Did you know yoga can reduce the joint pain and stiffness related to your breast cancer treatment?

Just a quick post today to let you know about the research that demonstrates that yoga is effective in reducing the joint pain and stiffness commonly caused by the estrogen lowering medications, aromatase inhibitors. As you know, many breast cancers are related to estrogen, and estrogen blocking/lowering medications are proven to significantly reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death in women who have that type of breast cancer. Unfortunately, like everything, these medications have some side effects. One of the most common is a joint pain and stiffness syndrome which can be very bothersome and even limit your activities. Medication treatments like anti-inflammatories aren’t terribly effective, and some women even stop taking their life-saving cancer treatment because the side effects are so troubling.

Guess what! There are several scientific studies that demonstrate that yoga practice can really help! These studies show yoga practice is safe AND results in a statistically significant improvement in pain, stiffness, functional ability, flexibility, balance, and quality of life! I’ll post links to several of the studies below. And the awesome thing is that yoga practice is simple, non-pharmacologic, accessible to anyone, and can be practiced at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home! Please join us to learn how to safely start your own yoga practice and get all of these benefits. We would love to help you feel better and thrive after breast cancer!





How self-awareness can optimize health and happiness after breast cancer

Eckhart Tolle is my all time favorite author. His simple spiritual messages speak to me so deeply, and relate so beautifully to the wisdom of yoga philosophy. One of the important things that yoga teaches us is to gain more self-awareness. This can take several avenues, including heightened awareness of the body, as we learn to tune in more to the movements of our bodies in asana practice, the flow of breath in asana, pranayama, or meditation, and even the more subtle movement of energy throughout the body in all of our practices and in daily life. Improved body awareness can be so important, especially in cancer survivors, in helping us heal, tolerate and even thrive during our treatments, and then regain strength and endurance when we are ready. It is so common in modern culture to just push our bodies to do whatever we think they should be able to do, without really listening to whether this is working for them or not. For example, waking up and guzzling down some caffeine to get you ready for a long work day, mindlessly consuming something quick while staring at your computer through lunch, followed by some carbs to combat the afternoon energy slump, then forcing yourself to go to the gym after work because it is the “healthy” thing to do, quickly eating dinner in front of some junk tv before collapsing into bed so you can do it again tomorrow, may seem like a “normal” way to conduct your life. But if you really think about it, does it even make sense that this lifestyle is good for your body? And do we ever listen to our bodies’ exhaustion, sluggishness, foggy mind, tension, anxiety, or chronic health conditions and wonder if our bodies are trying to tell us something? Yoga helps us to be more aware, to listen to our bodies and to be able to tune in to what they really need and what makes them feel best and operate most efficiently, both while we are dealing with cancer and beyond.

This increased awareness that yoga teaches us also relates to our ability to tune in to our own thoughts and emotions, improving our ability to observe them without being mindlessly swept away in the ever-changing currents. When we learn to observe ourselves more mindfully, we are then able to really feel how these different thought patterns and habits affect us. For example, when you get swept away in anger at someone who treats you badly, how does that make you feel? Tense, pained, hot, gasping for breath, or exhausted? On the other hand, how do you feel when you are generous and compassionate with someone, or you lend a hand and really help another? Calm, tranquil, open-hearted, and joyful? Perhaps your responses are different than these, but you get the idea that if we are mindful and learn to truly pay attention to what is going on in our bodies and our minds, then we can recognize when things are not optimal and we can choose if we want to make any changes to help ourselves.

So this is what Eckhart is getting at when he says “Be at least as interested in what goes on inside you as what goes on outside. When you get the inside right, the outside will fall into place”. Whereas if we are not mindful, and we are always focused outside of ourselves (on our deadlines, our goals, the stack of work on our desks, comparing ourselves to others, getting that last chemo, or getting that 10,000 steps) it is easy to lose sight of ourselves and what we really need to be doing to stay healthy in body and mind. But if we learn to pay close attention to everything we do and how it makes us feel, then we can choose to prioritize the activities and thought patterns that make us feel our best. In this way we have the power to make our lives healthier, happier, and more joyful.

For example, how would a 20 minute walk around the block feel instead of working through lunch? If you feel a little more energy and clarity of mind, then stick with that habit. If it just stresses you out more because you lost 20 minutes you could have been working, then that option isn’t for you.

How would you feel if you took a couple of deep breaths and just ignored the insult from the snarky relative or rude coworker, rather than allowing yourself to perseverate on all of the reasons why they are wrong (even if it is true), recognizing that this just causes you undue stress and tension?

How do on-line support groups make you feel? Inspired and motivated, learning new ideas from others? Or does it just make you feel bad and judge yourself if you didn’t exercise or eat as healthy as they did?

How do you feel when you take some time to relax and read a book? Or take a bubble bath? Or go to that yoga class you like? Or take a walk in the park? How do you feel when you work all weekend? Or when you have coffee for lunch? Or when you agree to do something you didn’t want to do or didn’t have time to do? How do you feel when you snap at a loved one out of frustration and tiredness? How do you feel when you think about how frustrating cancer treatment is or when you let yourself get caught in fear of recurrence? How do you feel when you focus on the things in your life for which you are grateful?

Just begin to notice how every little moment in your day feels to you. And try not to think about how you think it should make you feel, or what everyone else thinks about it. How does it really make YOU feel. And then you can work from there. Maybe no major changes are needed. But maybe just the smallest adjustment to your schedule or your habits, thought patterns, and interactions might make a huge difference in how you experience your days. And the icing on the cake is that this growing sense of awareness, of mindfulness, in and of itself, will make you feel better as well.

It’s your life. So pay attention to what is going on inside you and do what you can to make it a good one.


Finding equanimity even in the face of cancer’s struggles

This is one of my all time favorite quotes, and I don’t even know who said it. I saw it first on a refrigerator magnet many years ago, long before cancer and before I was even interested in yoga philosophy. It touched me then, and it resonates with me even more deeply now. “Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart”.

I mean, it’s easy to be peaceful and calm when everything is going great, when life is just flowing along perfectly, and it feels like the universe is conspiring in your favor, right? It’s when things get tricky or difficult and we face serious obstacles that we test our inner peace and equanimity. Equanimity is defined as mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation. It is related to resilience, and in my opinion, is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate in ourselves if we want to be truly happy. Because let’s face it, life isn’t always easy, and things aren’t always simple and perfect, no matter how hard we work, how honest and good-hearted we are, nor how hard we try to always do the right things. Life is messy, and complicated, and challenges are just a part of it (perhaps the most important part in helping us learn, grow, and develop as humans, but that is a topic for another post).

So if we can learn to develop equanimity, resilience, and inner peace, we can traverse those difficult times and challenges without so much suffering. Because of course we suffer when we get so angry, when we lash out at others, when we blame others, when we wallow in self-pity, when we get stuck in vicious cycles of negativity, sadness, despair, and maladaptive coping strategies. This is not to say that anger and frustration and sadness aren’t normal emotions and appropriate responses to many of life’s challenges. They totally are. But developing equanimity and resilience means that we can notice those emotions when they come, recognize them for what they are, and then stop them from hijacking our bodies and minds, and instead choose another response that makes us feel better. We can learn tricks and tools, like mindfulness practices, breathing practices, listening to some beautiful music, getting out in nature, or creating some art or poetry, to help us.

As you know if you are a cancer survivor or have watched a loved one battle cancer, having cancer can be one of the most trying and frightening experiences of our lives. Our lives are literally threatened, we undergo complicated surgeries that can leave long-lasting pain and scarring, we receive treatments that make us feel like we are actually dying, we worry about our loved ones and how we’ll be able to continue to function in our normal lives, and on and on. You know the challenges. So for us, it is more important than ever to learn to be equanimous, to be resilient, to be able to remain calm in our hearts despite everything going on around us. And doing so helps us to be able to see and feel the joy, the beauty, the richness, and the love that are still there in every moment of our lives, rather than allowing all of that goodness to be covered over by our difficulties. Don’t miss out on that goodness. It is there. Just look around.

Yoga asana practice and yoga philosophy have been so important in helping me develop these qualitites. From teaching me better awareness of my body and mind, to training the nervous system to not fly off the handle under physical strain, and empowering me to instead choose to breathe calmly and activate the relaxation response, this practice trains us to be masters in equanimity and resilience. And in so doing, yoga has taught me to be truly at peace, even in the midst of noise, trouble, or hard work. I am forever grateful to yoga for that.

Join me in practice if you want to learn more.