Heal and transform through yoga’s light of awareness

This quote really grabbed me last week when a friend of mine shared it on her FB page. How eloquent and accurate it is! Most of us wander through life with a lot of dark corners in our bodies, basically paying them little to no attention. We don’t even think about whether our back is sore from sitting at a desk all day long, or whether our neck is tense, our mind is scattered, or our gut is in knots. Perhaps, even, we specifically block out the parts of our bodies that are uncomfortable or suffering, because we either don’t have time to deal with them, we don’t know what to do about it, or we just don’t want to face whatever it is. Whether we do this consciously or subconsciously doesn’t really matter. Then throw cancer and cancer treatment into the mix. I don’t particularly like to think about the scarring in my chest or the nerve damage under my shoulder from treatment. So one way to deal with it would be to just ignore it completely. Just make a dark, black, corner there and hope it goes away. Obviously you can sense the sarcasm, and realize that this “head in the sand” strategy isn’t probably the most effective way to deal with anything.

One of the many amazing and beautiful things about yoga is that is forces us to become exquisitely aware of all of the parts of our bodies, including the ones that we would otherwise ignore. In doing so, yoga practice brings us in touch with all of the parts of ourselves, shining the light of awareness into all of our dark corners, and setting the stage for healing and transformation. Because let’s face it, we can’t heal something if we don’t even know it is an issue. Many people come to yoga, and are so surprised to find out that one side of their body is much more flexible or much stronger than the other side, that one hip is very tight and the other isn’t, or that they have very flexible hamstrings, but very tight low back muscles, for example. We just don’t notice things like this in the course of our daily lives. Similarly, after cancer treatment, many of us just think it is normal and expected to have tightness, pain, limited motion, or weakness in our chest wall, neck, upper back, or shoulders. And these are, in fact, common side effects of treatment. But if we just ignore them and push them into the dark, how are we to heal, to see how much we can actually recover, if we just know what is going on and where we need to put our attention. There may be some things that cannot be cured, like permanent nerve damage or significant scarring. But even in these scenarios, shining the light of awareness into these dark corners will help us to fully understand how these things affect our daily lives, and perhaps how we might adapt and engage or strengthen other nearby body parts to help compensate for the weak ones. Or what daily activities we might do to help keep the tightness and discomfort from the scarring to a minimum. Once we are aware of all of our dark corners, we naturally begin to transform. But it is only with this awareness that we can truly be in tune with our bodies, working in harmony and balance, healing what we can, and adapting to anything we can’t, so that we can feel our best every day.

So whether it is in your yoga practice, or in your other daily activities, learn to shine that light of awareness into your dark corners. Learn to take the time to notice what your body feels, and how different movements and activities influence that. Really tune in and connect to yourself. It may be uncomfortable at first, but with a little time and effort, you will be transformed, and your body will thank you for it.


Finding growth in our challenges

If you have been around me a while, you know I am obsessed with the lotus flower imagery and symbolism. I’ve written about it before. I even want to get a lotus flower tattooed on my body! I just feel like it couldn’t be a more perfect symbol of the growth and transformation we undergo through a breast cancer journey.

Debbie Ford said “Like the lotus flower that is born out of the mud, we must honor the darkest parts of ourselves, and the most painful of our life’s experiences, because they are what allow us to birth our most beautiful selves”. Of course the lotus is an aquatic plant, rooted deep under the muddy water, taking its nutrients from the muck and traversing up toward the surface, where the pristine flowers bloom, beautiful and unstained by the muddy depths from whence they came. So these flowers are a powerful and universal symbol of growth, transformation, resilience, purification, and even spiritual ascension. For us as breast cancer survivors, the dark muddy journey to the surface is of course symbolic of all of the challenges and difficulties we go through from diagnosis to treatment, and into recovery. But just as for the lotus, these challenges can be grist for the mill of our own growth and transformation, if we just allow ourselves to see them through that perspective. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said “Unfortunate events, though potentially a source of anger or despair, have equal potential to be a source of spiritual growth. Whether or not this is the outcome depends on your response”.

Don’t get me wrong, having cancer sucks big time. But since no amount of being angry, sad, and frustrated is going to change the fact that we are here and we are dealing with this disease, we might as well figure out how to make something good come from it. Many women say that they are even grateful for their cancer journey, because of all of the positive things that came out of it. OK, you don’t have to go quite so far as to be grateful for it! But try to think of some good that has come out of the whole experience. Maybe you became closer than ever to your partner. Maybe you got rid of a crappy unsupportive partner? Maybe you learned to take better care of yourself. Eating healthier or exercising more regularly? (I quit drinking a coke every day for breakfast! Yuk, how did I live like that before?) Maybe you make more time for yourself and things you know are good for you, like napping, reading, or stillness, instead of constantly running, working, and achieving. Maybe you became more compassionate and understanding for others going through similar things. Maybe you realized just how strong you could be. Or that it is ok to also be vulnerable and admit when you need help. I know I learned to let go of my need to control everything, and to just be more open to whatever the universe brings me each day. I’m more flexible and more patient. My values and priorities shifted a little as I thought about what is really important to me (rather than what others or our culture value). And finally, I know we all have newfound appreciation for the preciousness of each moment and each day, knowing that tomorrow is not guaranteed (for us nor for those around us).

Whatever unpleasant and difficult things cancer brings into our lives, we can refuse to let that keep us down, and instead turn it into an opportunity for growth and improvement. We can birth our most beautiful selves!


ps who wants to get a tattoo with me?!

pps Photo is from the beautiful lotus pond at the Vallarta Botanical Gardens

Empower yourself in cancer recovery!

Sometimes having cancer can make us feel weak, powerless, and beaten down. We feel like our vitality and our vigor have been stripped right out from under us. It’s ok to feel this way. This shit is hard. From surgery to chemo to radiation to anti-estrogens to fear of dying and just the trauma of the whole situation, it is really hard. It is hard on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. And that feeling of lost vitality and wondering if we’ll ever get back to a life we love can be one of the most challenging things about the whole experience. But once we acknowledge those feelings, understanding why they arise, and throw a little love to ourselves… then it is time to dig down and find the strength and the resilience that is there in all of us, just waiting to be unleashed. This is when we must believe in ourselves and know that whatever obstacles arise, we can tackle them, one breath at a time, one step at a time, one day at a time. It might take years, but that is ok. We must learn to spread our wings and believe that we will recover, that we will get our lives back, that we will be strong again, that we can do the things we love again. Because if we don’t, if we allow ourselves to stay in that place of weakness, of powerlessness, it can really turn into an ugly vicious cycle, making it harder and harder to pull ourselves out.

So how do we do it? We start small, and take it day by day. Maybe you decide to walk once around your block, or just take a couple of laps up and down your stairs. Maybe you just park your car a little farther away from the entrance at the grocery, and you go out for a short walk on your lunch break. Maybe you renew your gym membership or see if there are exercise classes offered at your cancer center. There are some great facebook groups that can help you get and stay motivated and give you ideas, so check that out if you like facebook. And seek out a community group through your cancer center. Many have amazing support groups with organized activities to help you. (Check out my Resources https://yogawithleona.com/resources/ page for a few examples). Or start a yoga practice? My favorite! I love yoga because you can start wherever you are, at whatever level of fitness you have, with whatever injuries or limitations you might have. With just a little direction, you can learn to practice right at your level, and then slowly progress from there.

Whatever it is that you decide to do, just start slowly and stick with it. Gentle perseverance is key. Then you will start to feel that vitality coming back! You’ll feel more energy. You’ll start to feel strength and flexibility coming back to parts of your body that may have felt like they were asleep. And instead of that negative vicious cycle of weakness and defeat, you’ll feel empowered and even more motivated to keep going the next day. Remember that we must be gentle, patient, and honest with ourselves about how we are feeling. We don’t want to push too hard and end up with an injury that slows progress even more. But we also don’t want to sell ourselves short, and just settle for the exercise regimen or the yoga practice that never challenges us. As you’ve heard me say, we are NOT relegated to do just the gentle yoga forever. We CAN get back to a full, strong practice if we want it. I’ve never been a big runner, but many women get back to triathlons and running marathons after cancer treatment. So don’t let yourself believe that you can’t do something just because you’ve had cancer. You CAN! It just takes time and really listening to ourselves to know when to push and when to rest. Navigating this delicate line, this balance, will teach you to be so in touch with yourself and your body, which will help you in your recovery and in other areas of life.

Having cancer sure can knock us down. But we don’t have to stay there. Find your wings, my friends. You were meant to fly.

Let me know if I can help you in the yoga part of your journey.