Maturing, Healing, Ashtanga: An Inspiring Story of Recovery

Last summer, on our pilgrimage with Namarupa, Steve and I were pleased to meet our fellow yatri (“pilgrim”), Karen Cairns. Karen was a true pleasure to travel with, always laughing in spite of the fact that she was clearly struggling with a lot of pain. Karen told us that she needed hip surgery, and although it wasn’t scheduled until October, she had wanted to revisit India, come on the yatra, and then visit Mysore. The yatra schedule was rigorous, and I thought she was very brave. We post a lot about pain and the practice, and I’m pretty sure hip and knee replacement is in my future. Karen’s story is inspiring, and even, as you’ll see, joyful.

Karen had her surgery, and recently posted her story on Facebook. I asked if I could share it with our readers. Karen is one of those people you meet to whom the term “teacher” applies at many levels, and we learned a lot from her. Keep in mind as you read that Karen practiced every morning with us on the yatra, even though she was walking with a cane, and made the whole journey up into the Himalayas and back–then went on to Mysore to practice there.


Several people have asked me more about my hip replacement and what led up to it, so I am going to try to share some more. Perhaps it may help other ashtangis with similar problems, or facing major surgery, or even teachers working with students with these issues. I hope so!

I have written that my problems were starting to be very noticeable January 2013 during a trip to India. Poses were not a problem, but sleeping hurt and my hips hurt. I am sure the problem began way earlier than that but it was not noticeable to me until then. I do remember having my left leg “collapse” while I was standing–just standing, talking to my friend Gwen in Louisville–and I thought, “Whoa, that’s weird!” But it didn’t happen again–that was in 2012 in the fall. I have since heard that this is a common early symptom.

I tried and tried all kinds of therapies in 2013–rolfing, PT, massage, diet, Ayurvedic treatments/foods/supplements etc.–but nothing seemed to help. And the pain got worse. So it was not until that June that I, reluctantly, told my doctor I thought I needed an x-ray. The x-ray was painfully clear–bone on bone with multiple bone spurs. I tried to find a local orthopedic surgeon but could not. I did hours of online research–knew if I did have surgery that I wanted an anterior approach, to cut less muscle and, hopefully, heal faster. But could not find a surgeon that I was comfortable with until April of this year: the daughter of one of my parent’s friends had had a hip replacement outside of DC and she met with me and talked with me at length. She is much younger than me. She had a good experience–liked the clinic and hospital–big emphasis on infection control and on recovery.

I met with the surgeon in May- he was great–answered questions–does yoga (“Not like your yoga, though!”). So I made an appointment for October 23rd for surgery. I already was due to leave for India in June for a 3 month trip- yatra, shala, and my swamiji and his school. And I thought I might need one month pre-surgery to recover from India (which I definitely did!). At this point I was 99% sure I needed surgery, due to extreme pain, needing to go two feet per step to climb stairs, pain with any weightbearing on left leg, inability to sleep due to pain, increased pain in my left knee and right hip due to their compensating for problem with left hip.

The 3 month trip to India–especially actually the month in Gokulam with its hills!–made me 110% sure I needed surgery. This was actually a big relief to realize. I didn’t want surgery. I was so very used to healing myself of anything. I saw myself as super-strong… and able to “handle” aging and pain. So… I had to come to terms with all of that! As I told one 40ish yoga student on the hill by the water tower in Gokulam, when he said, “How could this happen to you? You do yoga! You are so healthy!” I said, “And you know what, I am going to die too.” Yoga does enormous wonders but cannot prevent or cure everything, including aging and death. So…after being blessed and blessed and blessed (as I wrote at length!) I came home totally at peace with having surgery.

I did more online research–saw a Yoga Journal article about asanas post-hip replacement, which said pretty much that I would not be able to do Primary series except forward bends and downward dog (this turned out NOT TO BE TRUE–more later on this!). Pre-surgery I trained–using my practice–also could not take supplements (and no alcohol–not a big problem) including ayurvedic ones, could not use ginger or drink herbal tea (big problem for me) for 10 days prior to surgery. By the 10th day, since I refused to take anything like Tylenol, I was in quite a lot of pain and practically eager for surgery!

My lovely son went with me for pre-surgery appt. and day of surgery. Everyone was so nice, warm and friendly at the clinic and in the hospital. I wasn’t really scared–just said Om and did whatever they told me! I’ve written about post-surgery and my great recovery…. After 10 days at my good friend Stair’s house, my son drove me back to Blacksburg, got me groceries, and left on my birthday–he lives in DC. I started driving that week- short distances- with permission from the clinic, since I had done so well. In November I drove myself 4 hours back up to the DC area for my one month post-op appt. Still was not allowed to take Ayurvedic supplements or drink herbal tea for that month, in spite of my pleading for permission!

November 19th I had my appt. X-rays were great and the PT eval was glowing. Got permission to resume my regular life! Herbal teas! Ayurvedic supplements! Was told that I could do most of the asanas on the chart I showed the PT; just not right away, and no back bending (duh). The PT told me that the online info I printed out from Yoga Journal was old and referred to the “anterior-lateral” approach, whereas my surgery was “anterior” with no lateral incision. So that information,, thank you God, did not apply to me.

I drove myself back on that Thursday and Friday morning resumed my asana practice. I did one hour of practice: standing poses and some seated. The PT had told me the worst thing to do would be to fall. And if I did fall, from headstand, for instance, to be sure to fall on my non-surgical side. Sure enough, I immediately fell–but made I made sure I fell on my non-surgical side. I fell out of regular triangle. Surprised the heck out of me! Scared the whoopee out of me for sure! I had not realized that my balance would need to be re-established and that this will take awhile. Silly me. Now I am careful and aware…working slowly to get my NEW balance. I had been doing asanas for almost 2 years with that painful hip, so I had adjusted my balance accordingly. Now I must relearn. I had expected loss of flexibility, strength from muscles, etc. but the balance is the biggest hurdle, I think. I’m now practicing up through navasana, except Marichi D. Lotus is coming back; it’s now just half lotus–partly because right foot in first puts pressure on incision and replacement. My motto is now not “Practice and all is coming” but “Practice and all is here, NOW!” So…full of joy….

Posted by Bobbie

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Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

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