A Hip Healing Journey

By Lauri Bunting

My healing journey began six weeks ago when I was wheeled out of the operating room at University of California, San Francisco, with two brand new titanium and ceramic hips.  I was elated knowing that I had finally crossed a threshold.  No longer were my hips deteriorating; they were now healing.  The physical and mental preparation started months before, as I knew it was imperative to enter surgery with a strong body and mind, and equally as important for recovery.

Six weeks later, I can report that my recovery has been much faster than anticipated.  I am walking and hiking with ease and I have returned to my active yoga practice. I don’t state this boastfully, as recovery is not a race.  Yet I do believe that my mind-body-spirit approach that began far in advance of surgery paved the way for a successful recovery.  Most importantly, it has empowered me to embrace the healing journey and it is available to anyone recovering from injury, illness or trauma.

Focus on the Transformation
The initial thought of hip replacement surgery was dark and daunting, a plunge into a completely unknown territory.  I’d never had a part of my body removed and replaced.  I considered myself healthy and robust, yet two vital parts of my body had failed.  To enter surgery with such trepidation was not an option for me.  As humans, we can choose where to set our gaze.  I chose to focus on the wonders of what was about to take place, and embrace the process of transformation.  While I had gone through periods of grieving the gradual loss of my physical abilities, I somehow arrived at a place of complete non-attachment to what I once was.  I was eager to feel my new starting point and equally as excited to accept the challenge of recovery.

Arm Yourself With Knowledge
I learned as much as possible about my hip replacement procedure, including the pros and cons of the various surgical approaches and the variety of prosthetics on the market.  I met with a few different surgeons and was prepared with questions.  This empowered me to  avoid a prosthetic that had potential health issues, refuse a  blood transfusion that the hospital had ordered, deny at least seven different drugs that are routinely administered after the procedure, and make informed choices that supported my health and well being.

Replace Fear with a Positive Vision
Fear certainly popped up from time to time in the months, weeks, and days leading up to my surgery.  I responded to that fear by locating where it manifested in my body.  I then allowed that sensation to cue a positive image–such as hiking effortlessly with my healed and healthy hips.  When the risk of infection crept into my mind, I envisioned every cell of my body welcoming the new hips and adopting them as lifelong partners.  During my surgery, I asked my three kids to hold the image of us all hiking in the Swiss Alps, mom leading the pack with strength, grace, and ease.  Since I elected to remain awake during my surgery (with a spinal block from the waist down), I held the same image and it made me smile.  We will realize that vision next summer!

Embrace the Starting Point
My starting point came the day after surgery when a physical therapist entered my room with a walker.  She was accompanied by an occupational therapist who handed me a 12-inch shoehorn and implored me to put on my shoes.  I managed to wriggle my feet into my slip-on sneakers, took hold of the walker, and slowly stood up.  I was struck by how unsupported my legs felt.  It was as if I had two pegs propped under a pelvis. I teetered with wobbly legs, feeling like a fawn that had just stood for the first time.  After about two minutes, the room started swaying as a wave of warmth and nausea rushed through me.  I settled back onto my bed and with a spark of excitement thought, “THIS is my starting point!”

Envision the Healing Sanctuary
Long before the day of surgery, I began envisioning and planning my healing sanctuary.  I knew the first two weeks would set the foundation for recovery.  I regarded this period as a personal healing retreat.  This included proper nourishment, adequate hydration, meditation, rest and being the fierce guardian of my energy–discerning between energy cultivators and energy zappers.  This allowed me to direct the majority of my energy toward healing.

Let Meditation Be Thy Medicine
Yoga Nidra meditation was especially useful during this phase.  Yoga Nidra is a guided meditation that systematically encourages healing at the levels of the body, mind, and spirit.  Included in this meditation is the establishment of a “Sankalpa” or healing affirmation that is stated in the present moment while simultaneously imagining that it has already occurred.  This combination of focus and physiology plants the seed of transformation deep into one’s consciousness, fertile ground for healing.  Yoga Nidra and other meditation techniques also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, known as the “rest, digest and repair” response that is conducive to healing.  This is opposite from the “fight or flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system that accompanies stress and anxiety, suppressing the immune system and depleting energy.  Furthermore, it is said that one hour of Yoga Nidra is equivalent to three hours of sleep.  Since healing takes place during sleep, Yoga Nidra provides a triple dose of healing!

Transform Mundane Movement into Yoga
My rehab and physical yoga practice began on the second day in the hospital. Aside from learning how to stand, walk, and climb and descend stairs, , I was given rudimentary exercises meant to engage the major muscles of the hips and thighs.  They were performed while lying in bed.  Slowly, I inhaled while extending my leg and exhaled while bending it, all while tuning into the sensations of muscles contracting and releasing.  I often hear people say that they cannot do yoga because of a specific condition.  Yoga is a state of mind and therefore it can be integrated into anything we do.  It is the synthesis of awareness, breath, and movement that transforms mundane movement into yoga.

The Hidden Treasure
This entire healing journey has been an amazing experience; I am transfixed in wonder and awe as I witness my body’s ability to withstand trauma and heal.  From that initial “starting point,” when I stood for the first time on my wobbly legs, I have beheld my body’s gradual awakening, muscle fiber by muscle fiber. Being an abnormally flexible person my entire life, I am experiencing for the first time what it is like to have limited mobility. Yet, this fascinates me! Like a detective, I embark on a mission of finding the access point to release the tension. I have no idea how much flexibility I will regain. Yet that is so far from the point. There is so much satisfaction in the process of exploration and discovery.  Like all epic  journeys, regardless of the miles traveled, the level of personal transformation correlates to the distance traveled within.  I am reminded time and time again that it is the journey rather than the destination that holds the treasure.

Lauri Bunting is a yoga instructor and wellness coach in the Wood River Valley. She is currently teaching Therapeutic Yoga privately and will resume public classes and workshops this summer. To learn more about her therapeutically oriented yoga classes and wellness coaching, visit www.lauribunting.com.