Finding harmony in cancer recovery

Yoga is the practice of bringing the body, mind, and spirit into harmony.

I saw this quote attributed to Thich Nhat Hanh in one place on the internet, but I’m not certain that he said it, as I was not able to find it so referenced in other sources, and I usually think of him as talking much more about mindfulness, meditation, and loving kindness – not so much about yoga. In any case, I love the expression, whoever said it. And I love Thich Nhat Hanh for all of his gentle wisdom.

I use the word balance a lot, and of course in yoga this is sometimes referring to physically balancing on one leg, or balancing the body in some certain position in space… but I’m also usually alluding to a deeper balance within the systems of the body -particularly the nervous system, or to the balance between effort and ease, or to balance, or equanimity, in the mind. But this quote got me thinking about the word harmony as a related, though not identical, concept. To me, the word harmony suggests a coming together, or combining of things into a balanced unit, so it is a bit like balance… but harmony also carries additional qualities. That the parts that are coming together, or coming into balance, integrate synergistically, AND that the combined result has a pleasing quality to it. So it’s kinda like balance, but even better!

Some yoga poses, including the one in the image (sometimes called humble flamingo), require a lot of balance, or harmony, in the body and mind. Some muscles engage intensely, while others must relax and stretch. There might be an unusual shifting of body weight that requires a leap of faith in the body and mind, trusting that our bodies can hold us and our heavy backside won’t come crashing down. And often we must regulate our breathing to help the body and mind maintain this complex dance between strength and grace. So yoga is the perfect practice for training us to find that harmony, in which multiple moving parts collaborate to create something truly special. We navigate the sometimes uncomfortable edges, while staying anchored in to our calm breath, and we find that beautiful place where all of the parts unite to create a result that feels so pleasing to body and mind. And I want to emphasize that this harmony is irrespective of what the pose looks like to someone else. What matters is what it feels like to you. That it feels pleasing and harmonious, like the embodiment of the sound of the Eagles singing Peaceful Easy Feeling.

Maybe I’m drawn to these concepts because during the hardest parts of my cancer treatment, I longed so much for a peaceful easy feeling, for harmony in my body, mind, and spirit. While I felt instead like some kind of bombed out war-zone in an alternate universe. And I have heard many other cancer survivors describe a similar feeling – sortof the opposite of harmony. Feeling disconnected, dazed, scattered, frazzled, out of alignment, and out of control. And I think there are a lot of reasons for this – cancer diagnosis and treatment are true shocks to our system, throwing us into a literal fight or flight situation, hormones and other chemicals in the body go haywire, fear and stress hijack our mental clarity and our other normal body processes, our minds try to block out the pain or betrayal we feel toward our bodies, so much is unknown, and we truly question our vitality and our whole existence. In other words, so many of our systems are not functioning optimally, so it’s nearly impossible for them to work together in harmony.

Fortunately, it isn’t usually quite that challenging forever, and we can often begin to find some footing once we know what our treatment will look like, in general what to expect, and for how long. Of course, even then there are often curveballs and new obstacles along the way that can throw us out of balance once again. But with the help of practices like mindfulness and yoga, I believe it is so much easier to truly thrive. To be able to more easily find that balance, to bring the body, mind, and spirit into harmony. EVEN in the midst of the ever-changing cancer journey. And this is because these practices train our bodies to function harmoniously deep within. They train our nervous system to more quickly regain balance after a stressor. And this creates fertile ground for all of the other body systems to come back into harmony. Once our bodies, minds, and spirits come back into this place of harmony, not only do we FEEL better, but all of our systems, individually AND collectively, can function better!

So keep practicing! And if you are new to either yoga or mindfulness and you would like some guidance on how to bring these practices in to your own cancer journey, please reach out!

Have a peaceful, easy day!


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