A: As you might imagine, there are a lot a factors that will play into how quickly your student might return to a typical yoga asana practice after such a major surgery. So, his clearance to return to yoga will be entirely up to your student’s heart surgeon and post-operative care team. In all likelihood, he will have some physical therapy to guide him back to activities, as he will have a major chest scar that will take a while to heal. In addition to the chest scar, your student is also having a valve in the heart replaced, and will likely be on blood thinning medications for at least the short term. This can lead to bruising easily.
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And for the possibility of bruising easily, you will want to mindful of poses where you are placing body parts on to one another, like the modified version Extended Side Angle pose (Utthita Parsvokanasana), when the elbow is placed on the distal thigh of the front leg. If the student does this pose without mindfulness, he could get a big bruise there, and although this is mostly of cosmetic concern, preventing it from happening will probably be much appreciated. Stacking the legs, such as in Fire Log pose (a preparation for Lotus pose) is another one to watch out for, and you can probably come up with others as well.
On the positive side of the ledger, if the surgery is successful and the student’s heart is working more efficiently, it will not only positively impact his cardio-vascular fitness, but also should have a beneficial effect on his respiratory status as well. Gentle breath work, taking into account that the stretch of the rib cage area could trigger some pain, can be introduced pretty early on, if his surgeon gives the green light. In fact, pranayama and meditation practices could likely be started pretty soon after surgery, as they primrily require mental focus and concentration rather than physical demands. Good luck, and feel free to let us know how his return to yoga progresses!