Yoga for cancer survivors

Those of us who practice yoga know how great it makes us feel. We’re happier, more energetic and better able to attend to the needs of ourselves and others when we get on the mat regularly. Modern science is slowly catching up with this ancient wisdom and that’s such great news! It means more people who could benefit from yoga’s precious gifts will be encouraged to give it a go.

A study published this week by researchers from the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York touted yoga’s benefits for a certain group of people quite near and dear to my heart: breast cancer survivors. Years ago, my mother had breast cancer. Although the medical care she received in Canada was wonderful, it did not address her overall wellbeing. Her body was being intensively treated and her mind was being inundated with information. Her spirit, however, was struggling to assimilate the experience and ultimately, to heal at a really deep level. At the time, I didn’t know how to help her. Now I do. Although she is no longer alive, I have been given the opportunity to help others like her.

One of my students was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. When she asked me to run a class specifically aimed at breast cancer survivors, I agreed immediately. With her help, we gathered a group for the pilot programme. We kept the classes small and in each session, I tailored the practice to how the participants were feeling and what they needed on the day. There were women at varying stages of treatment right from having had their first treatment the day prior to coming to the first class all the way through to being in the clear for seven years.

Since the first pilot programme, I’ve run three four week courses and based on the feedback I’ve received, they’ve been wonderful experiences for all involved. As one participant put it:

“The yoga classes have a great way [of addressing] all aspects of the healing process – mental, physical and spiritual.”

I am excited about running the next set of classes for this very special group. We’re going to start on Wednesday, July 7. The classes are suitable for everyone from absolute yoga beginners to experienced yoginis. Sessions will run from 4:45-5:45 each Wednesday for four weeks. If you’re keen to come along or know someone who might be, please email us on bookings@yogaunlimited.co.nz or ring us on 384 4329. Even if you’re not able to attend the sessions starting on July 7, we are taking expressions of interest for future courses so please get in touch.

In addition to working with physical postures aimed at creating strength and mobility in the shoulders, chest and upper back in the Yoga for Breast Cancer classes, we also explore breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation and some restorative practices. It is a safe environment in which to re-learn how to live with a body that had been changed by surgery, get used to new ways of moving and gain confidence in a body that both looks and feels different. At the same time, the practice gives participants coping mechanisms for the fatigue, sickness and soreness the chemo and radio cause.

The classes are very interactive and foster a strong sense of connection amongst the students. Participants find that the opportunity to discuss their experiences including surgery, chemo and radio treatment with one another is encouraging and healing.

In the recent study on yoga and breast cancer, researchers found scientific evidence that yoga helps cancer survivors sleep better, feel more energetic and experience less stress. This correlates with the evidence I’ve seen watching the beautiful women who’ve come along to my Yoga for Breast Cancer courses. Over the span of a very short period of time, these survivors have discovered that yoga helps at a physical level and also at a mental and emotional level. They’ve developed their capacity to integrate the challenge of coping with cancer and the process of convalescing. Yoga helped them to re-kindle their sense of wholeness and wellbeing after intense upheaval, making the way clearer for getting on with their lives and re-forging an identity that has nothing to do with cancer.

~article by Kelly Fisher

**Please email us on bookings@yogaunlimited.co.nz or ring us on 384 4329 with any enquiries you might have. Even if you’re not able to attend the sessions starting on July 7, we are taking expressions of interest for future courses.

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