One of my favorite post mastectomy yoga stretching is laying on my back on a bolster (you could also use a rolled up towel or a pillow.)
Laying on your back with the bolster or pillow strait up the spine from the base of the spine to the neck or head. Let your shoulder fall off to the side opening the chest.
You can keep your arms to the sides and work on getting them out to the sides as you get the scar tissue or the tight muscles if the are above implants. This will slowly open up the muscles and will help get back to full range of motion.
The past week has been filled with reflection on my family. We had a death in the family which brought my family together for my mother’s uncle. Not knowing him very well, I knew him as the Leap Year baby of the family. I think I remember going to his 16th birthday party. But it made me think about how much I love and value my uncles and aunts, cousins. Loosing a parent, one of their siblings, bonds you. There is a gap there where she should be and although it should bring us closer, I think that gap is always unspoken. We lost the person who connects us.
But at this funeral I also had the opportunity to meet someone I knew only by blood. Specifically, our shared genetic mutation. I believe we are the only two in our family in our generation to be passed this legacy. Looking into the eyes of someone who you don’t know, yet you share so much, a pain, a sorrow, a fear maybe. Something binds us that is greater than understanding. It’s blood.
In yoga, this has brought up the struggles that my chest poses that I don’t talk about enough. But I do want to talk about it because I know there are other women out there like me that had a prophylactic mastectomy and many more that have had cancer and a mastectomy. So a latest guide to the world of mastectomy yoga:
- Hatha Yoga is a great place to start if you have had a mastectomy. The stretching aspect will really help open the chest without putting weight onto the chest muscles.
- Let me back up – Something like a plank or downward dog, side plank especially puts your body weight in a position that uses primarily the chest muscle. For me, all of these postures are extremely uncomfortable and has taken a lot of work to be able to do what “normies” do easily. If your reading and you haven’t had a mastectomy here’s what it feels like – do anything flexing your chest muscle. For me, I do that and it’s squeezing a baseball into my chest. Let’s just say it doesn’t feel good. Hatha yoga doesn’t have any of those chest squeezing postures. It does however have chest opening which is wonderful after any chest surgeries.
- Vinyasa/Power/Fusion These all are “next level” when I talk about chest squeezing. It is into balancing on arms, progressive pressure. Post-Mastectomy these are the most difficult classes. The Chaturanga push up is near impossible to me. I constantly have to make modifications and at some point want to make a video to show the different ways I have modified this common posture.
- I have to note, this is very likely can be different to the type of surgery that you have. I have a friend that can do an awesome chaturanga and she has also had surgery. For me, it is very challenging.
- Yin – You need this. Doesn’t matter where you are in recovery, this will relax you, open your chest, let all the stress from the back muscles that have been protecting your chest go. It’s amazing. For anyone really recovering from surgery, Yin yoga is an easy way to love your body while you are recovering. It’s like an hour long gift to your muscles.
Other things like side planks I just can’t do. I’m always on my knee. I am starting arm balancing which is super exciting. It’s actually easier than the typical flow because the strength is in the arms and usually the chest isn’t working. What I love about yoga in general, there’s always an inch farther, a new and challenging posture and growth even in the hardest/mundane. For me my latest breakthrough (if you know yoga, you’ll know this one) Three legged dog, to stacked hips, to wild thing, back to three legged dog.
Give love today. Give love everyday.
I went to Yin tonight and couldn’t relax. I was so tense, at first, I couldn’t even do Corpse Pose (Savasana for those of you learning Sanskrit with me.) My shoulder wouldn’t come to the mat, my arm needing to be almost perpendicular to my side.
I was sweating like crazy, my eyes burned, clothes that are not my usual hot room attire soaked. I was miserable almost the whole class.
But around the half way mark I noticed my shoulder wasn’t causing me as much pain. I was supporting myself on it with no pain. There was the occasional twinge but nothing like I have felt for the last week in a half. And it reminds me why I am doing this, why I love this. It heals. The ride home I noticed I could pull my arm behind me to grab my seat belt – something I haven;t done with my left arm since it happened.
That’s the thing about heat, maybe even the sweat. It works out those tight muscles and relaxes them. I’m sure that I am far from healed. I can already feel it tightening as I type. But I will continue going and it will heal my shoulder. Just as it has my knee. My ankle. My chest. My soul. So many benefits. My handstand career might be on hold but I will get back there. (I don’t say headstand because I am pretty confident I could do one right now.) Just one hour in the hot room – melts everything away.