Embracing props

My rehab stationary bike, adorned with my hip brace, raised toilet seat and grabber, with a walker and crutches against the wall.

Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. It’s Day Three after my arthroscopic hip surgery, and I’m resisting the urge to ditch my crutches. As prescribed, I’ve been bearing about 50% of my weight on the affected leg since immediately after the procedure, with no pain while walking. But I know that I need to heed my surgeon’s rehab protocol and take things slowly to maximize healing. The crutches are part of a toolbox I assembled before the procedure, based on the doctor’s recommendations and advice gleaned from online groups. Torn labrums with FAI (femoroacetabular impingement) are being treated more and more frequently as awareness of the conditions grows, and arthroscopy for the repairs has come a long way in the past decade.

In Purna Yoga, we use props almost as appendages, including blocks, belts, bolsters, blankets, chairs and, my favorite, the wall. Our asana lineage is descended directly from B.K.S. Iyengar, who pioneered the use of props to maximize not the outward, cookie-cutter appearance of poses, but their potential to cultivate the free flow of energy through the subtle body.

Props are used to remove obstacles, not to create them.

Yes, there are basic alignment points to look for in the external asana, mainly because of safety concerns. A prop should enhance, not detract, from a pose; poses should be customized to fit an individual’s body, not vice versa. No two bodies are alike, so why should any two poses be alike from one body to another? In addition to enhancing alignment and safety, props create a proprioceptive boundary, telling the nervous system where the body is in space and creating a relaxation response even during fiery effort, or tapas. Through the added gift of Purna Yoga’s light-and-love filled, active Heartfull Meditation, the mind-body-soul connection can be deepened even more. Asana is meant to be done with a beautiful feeling and respect for the body, in service of one’s dharma, not for the egoistic achievement of a particular shape.

For months before my surgery, my asana practice was very gentle and consisted mainly of basic stretches and restorative poses. Everything else hurt: weight-bearing standing poses, seated twists, sitting in any position for extended periods. Now my asana practice is physical therapy in the form of assisted range-of-motion stretches and, initially, self-directed isometrics for the gluteal muscles, quadriceps and transversus abdominis, the deepest of the four main “core” muscles. My props during what has been predicted to be 12 weeks of rehab include:

  • A brace, to prevent hip flexion beyond 90 degrees;
  • Crutches, to lighten the load on the affected leg;
  • A walker, for when crutches are awkward;
  • A stationary bike, to be ridden for twice a day for 20 minutes on no resistance, to keep the joint mobile;
  • Raised toilet seats, to prevent too much hip flexion;
  • A motorized ice water machine, to reduce post-operative swelling and pain;
  • A grabber, for picking up items not safely within reach.

The blue pads are an ice water-delivery system, underneath the hip brace. Cat provides moral support.

Rather than be bummed out about needing so much hardware and assistance, I’m trying to embrace the stability and peace that these items are bringing as I safely maneuver in and out of bed, the shower, the passenger side of my car while I’m not able to drive, and around my house. I’m setting aside any negative semantic suggestions that “crutch” equals “weakness.” A crutch is something to be leaned upon, for good reasons, but only for as long as necessary.

Two caveats of this rehab are to not push through any pain (mine has been blessedly minimal) and to not overdo any physical activity, even it feels like a good idea. I know that these tools are temporary, and that if rehab is my current dharma, they are for healing and transforming traumatized tissues and bone into smoothly functioning parts. I firmly believe that our bodies want to thrive and move as best they can. Why shun anything that could facilitate that?

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