages and airways are in a healthy state, free from excessive mucus secretions and not harbouring chronic foci of infection such as sinusitis, tonsillitis or bronchitis.

Secondly, the development of breath awareness is perhaps the most useful single element in preparing for hospitalization and surgery. One must learn to breathe fully and correctly. Therefore, practice the technique of enhanced abdominal respiration while lying in shavasana. This is done through awareness of the abdominal and diaphragmatic movement during the respiratory cycle. Next you should practice nadi shodhana pranayama daily to the stage where the breath flows in a very relaxed, long and silent manner. However, it is not necessary to develop kumbhaka or retention of breath. Bhastrika pranayama with strong but controlled respiration, together with awareness of the action of the diaphragm, is also important.

Thirdly, practice yoga nidra regularly. This will bring you to the point where you can enter a deep state of physical, mental and emotional relaxation, even in the most noisy, anxious or tense situations. It will enable you to drop off to sleep under any circumstances and to fully relax your whole being. It will remove any fears and uneasiness you may have. During the practice you can make a sankalpa or resolve to help you through the surgical period. This must be a short positive statement which is repeated three times with full intensity and awareness, while you are in the deeply relaxed state. Choose a resolve such as 'I am strong, healthy and fearless in all situations'. Bring your resolve before your mind's eye at the stage of deep relaxation, after you have fully and systematically relaxed the body, and before going on to develop breath awareness.

Fourthly, you will find ajapa japa, the technique of integrating the breath with the mantra, very useful in the hospital situation. You can either use your own personal mantra or the mantra Soham, which is heard within the natural sound of the breath. The inflowing breath produces the mantra So and the out flowing breath produces the mantra Ham. These mantras are already there- you do not have to create them, but only to tune in and discover them. Thus the form of your awareness becomes Soham, Soham, Soham. Throughout your hospitalization, whenever you feel you are becoming anxious, fearful or tense, you can quickly and effortlessly regain balance and stability through this practice. Relief is as close as your breath - it is always there for you to utilize.

For deep relaxation, you can practice ajapa japa while in the yoga nidra state, becoming aware of the psychic passage which lies between the navel and the throat in the front of the body. In this passage you can readily discover the rising and falling psychic breath, flowing with the mantra Soham. This breath flows with the natural breath which is entering and leaving the lungs, however, the psychic flow is in a reversed manner. As the air enters the lungs, the psychic breath is experienced to pass from the navel to the throat, and as the air leaves the lungs, the psychic breath passes from the throat back to the navel. This practice is intensified when it is integrated with ujjayi pranayama, in which one breathes from the throat by consciously contracting the glottis. The duration of the flow of the breath is then drawn out and the sound of the breath in the throat is heard internally, somewhat like a snoring baby.

If hospitalization is unavoidable then these techniques will help you to make the most of your situation. By being able to relax and sleep effortlessly, you should also be able to do without those drugs which many people require to be able to relax and get a good night's sleep while in hospital.

Before entering hospital you should contact an ashram or yoga school where you can learn these techniques well, so that you are fully familiar with them when you arrive for surgery. If possible, you should also discuss your situation fully with an expert in yoga therapy, because many surgical conditions respond favourably to yoga. Thus by using yoga, under expert guidance, you may be able to rectify your condition without surgical intervention. Surgery should only be resorted to when the condition is beyond correction by yoga practices.

Many disease conditions which come to surgery can be readily alleviated by a suitable program of yoga, especially those conditions which are not acute or causing severe alteration of bodily function. This has been proven many times. Among these conditions are: chronic sinusitis, middle ear infections, deviation of the nasal septum, adenoiditis, chronic tonsillitis, gastric and duodenal ulcers, haemorrhoids, varicose veins, gall bladder disease, prolapse of pelvic organs, back pain and sciatica. If your condition is among these, a competent yoga therapist may be able to show you how to heal yourself without resorting to the surgeon's scalpel.

However, if the condition is definitely not amenable to yoga therapy and you are to enter hospital for surgery, you must do so with a positive and fearless state of mind. You must have full faith in your doctor, but always remember that you are responsible for your health, and have a right to know what tablets you are taking and what procedures are being performed. You should not timidly abdicate your own responsibility and judgement and do not be put off by technical and scientific terms. If you show an intelligent interest, the doctor will surely explain what is happening in simple terms. Ask him to draw diagrams if necessary, and do not be afraid to say if you do not understand any point. Only in this way can you really be aware of what is happening to you and best facilitate your preparation and recovery from surgery.

Entering hospital in this frame of mind you will fare well and the whole experience will prove a useful and valuable one, enhancing your understanding and knowledge. If you tread the spiritual path then all the situations of life can be approached with balance and equanimity. Hospitalization can be utilized as sadhana. No experience should be excluded, for it is through the everyday experiences of life that liberation is to be attained. Keep your goal in mind and move towards it always. Progress may be sometimes slow, but it should be relentless.