When I first tried returning to yoga after prostatectomy, it was difficult. After the surgery, I was very conscious of having that empty space at my root chakra – where the prostate used to be. And when I tried to shift energy up my spine, I found myself leaking urine. I was at my wits’ end and couldn’t find a yoga teacher who had been through prostate cancer who could guide me.
Here’s how my yoga practice has recovered over the last three years since my surgery.
My wife and I have been doing the same spinal flex yoga from the Kundalini yoga tradition up on our lawn at 6 am, winter and summer, every weekday morning for at least 15 years. It has been the most wonderful daily start for me. Amongst the benefits were an end to muscle spasms and back pain, greatly enhanced ability to cope with losses, disappointments and setbacks, and a clear and intentional start to every day.
How daily yoga helped me recover after prostate surgery
Having the robotic assisted surgery meant I could get back to most of my yoga practice amazingly quickly. I was out walking the very next day. And I restarted yoga cautiously just 7 days after surgery. By Day 12 I could (rather gingerly) complete our full morning spinal flex set.
Looking back, I believe this early return to exercise made a huge difference to my overall recovery. Walking every day helped recover bowel function, and the yoga helped avoid the awful internal tissue adhesions that sometimes occur after abdominal surgery.
How prostate surgery undermined spinal yoga for me
There’s a part of our daily spinal flex yoga set called the Sat Kriya. This involves very consciously moving physical and more esoteric forms of energy up the spine, starting at the base with a clench of the back part of the pelvic floor and the navel, then following the kundalini energy’s path all the way up the spine. After some practice, it feels a bit like a fountain of blessing that crests out of the top of the crown chakra, and then cascades back down before we begin again.
After surgery, those clenches at the back of the pelvic floor produced unwanted involuntary spurts of urine. Of course this seriously distracted me and detracted from the delicious energetic pulses up my spine. It’s a good thing we do our yoga outside on the lawn!
By this stage I was not experiencing incontinence at any other time apart from during yoga. I later learned that this particular pelvic floor muscle movement tends to push the bladder and remaining urinary sphincter forward. (Prostatectomy removes one of the urine control valves that men are born with. Hence incontinence problems for many men after surgery.) This forward push in turn undoes the kink in the urethra that helps to close the sphincter. Hence it opens up a flow of urine from the bladder.
I asked elder male Kundalini yoga teachers for help, but couldn’t find one who had experienced prostate surgery. Working with specialist pelvic floor physiotherapists has been vital to my learning.
Now, a full return to kundalini yoga after prostatectomy
This is to celebrate that I’m back now to being fully dry even during the Sat Kriya part of my daily spinal flex yoga practice, after 3 years. I can pump the energy up my spine without fear of leaking urine, and enjoy the wonderful sense of drawing energy from the earth, up through all my chakras and out through the crown of my head. Then release, feel that fountain sparkling its way back down, and then repeat over and over again. I feel connect with the gift of my own energy source, and more importantly with so much that comes from so far beyond and is a pure gift.
Physically, this has required a really careful separation of the parts of the pelvic floor muscle set. The back muscles, around the anus, are helpful for the yoga I’ve described. The middle muscles are the ones controlling the urinary sphincter, and the front muscles are the ones at the base of the penis that help form a foundation for erections.
Each muscle set within the pelvic floor can be controlled separately! This is why it is not good enough to just say “do your Kegels” – you have to become aware of which pelvic floor muscles you are tightening. And the yoga has demanded that I can flex one set of muscles independently of the others – so I can do my yoga without wetting my pants.
The muscle definition and separation means my kundalini energy can rise up the spine like a slender sapling, without disturbing the surrounding earth of my anterior pelvic floor.
Learning more about yoga after prostatectomy
The best way to develop the pelvic floor muscle definition and strength described above is by working with a specialist pelvic floor physiotherapist. The particular details referred to above are thanks to Pierre Röscher and his real time biofeedback.
For more about the spiritual impact of prostatectomy, please read Requiem for my prostate. I would love to hear from others who practice yoga or similar mindfulness and have also lost their prostates – what has helped you recover?