I’m feeling strong today, and hoping you are too! This was one of my biggest fears as I traversed all of my cancer treatment; that I would never be able to get back to full strength. I grew up with two older brothers, and always looked up to them and wanted to be like them, so I was pretty tough from a young age. I never wanted to hear that there was anything that I couldn’t do, or that I was too weak because I was a girl or because I was small. Fast forward to age 40, when I got my first big dose of learning that there are some things you really can’t just muscle through. Cancer treatment is insanely humbling, as the changes to our bodies and the effects of the treatment are profound, and no amount of stubbornness or toughness can change that. It’s just a fact. And we must learn to accept that these changes are a part of the treatment that was necessary to try to save our lives. Not that we have to like them. But acceptance is important to our peace of mind. Instead of staying angry or sad at the new condition of our bodies, we can accept that this is what was required, and throw a little love to our bodies for doing the best they can to heal and carry us through.
But wait! It gets better from here. Acceptance doesn’t have to mean we resign ourselves to staying there forever. Acceptance means recognizing that this is a necessary step on the path, and resisting it or hating it just makes it that much more unpleasant. So a deep breath and quiet acceptance of each step is important. But what comes next is up to us! Mahatma Gandhi said “Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will”, and I feel this so deeply. I believe that it is this indomitable will, this gentle persistence, this fire deep in the pit of our bellies, that can help us pull ourselves back up after the effects of cancer treatment do what they must.
Of course there is some physical aspect to strength. Yoga asana practice has been so essential in helping me rebuild the physical strength that I lost during cancer treatment. Sadly, these treatments do sometimes have direct effects on our muscles, nerves, and other tissues, leaving legitimate damage and weakness. But with proper approach and patience, most of us truly can recover much, if not all, of our physical strength. And even if we have permanent damage to certain nerves or muscles, we can learn to strengthen surrounding muscles that can compensate for the others.
Yoga also teaches us softness, and to gracefully navigate the balance between our strength and this softness. Yoga does this by really making us tune in to our bodies and feel when we have the strength to push forward and when we need to back off or rest. As we become more and more in touch with ourselves, we re-develop a deep trust in ourselves and our bodies. Cancer and cancer treatment can really destroy that trust, leaving us feeling betrayed by our bodies and disconnected. Yoga helps to restore that connection and that trust. And this, I believe is where our indomitable will comes back into play. Much of strength lies in believing in ourselves, in trusting that we can do something, that we can handle whatever comes our way. Even in times when we feel weak or are struggling with some of these side effects, if we can dig down and find that indomitable will, we will muster the ability to keep going and try again. Yoga helped me to rebuild trust in myself, to re-establish that connection, where I could believe in myself again and know that I would get there. And that I would get there safely by continuing to tune in and proceed with my practice while maintaining that balance so I didn’t have to fear injuring myself or my various scarred body parts. Fear of injury can be a real roadblock in rebuilding strength or resuming activity after cancer treatment. So this reconnection and rebuilding of trust in ourselves and our bodies is imperative in coming back.
This is one of the main reasons I developed this website. To help others who are going through their own breast cancer experience to safely and cautiously begin a yoga practice and find a way to reconnect to their strength in body and in mind. To start slow and easy and foster this connection with themselves and their own bodies, to regain trust, and to overcome those fears that they simply can’t or that they will injure themselves if they try. And then once each individual starts to feel comfortable, my hope is that they then have the tools and the belief in themselves that they can continue their journey of yoga or other activities in whatever way they want. They can continue to practice here with us, OR they’ll also feel comfortable doing yoga anywhere, without feeling limited or fearful, trusting their own bodies and knowing how to modify the practice if needed to care for themselves in any yoga class. Obviously we’d love to have you continue to practice and grow with us here, but we also recognize that it is important to participate in your own communities, in live classes with your friends and loved ones. So once you feel comfortable, go see what all is available. And if you have any doubts or concerns, let me know and I’ll see how I can help.
So wherever you are in your cancer and yoga journey, be patient and understanding with yourself. Really try to tune in and feel what is going on in your body so you can develop that connection, balance, and trust again. Find your indomitable will. And believe you can do it! You are strong beyond measure.
BTW the pose in the pic is tittibhasana, or firefly pose. Funnily enough I have the strength for this one, but not quite the flexibility. It is a work in progress, just like I am!