Finding strength in your inner light

So last Friday’s post was one that resonates with me strongly, about right use of energy, mainly addressing the need to slow down and rest sometimes. This is because I tend to be energetic and motivated, sometimes to a fault. I can push myself too hard, and wind up exhausted. This is not smart nor productive in the long run.

But the flip side of brahmacharya, or right use of energy, is just as important. That is, recognizing when you do have energy to push your limits, to build strength, to challenge yourself to do just a little more, including maybe things you’ve never done before. Because if we don’t challenge ourselves, we will never discover the true extent of our strength or possibility. As breast cancer survivors, in order to really challenge our limits, we sometimes have to confront fear. It is easy to be fearful, afraid that we just can’t do certain things because of our cancer treatment, or afraid that we might cause harm to ourselves if we try. This is one of my frustrations with some exercise offerings for cancer survivors, which just stay safe and only offer gentle yoga or other gentle types of activity, as though this is all we are capable of. Of course, gentle movement is extremely important at certain times, and so it does play a key role for us. But it isn’t the only thing we can do.

In my own recovery, I refused to believe that I would just be relegated to the gentle practice for the rest of my life. I was, and remain, intent on regaining the strength and flexibility to return to a full, strong, vigorous yoga practice. And I hope to convince you that you can do the same, IF that is what you are interested in. Maybe handstanding or other arm balances aren’t anything that you care about, and of course it is not important to develop any specific type of posture to be successful in your yoga journey. It isn’t about the individual postures themselves. What is important is using the physical practice to dig deep into yourself, to see your profound strength and resilience, to see your inner light, to learn to listen to that inner wisdom, and to there find the courage and confidence to challenge yourself to do whatever it is that you want to do. If gentle yoga is what you want and what you feel you really need, then gentle yoga is right for you. And there is nothing wrong with staying right there. But if you want a more vigorous practice, and you think it might be fun to learn new postures that look challenging, then drop the fear and trust yourself to try! We cancer survivors CAN do it. We just have to be a little more careful and a little more mindful than the average person, as we build the strength and flexibility necessary for more challenging postures. We have to take our time, slowly and methodically building our practice and making sure that at each new step our bodies are ready for the next challenge.

But being more mindful is one of the key things that the practice is about (and one of the ways the practice helps us in life off the mat). So in a way, being a cancer survivor, and having a few physical changes, like scar tissue, fibrosis, or asymmetry, actually makes the yoga journey that much better. Because we are forced to really be in tune with our bodies, to really feel what is going on as we progress in yoga, our practice truly becomes a meditation and a journey inward toward self-realization. And there, deep inside of us, where we see that inner light and get in touch with our true selves, is where all the good stuff is. Push yourself to get there and then take your time to see it. As Mooji says, “Step into the fire of self-discovery. That fire will not burn you. It will only burn what you are not”.


Just a reminder

Happy Friday beautiful people! I’m just thrilled at how we are growing, with new members and followers each week! Keep up the awesome work with developing your yoga practice, and feel free to contact us if you have questions or need anything.

But also remember to be gentle with yourself. If you need days to just snuggle up with a great book and a cup of tea, don’t be hard on yourself for doing so. Listen to your inner wisdom and give yourself whatever you need. Sadhguru said “Discipline does not mean control. Discipline means having the sense to do exactly what is needed”. This is such an important lesson in yoga AND in cancer recovery. This is one of the ways to interpret brahmacharya, one of the yamas from Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga, here translated as right use of energy. Right use of energy means learning to listen to your body, to listen to your soul, and to really understand what you need to do, and act accordingly, to do exactly what is needed, as Sadhguru described. Learn to push when you have the energy for it, and to rest when your body needs that. Learn to be around people when that helps and raises your energy, but to have quiet solitude when that feeds your spirit better. This will teach you to remain in a perfect state of balance despite all of life’s ups and downs.

So I hope you are enjoying your friday, whatever that looks like for you. Maybe a super vigorous yoga practice, or maybe a quiet relaxing evening at home, or whatever it is you need today. Just make sure your soul is getting as much exercise as your abs.


Flash sale!

Tomorrow is my official 4 year cancerversary! To say I am grateful to be alive and healthy is the understatement of the year. It has been quite an amazing 4 years with lots of changes, challenges, scares, and obstacles. But also lots of joy, blessings, gratitude, and growth. And the realization that (as a good friend and former patient used to say) there IS life after cancer! I’m so blessed to be physically well, to be surrounded by beautiful family and friends, to live in a gorgeous place with a healthy vibe, to feel emotionally strong and resilient, and to be able to pursue my passion – which is sharing the profound benefits of yoga with cancer survivors everywhere!
So letโ€™s celebrate with a FLASH SALE! If youโ€™ve been thinking about joining our unlimited video membership, and you want to learn how yoga can help you recover from cancer with more grace and ease, now is a great time! Starting NOW through tomorrow night, get 50% off the price of your membership by using the discount code โ€œ4yearswootโ€ at checkout! Look forward to practicing with you.

Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?

Everybody loves a little Bob Marley, right? His music is so beautiful, soulful, fun, and relaxing. And some of his lyrics are really provocative. I love this one: “Open your eyes, look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”. In today’s culture, I think we often allow ourselves to stay so busy that we never even give ourselves time to ask these sorts of questions. To really look within and think about where we are, whether we are happy, whether there are changes we would like to make, and how to go about doing that. Instead we just mindlessly run from one engagement to the next, accepting this as our life, and not really thinking any more about it.

I know, because I used to be that way big time. About 8 years ago or so, I went to an all day yoga workshop with my step-daughter, who is actually the one who got me started in yoga in the first place (thank you, Erika!). It was a really great workshop with an amazing international teacher who was visiting Arizona. During one of the breaks, Erika and I were working on some of the things we had just learned, and I was watching her do a posture and trying to help with the new alignment tips. The leader of the workshop saw us, and came over, saying “Are you a yoga teacher? You should be a yoga teacher”, to which I sort of scoffed and said “Yeah right, I wish!”. He looked puzzled, and said “Why not?”. And I said “I’d have to quit my real job”. “Being a yoga teacher IS a real job”, he replied. I felt like such a dick. I didn’t mean to suggest that it wasn’t, but rather just that it wasn’t my real job. But that moment transformed me. I thought “well why can’t it be my real job?”. Just because I trained for 10 years in medicine and had then been building my practice for some years too, did that mean that I had no choice in the matter? That I had to do that forever, and couldn’t change gears and have a second, different career? I mean, why not? And that was the moment that opened my eyes to the possibility of truly changing my life to whatever I wanted it to be. To whatever would really make me happy and fulfilled.

Yoga encourages us to really look within. People often say yoga isn’t a “work-out”, it is a “work-in”, and this is a perfect description! Yoga encourages us to take the time to really feel our inner bodies AND to really listen to our inner wisdom, or intuition. This is sort of the opposite of mindlessly running around like chickens with our heads cut off. If we take the time to really listen and feel, we can then learn what we need to do next. Maybe nothing needs changed. Maybe we are perfectly happy and healthy and we are doing everything right. Then we just keep on as we are. But probably, for most of us, there are at least a few areas in which we could improve, or where we could develop better habits to make us healthier in body and/or mind. So give yourself some time to really think about what is most important. What really brings you joy? What fulfills you and makes you feel most content at the end of the day. What makes you feel your best? Maybe it is super simple, like watching your kids play football in the backyard. Maybe it is your work. Maybe it is having a quiet glass of wine at the end of a busy week with your partner and sharing your deepest thoughts. Maybe it is growing a garden, or learning to cook healthier foods. Maybe it is preparing for a 5k, or some other fitness outlet, or taking some classes on-line or at your local community college. As strange as it sounds, use your cancer as an opportunity to take a time-out and really look and listen to what you want and need, and then make the effort to prioritize accordingly. If you are really busy, maybe you need to cut some things out of your life to make time for the things you want to do? Stop watching tv, or looking at social media? Set better boundaries at work and stop staying late? Stop reading Leona’s blog (No! LOL). And you don’t have to do it all in one day. Little by little, work toward the things you want. Even if takes months or years. Your mental and physical health is in your hands. Empower yourself to take control.

So find some time this week, whether it is on your mat or somewhere else. Open your eyes, and look within. Are you satisfied, with the life you’re living?


Navigating re-entry after cancer as a graceful dance

I listened to a TED talk the other day from a young leukemia survivor, who described the challenges of “re-entry”, or coming back to normal life after surviving a grueling 4 year cancer journey that included tons of inpatient chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. This re-entry phenomenon is the time after active treatment, when we are “done”, and cancer-free, and ready to get back to our lives. Although, as this young cancer survivor described, it is never really quite that simple, and can be very challenging in ways different than active treatment. We don’t just flip and switch and go back to who we were before cancer. We are changed. There are physical changes, mental/emotional changes, changes in our values, changes in how we perceive the world around us, and perhaps even deeply spiritual changes. This young woman was graceful and beautiful, and described the process with honesty and vulnerability.

But as I was listening, I found myself a little perturbed. I am quite a stubborn person (as my poor husband well knows). And there are certain things that I just refused to believe, or accept, during and into my re-entry. So I was thinking to myself, “I don’t buy that. We don’t have to just accept weakness, or limitation, or that there are things we cannot do now because of our cancer history”. But as I was sitting there with my stubbornness, sometimes disguised as strength or resilience…. this quote came to me from BKS Iyengar:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured”.

And along with the quote, the realization that the re-entry dance lies somewhere in between. In fact, as much as I don’t like to admit it, there may be consequences of cancer treatment that we cannot cure, no matter how stubborn and strong we are. I have a few. But there are certainly also things that we can overcome with a little persistence and effort. So it takes really listening to ourselves and our bodies to learn which are which. And to learn how to slowly and safely overcome the ones that we can (to cure what need not be endured), and to gracefully accept and learn to work with, instead of against, the ones that we can’t (to endure what cannot be cured).

And THIS is some of the magic of yoga. Yoga isn’t just stretching and strengthening our bodies. It does that of course, but it also helps us to dig deeper, diving inward to really get to know and understand ourselves on a deeper level, where we can really find that balance between effort and ease, between the strength to overcome and the equanimity to accept. We are each unique and different in where we lie on that spectrum, and in what we need to achieve that healthy balance. Yoga helps us to really see ourselves and what we truly need, and to then develop those healthier mental and physical habits, that will bring us peace, health, and clarity, to help our re-entry transform us for the better.

So step onto your mat, and let yoga teach you, as Iyengar said, to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured. Use what you learn to find that “new normal” that is better, healthier, and happier than you were before.


(cute cameo in the photo from Howie, our latest rescue)

Learning patience

I have said before that research has shown that one of the qualities common to people who cope best with a cancer experience is being able to look at the experience as an opportunity; an opportunity to learn something, for personal growth, or to change one’s lifestyle for the better. So I have tried to embody this in my own cancer experience, seeing all of the ways that I have grown and become better as a result of my breast cancer, rather than focusing on any of the perceived “negatives”. In fact, if we really think about it, many of those “negatives” might actually be turned into positives if we can just train ourselves to see the things that we have learned from them.

One of the biggest lessons that I continue to learn from my cancer journey is patience. Anyone who knows me knows I have historically been one of the most impatient people alive. It makes me a terrible cook! LOL I am always watching the proverbial pot that then never boils! But I have finally realized that my impatience also makes me suffer unnecessarily. If I can just learn to be more patient, to trust that things happen when they are supposed to, to release my desire to control everything and my need to have things happen on MY timeline… then I can have so much more peace in my mind, and thus truly feel better all the time. I mean, why obsess over something when that will NOT make it happen any faster, right? So this really was a lesson that I needed to learn. And man, did having breast cancer give me a big serving of it! I always imagine a big spoonful of whatever I needed to learn being shoved right into my mouth. Mmmmmmm patience.

From the very first week of my diagnosis, waiting on my biopsy results and special stains, I just could not get the information fast enough. Then during chemotherapy, a couple of times my treatment got delayed because the meds didn’t arrive at the clinic, or there was some snafu with the insurance. And waiting that week (that seems like a year) for PET scan results to arrive! All of these things drove me really crazy, and challenged me to come back to my breath, to realize that my stress would not make things happen any faster, but instead just make me feel physically ill and miserable for however long I wound up having to wait. I learned (very slowly, admittedly) to just breathe deeply, release my impatience, accept whatever timeline the universe had in mind, and recognize that there was plenty of beauty in my life at that very moment that I could enjoy while I waited. In fact, I read some advice from Eckhart Tolle that said (paraphrasing) that we should learn to release the idea that we are waiting, that next time we are made to wait in the doctor’s office or in line at the post office, and when it is finally our turn and the person says “sorry to have kept you waiting”, we respond “oh, no problem, I wasn’t waiting, I was just enjoying the view” (or watching the kids, or enjoying a magazine, or whatever thing we find around us that can be interesting or enjoyable, rather than boiling up with irritation that we have been made to wait). Isn’t that great advice? So I try to use that. Full disclosure, I still get pretty impatient when waiting for those PET scan results or something sortof scary like that. But I am dramatically better than I used to be. And I thank my cancer experience for that. I am a much happier, more patient, less irritable person, thanks to breast cancer.

Interestingly yoga is a great teacher of patience as well. As you know, if you have practiced any yoga at all, our bodies aren’t often able to do certain things right away. It can take months and years to build the flexibility and strength that it takes to get into certain asanas. And so it is a key teaching in yoga to learn to NOT be so attached to the end result (yoga postures aren’t like prizes or badges that we collect or perfect), and to be content with just working on ourselves wherever we are on any given day. To recognize that all of the good stuff, the growth and the transformation, lies in the journey, not in the destination. So we must cultivate patience every single day on our mats, and recognize that wherever we are today, is right where we are supposed to be. We must open our eyes to whatever we are experiencing right now, rather than rushing off to a future time when we might reach some distant goal.

So whether you struggling with waiting on important steps in your cancer journey, or you are on your mat and working on a new asana, as Ralph Waldo Emerson said “Adopt the pace of nature, her secret is patience”. And if you find it difficult, you’re not the only one, so be patient with yourself ๐Ÿ˜‰


Find your inner joyfulness

Deepak Chopra said “Health is not just the absence of disease. It’s an inner joyfulness that should be ours all the time; a state of positive well-being”. As breast cancer survivors, we focus so much on the cancer-related stuff- labs, scans, medicine and side effects, follow up appointments- that sometimes it is easy to forget that we must continue to cultivate that state of positive well-being in our whole selves. Yes, of course it is wonderful and we feel immense relief and celebrate each time we get good test results, and we say “I’m cancer free!”. But we must learn to also place importance and attention on the rest of our being. We must remember to cultivate that sense of inner joyfulness, so that it can remain with us in the good times and the bad, when things are going great and when things occasionally get rough. This way we can learn to navigate all of those different situations with equanimity, with grace, and with ease. We are unf*ckwithable, as I like to say!

So what does it mean to you? What helps you to increase that sense of inner joyfulness? For some of us, it is as simple as spending time with those we love. For others, it might be time alone in nature. Maybe it is some type of spiritual practice, prayer, or meditation. Maybe it is exerecise, yoga, reading great books, petting your cat, or quietly sipping a great cup of coffee on a rainy morning. Spend a little time and really think about what things in your life increase your sense of inner joyfulness. What makes you feel truly good inside? And then figure out how to prioritize those, and spend more time doing them! Life can get busy and we often place importance on all of the other things we need to do. But remember that these little things are just as important to our true wellness as is taking our medication or doing certain medical treatments. And this is a part of our wellness that we CAN control. So give a try to letting go of your worry and thoughts about the cancer, and focus on cultivating your inner joyfulness. I think you will like how you feel.