Dr's Advice for Hernias


The abdomen contains many vital organs that keep us alive and well. These organs are confined and protected by the muscles in the abdomen. A hernia occurs when these muscles are so weakened that a gap is made in the abdominal wall and part of an internal organ bulges out.

A hernia can either be congenital or be caused by surgery or lack of exercise.

Such weakness can either be congenital or be caused by surgery or lack of exercise. Post-surgery suture lines are vulnerable sites, while insufficient exercise weakens your muscles and burdens your abdomen with excess fat. Straining these weakened muscles by lifting heavy weights or even through chronic coughing or constipation can create a gap and result in a hernia.

Yoga postures cannot cure this—once a gap has been made, hernia-repair surgery is necessary to close it. Yoga can help you avoid a recurrence, however, by strengthening your abdominal muscles, reducing fat, and promoting body awareness. It can also help to prevent a hernia from occurring in the first place.

Start yoga asana gradually, under the supervision of your doctor or a yoga specialist

You must wait at least two weeks before starting yoga if you have undergone hernia-repair surgery, longer if you have had other major surgery. Then start yogaasana gradually, under the supervision of your doctor or a yoga specialist. During your recovery period avoid double-leg raises, forward and backward bending, sideways bending, twisting, the sun salute, prone asanas, and the camel.

Whether you are recovering from surgery or simply wish to strengthen your abdominal wall, adding the following exercises to your basic hatha yoga routine will be helpful.

Single-Leg Raising

Lie down, with your arms by your sides. As you inhale, slowly raise your left leg up, without bending your knee, as far as you can without feeling pain in your hamstrings, then exhale as you lower it. Keep your lower back close to the floor. Start with 5 leg raises for each leg and work up to 20.

If you are recovering from hernia-repair surgery, practice single-leg raising three times a day, but only raise your legs up to 60.˚ Avoid any strain to your abdomen.

Head Lifting

Lie down, with your legs out straight and your arms by your sides. Exhale and raise your head, shoulders, and arms. Hold for a moment, and then come down on the inhalation and relax. Repeat up to 20 times. Avoid this exercise if you feel pain in your abdomen or neck; or only come up partway at first, and work up to the full position gradually.


Lie with your heels together, arms stretched out behind you. Bend your knees as you raise your legs, and inhale slowly. Then, as you exhale, tuck your knees in to your chest, holding them with interlocked fingers, and bring your chin up to your knees. Next, extend your left leg at 45˚ and rotate it in the air, 5 times clockwise and 5 times counterclockwise, breathing normally. Repeat with your right leg. Finally, bring both legs to your chest and rock back and forth a few times.

Half Shoulderstand

Lie on your back and raise your legs as you inhale, bending your knees if necessary. Exhaling, bring your legs farther back so your hips come off the floor. Support your hips with yours hands, resting your weight on your arms, shoulders, and elbows. Inhaling, lift your legs up to the vertical position, but let your trunk remain at an angle of 45.˚ If the strain on your hands is too great, lower your legs toward your head. Hold, breathing normally; then bend your legs, release your arms, and roll out of the pose as you exhale.

Sectional Breathing

Inhale by letting your abdomen bulge and then exhale by drawing it in continuously and slowly. While learning, place one of your hands on your abdomen. Keep your chest and shoulders stationary. Next, hold your shoulders and abdomen still as you inhale by expanding your rib cage. Exhale by slowly releasing your ribs. While learning, place your palms on the sides of your chest to feel the movement and push gently inward in the last stage of the exhalation. Then hold your abdomen slightly in, rib cage stationary, and breathe in and out by allowing your shoulders to move up and down. Finally combine all three, inhaling from your abdomen, continuing with the ribs, and ending the breath with the clavicles. Exhale in the reverse order.

Abdominal Lock

Bend forward, rest your hands above your knees, and let the weight of your torso rest in your arms. Exhale completely through your mouth, then close your throat so no air can enter. Expand your chest, as though inhaling, and suck in your abdomen, forming a deep hollow. Try to relax the abdominal muscles as you do so. This may be difficult, but with daily practice you will soon master it. Hold until you need to take a breath, then release and inhale slowly.

Caution: Avoid during menstruation, pregnancy, active inflammation or bleeding, or if you have hypertension or heart disease.

Abdominal Pumping

Lean forward, place your hands just above your knees, and once again let your weight rest in your arms. Exhale completely through your mouth. Close your throat so air cannot enter into your lungs. Expand your chest, as if inhaling, and suck your abdomen up into the chest. Then, with your lungs empty, relax your muscles so the abdomen comes out. Suck in the abdomen and pump it in and out until you need to inhale; then breathe normally. Repeat 3 times.

Caution: Avoid during menstruation, pregnancy, active bleeding or inflammation, after surgery, or if you have hypertension or heart disease. 

 "From Yoga for Common Ailments by Dr. Robin Monro, Dr. R. Nagarathna, & Dr. H. R. Nagendra. Copyright © 1990 by Gaia Books, Ltd. Reprinted by permission of Fireside, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc."

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