Healthy Living

3 steps to get back on track after illness, injury

Bouncing back from injury or illness is tough.

Usually we’ve been out of commission long enough to notice our muscles have shrunk, and our bodies feel stiffer.

Consider this nature’s way of telling you to take things slowly. There are all kinds of injuries and illnesses, and each demands different care as you reboot. For example, a shoulder that’s been off limits because of a rotator cuff tear won’t need the same precautions as an entire body that’s been through chemotherapy. In both cases, though, it’s undoubtedly a bad idea to head out on a five-mile power run before your system is ready.

Yoga can be a gentle gateway to stronger days.

There are many kinds of yoga, from all-out sweat-fests, which make every muscle in your body sore, to restorative practices, which onlookers might mistake for napping. A good place to start on a path back to wholeness is on the snoozy side – which everybody, no matter their condition, can benefit from.

Restorative yoga forces you to slow down, which signals your whole system to relax. That means your cortisol levels drop, along with your heart rate. You’ve just created ideal conditions for healing. You’ve also improved your mental state, which helps you heal.

Look for classes labeled – you guessed it – “Restorative.”

If you’re not ready to venture out in public, you can do a few poses at home. All you need are some pillows, blankets or towels.

1. Prepare

If you’re able to take a 10-30 minute walk, start with that. This will get pent-up energy out of your system (plus, walking is a great therapy, in and of itself), which is incredibly helpful. That’s because the biggest challenge in restorative yoga often is staying still: Your body doesn’t move much, but your mind will still want to. The less anxious you feel, the better.

2. Stretch gently

Next, try these simple stretches. Remember to modify or eliminate any as needed for your particular condition.

3. Aaah, restore

Legs Up the Wall Pose

  • Sit with a hip about a foot from a wall. Pivot to face the wall, and lie back.
  • Lift your legs, so your heels rest on the wall. Scoot your buttocks far enough from the wall to feel a slight opening in the back of the legs. If you’re recovering from a leg injury, instead bend your knees and rest your lower legs on a bed, couch or chair.
  • Stay for 1 to 5 minutes.

Specific benefit: Opens the hamstrings (less so with bent knees and lowered legs) and relieves weary legs. Improves circulation because turning upside down helps return blood to the heart.

Supported Forward Bend

  • Sit with your back against a wall, legs ahead. Place pillows or folded blankets or towels under your knees (lots if you’ve had a hamstring or gluteus injury) – enough to allow the back of your thighs to relax. Place several more on your front thighs and shins.
  • Sit up straight and encourage the natural curve of your spine (back of hips, shoulders and head all against wall, with space to slide your hand between your lower back and wall).
  • Hinge forward from your hips without rounding your lower back, and then rest your belly and chest on the padding over your front thighs. Rest your forehead, and drop your arms down.
  • Stay for 1 to 5 minutes.

Specific benefit: Stretches the back, shoulders and neck. Relaxes the nervous system because forward bends are especially calming.

Journalist Mitra Malek has taught yoga regularly since 2006. She was a senior editor for Yoga Journal  and still does research for the magazine on wellness, fitness and nutrition. Learn more at www.mitramalek.com.

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