A woman sitting down doing yoga positions and exercises.

Returning to Yoga

I practiced yoga on and off for about 10 years before stopping due to my knee replacement infection, treatment, knee replacement (also called a knee revision), and difficult recovery. I had found two teachers who were not only accepting of my disability and physical limitations due to my rheumatoid arthritis, but who truly felt that yoga could be adapted for anyone and to anyone’s benefit.

Unfortunately, I also had some bad experiences with narrow-minded yoga teachers and one in particular who told me I wasn’t welcome in her class when I rolled into her door with my motorized wheelchair. It was hurtful, but I moved on as I realized it was a problem with her attitude and that wasn’t mine to solve.

Am I strong enough to return to yoga?

After my knee revision, I often thought about going back to yoga, but I worried that my left knee weakness was a challenge I couldn’t overcome. So, I held back. I’ve done many rounds of physical therapy after relearning to stand and walk from the new knee replacement. I got into aquatic exercise, which remains my favorite and primary way of keeping up my strength.

Making adaptations post-surgery

But I kept thinking: what if I tried yoga again and learned a new way to do it? The fear I felt came down to a side effect of my left knee replacement revision. After the surgery, I had a lot more motion in my knee which was great in theory, but in practice, it wasn’t great for me. The problem was that my knee had been frozen in a limited range of motion for nearly 20 years and the soft tissues (tendons, ligaments, muscles) had atrophied to match what the joint could do. Although I did my physical therapy and recovered well, there was now weakness in my knee that I couldn’t repair due to this atrophy damage.

When I practiced yoga previously, I would do some of it seated in my wheelchair and some poses standing. I learned a lot of adaptations from my excellent teachers. But the way I had practiced demanded more left knee strength than I had post-surgery, so I needed to learn new ways to practice while also staying safe and not taking a tumble.

Starting slow with a new practice

My first experiment was to find some online videos of seated yoga practice. I tried a few but found one in particular that I enjoyed because it felt physically demanding enough to be rewarding. I learned how to do some poses I previously did while standing, instead of from my wheelchair. It felt slightly different, but it still was good exercise, strength building, and stretching.

In talking with some friends, I learned about yoga studios that had brought their classes online during the pandemic. This was exciting! Previously when I took a class, it always demanded travel which could be exhausting depending on the distance, especially after a sweaty class. Also, I still prefer not to exercise among other people to minimize my exposure to COVID-19.

Experimenting with online classes

I went online and started looking at offerings for online yoga classes at local studies and found an abundance of options. I wasn’t sure where to start, so I emailed the studies explaining my situation, that I had previous yoga experience and knew adaptations, but wasn’t sure what classes to try. They were responsive and gracious, offering suggestions of classes and teachers.

It has been fun to try different classes, revisit adaptations I learned years ago, and reconnect with yoga. I’m happy that all the teachers have been welcoming and that, even when I do things differently, I have been able to benefit and enjoy yoga again. After every session, my bones feel some relief and I enjoy building strength in different ways.

Anyone can do yoga

While I know I won’t ever be able to stand on my head and twist into a pretzel-like position, just practicing stretches and holding poses to build strength has already been very beneficial. I firmly believe yoga practice is accessible to anyone and I’m really glad to be returning to mine.

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