Join us for Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery retreat style 2024

Will you be joining us for this transformative retreat?? Do you want to come and soak up some relaxation on this tranquil beach with fellow cancer survivors who truly understand? If you are a cancer survivor (any type, any stage, in any place in treatment or recovery) and you sometimes feel stressed, overwhelmed, or fearful, this retreat is for YOU!

My good friend, colleague, and overall amazing human, Ginny Stasinski and I are co-facilitating this retreat to bring you the wisdom and teachings of the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery program in a retreat format in this glorious tropical beach resort. This program, usually offered as a 9 week on-line program, is evidence based and has been proven to help cancer survivors feel less depressed, less anxious, and less stressed as they navigate the complex landscape of cancer treatment and survivorship. This program teaches you many different mindfulness practices, including breathing techniques, various styles of meditation, yoga (which is very gentle and accessible to all), and inquiry. These practices can help you find ease, peace, clarity, and joy, no matter what your cancer journey involves. Cancer can be so overwhelming, confusing, frightening, and exhausting, but you CAN empower yourself to feel better and thrive.

Ginny and I are deeply committed to this program because we both experienced huge benefits in our own lives when we first learned the practices, and these benefits continue to grow and impact us today. And we have now seen participants in our on-line groups experiencing similar effects. Please read HERE from a couple of our participants in their own words.

And click HERE for more details about the retreat. Don’t delay. Let us know if you want to go ahead and get registered to save your spot. We can’t wait to practice with you.

Going within – a simple yet powerful practice for finding presence in cancer recovery

Just another brilliant piece of eloquence from Eckhart Tolle. This quote struck me recently as I’ve been focusing more on mindfulness in my teaching, both in my community yoga classes and in the context of the Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery Program I’m co-facilitating with my friend and colleague Ginny Stasinski.

Several key practices in mindfulness involve using the body or the breath as a point of focused awareness (a doorway if you will), to help us drop into presence, instead of being off in the stratosphere of our swirling thoughts… or as we’ve been calling it, the thought tornado. You know the feeling, right? When you suddenly realize that you’ve been lost in some complicated story or series of worries, thoughts, or judgements that just take on a life of their own and sweep you away from yourself? You really have no idea how long you’ve been off in this daydream (or nightmare as it might be), and how all of this tension came to arise in your body (maybe in your shoulders, your jaw, your low back, or even as knots in your stomach). Sadly many people just exist like this all the time, never even really realizing that it isn’t our natural state of being. Or that it isn’t the healthiest way to walk around.

Those of us with cancer know this thought tornado, or maybe more aptly named – this fear tornado, all too well. It is so common, no matter where you are on the survivor continuum, even if you are many years from your cancer diagnosis. Our minds can fly off into an orbit of fear or other emotions for so many reasons. Sometimes it’s because we develop some new pain or symptom that we fear might be a sign of recurrence. Sometimes someone we know, or even a celebrity, has a recurrence of their cancer or passes away. Sometimes it’s the smell of a hospital environment, an insurance snafu, or any other little experience that reminds us of our cancer or cancer treatment.

But mindfulness can help us stay anchored and balanced, allowing all that mental noise to settle. Once we begin to be able to notice ourselves getting swept away, we can use our mindfulness tools to come back to ourselves, to our peaceful, calm, rational selves, “to that deeper sense of aliveness underneath the fluctuating emotions and underneath the thinking”. And the simple practice of tuning in and feeling the energy of our inner body is a fabulous tool. Whether you like to practice this while sitting in stillness, or you prefer to practice it while in some kind of mindful movement like yoga or walking, it is easy to do and it works wonders. The way Eckhart describes the tuning in, “feel it in your hands, your feet, your abdomen, your chest. Feel the life that you are”, it’s very much like the body scan that we practice in mindfulness (click HERE for a short sample body scan), or in savasana after the active part of a yoga practice. And the simplicity of the practice is part of its magic! Our bodies are always here, so at any time, we can just turn our awareness inward, and focus on that inner energy.

In yoga philosophy, this practice of turning our awareness inward is called pratyahara, and it is one of the 8 limbs of yoga, as described in the original written text by Patanjali. So it is clearly considered an important skill, and is an integral part of the true path of yoga. (If you want to read more about the 8 limbs, I did a series of blogs on all of them between September 2020 and December 2020, which you can find in the blog archive. HERE is the one on pratyahara).

So whether you call it body scan meditation, pratyahara, body awareness, or just going within, this simple practice of shifting our awareness inward can have profound benefits in helping us drop below the fluctuations of our minds, into our true center, where we are present, at ease, free from excessive worry, and most alive.

Keep practicing. Namaste.

Yoga and cancer: 2 unusual companion guides in my life’s learning

I’m so fascinated by the parallels I see all the time between the things I learn on my yoga mat and the things I learn through my cancer journey. There are so many things on this list, but a few that are prominent for me include patience, balance, equanimity, acceptance, and surrender. Both my yoga practice and my cancer experience have taught me deep lessons in these areas, which I think have really made me a happier, more joyful, more easy-going human. I think they’ve greatly helped me to “not sweat the small stuff”, to be more content in the present- whatever it holds, to be more compassionate with myself and others, and to find real joy in the simple pleasures of daily life instead of always striving for some more exciting or more perfect moment, or straining to try to control my environment and bend it to fit into my vision for how things should be. How interesting that two things as different as yoga and cancer could transmit similar types of wisdom and insight!

So this quote really struck me. Of course I totally agree that, as Ganga White says “Yoga is the art of transforming struggle into grace, challenge into growth, and fear into love”, and I love the beauty of this description. But then it occurred to me that this quote might just as easily read “Navigating a cancer journey is the art of transforming struggle into grace, challenge into growth, and fear into love”.

Don’t you think??

Don’t miss our new yoga for breast cancer content on Youtube!

Don’t forget that we are now posting all of our new content on our Youtube channel instead of the YWL video library. So please click HERE to navigate to the youtube channel. And remember to subscribe so you’ll get a notification whenever new content drops!

Above is a link to a new video I recorded today of a short chair assisted practice. This is great if you are just getting started, or if you aren’t feeling super energetic, but want to get a little movement in. We spend part of the practice in a chair, and a few minutes standing but using the chair for support. We also use a strap to help with a few of the shoulder stretches.

Remember, yoga doesn’t have to be super complicated or vigorous. Much of the benefit of this practice comes from just being mindful of our body and our breath. It is a moving meditation! As we move and breathe, our bodies and our breath are amazing tools to help us practice being present, getting out of our heads, observing whatever is happening, and letting go of our tendency to judge the situation (aka ourselves) or wish it were different than it is. This helps us connect to our bodies with love and kindness, letting go of that anger and resentment that many of us feel toward our bodies after cancer diagnosis or treatment. Who wants to hold on to that tension and inner turmoil anyway? Let’s let it go and commit to our healing. I hope this practice helps you take another small step in that direction.

Namaste

Why do we practice mindfulness in cancer recovery?

Ginny and I recently received the below testimonials from participants in our Mindfulness in Cancer Recovery program (formerly referred to by the program’s original name – Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery, MBCR, but we altered the name slightly because a number of people were confusing MBCR with the metastatic breast cancer abbreviation, MBC).

Ginny and I know this program is amazing and can be life-changing because we both experienced profound benefits ourselves when we learned to incorporate mindfulness into our own lives and our cancer recoveries. But hearing reviews like these quite literally had us both in tears, as we were reminded… again… of the true depth and meaning of these benefits.

THIS is what it is about. It’s not about whether you can meditate for 30 minutes a day, or whether you master tricky yoga postures. It’s about learning to LIVE our lives in mindfulness so that we can feel better, be more present, and enjoy each day we are given. So we can let go of being gripped by fear, being overwhelmed with anxiety and worry, and missing out on all of the beauty that we have in our lives – regardless of what is happening with our cancer. And as this testimonial points out, this program skillfully teaches many different techniques that anyone can incorporate into daily life.

We are beyond grateful to the original developers of Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery, and to the deep wisdom and power of the program. We are grateful that we have the opportunity to share this program with others so that they can realize all of these tremendous benefits in their own lives. And we are infinitely grateful for each individual who decides to work with us to learn these simple yet transformative practices. And of course to Vickie and Maralin, for sharing so eloquently how the program has impacted their journeys and their lives.

With deep, deep gratitude,

“I had recently been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer when I had the good fortune to be able to enroll in the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery course with Leona and Ginny. On the first night of the class, we were asked to identify our goals for taking the class. My goal was to be able to shut my eyes at night and not envision my death bed or funeral.This program quickly allowed me to realize this goal.

By learning strategies and techniques, I was able to understand how cancer treatment often forces us into a position that is the opposite of mindfulness. It is very easy to adopt a mindset of “What if…” and “What’s next…” Life is often put on hold as we wait for the next scan, the next blood test results, the end of radiation or chemotherapy, the results of a biopsy or the recovery from surgery. This program helped me to learn the strategies I needed to live my life every day, to be in the moment and to appreciate the gifts of the present without spending energy on what might be coming in the future.

I am not a person who is ever going to be successful at meditating for 20 minutes every day or going to yoga class 3 times a week. Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery taught me ways to integrate the benefits of meditation and yoga into my life in a way that works for me. I learned about short guided meditations, walking meditations, sun salutations and simple yoga stretches- all things that can easily be incorporated into my daily activities.

Do I still worry about my future and what it will mean for me and my family when my disease progresses? Of course. But the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery program has given me the strategies and techniques I need to live each day with purpose and gratitude.

I highly recommend this course for anyone who has been recently diagnosed, is in treatment or recovering from treatment and/or diagnosis. Leona and Ginny were literally life savers for me- they were critical to my ability to process my diagnosis and move forward positively. I know, without doubt, that others will benefit as well”.
V. Y.C.

After my cancer diagnosis I was completely lost with no direction and no idea where/what to do. This feeling did not disappear when I went into remission, instead, it amplified. So many things had changed on every level (mental, physical, emotional) that I was floundering on how to regain control.

 MBCR was a true game changer, helping me to find solid footing while at the same time finding myself. Through a series of discussions, activities and brainstorming, each week built upon the week before to open a new way to experience, appreciate and accept the post cancer me. It has helped take away the feeling of helplessness and fear of recurrence, I have gained strength in the wisdom that I am far stronger then I ever imagined and am ready to face the future, whatever it may hold.

In addition to the mental/emotional aspects of the class, the physical component (yoga/meditation) of the program was stellar. Initially I entered this part of the program with a skeptical approach as I never imagined myself doing such things. I was quite surprised to find that not only was I able to participate but actually enjoyed and looked forward to it.

MBCR is highly recommended for it’s open, accepting, gentle transformational skills. It truly saved me from the dark rabbit hole of negativity, from looking at things with doom, to a fresh approach with skills to greet each new day and face whatever the world throws my way. I hope my cancer never recurs but if it does I know I can face it with new found strength and skills taught to me by MBCR and for that I am eternally grateful“.
M.F.

Yoga for Breast Cancer on Youtube!

Did you know we are now on Youtube? We have moved the majority of our content over to our Youtube channel for you to enjoy for FREE!

Click here to check it out:

YWL on Youtube

And please let me know if you have any requests, and I’ll do my best to get them to you. Would you like more full length practices? More short practices? More vigorous or less vigorous practices? More tutorials? Are there certain movements that remain challenging to you? Let me know. I would love to help!

Let yoga teach you to love and respect your body JUST AS IT IS

In yoga we often talk about connecting with our bodies or our breath, or even connecting body to breath, through mindful movement. In fact, as you probably know, the root of the word YOGA means to yoke, or unite, or tie together. Most humans walk around sortof disconnected from their bodies, stuck swirling off in the stratosphere of thought somewhere, just because we believe our thoughts (and the crazy tangents they lead down) are more important than what is going on right here and now. It’s no wonder, then, that we tend to be completely unaware of what is happening deep inside our bodies, and we don’t find out until symptoms arise that are severe enough to slap us across the face and out of our slumber. Having cancer can make this situation even more complex and challenging. Not only is it common to feel even deeper disconnect because we are angry that the cancer arose in the first place, or we feel in some way that our bodies betrayed us by growing this monster that threatens our very existence. But beyond that, cancer treatments, surgery, chemo, and radiation can all cause changes and scars and side effects that are new and different and make us feel even more like strangers in the strange land of our bodies.

But wait… there’s more! On a whole another level, in modern culture, most of us feel some degree of disconnect from our bodies because we reject, or dislike, or maybe even hate… some aspect of our bodies. Our butts are too big, or too small. Our skin is too light or too dark, we have too much cellulite or we are too bony or too muscular. Our hair is too straight or too curly, or maybe we have no hair at all at the moment. We have old injuries or joint problems that cause pain or limit our activity. We have scars that we feel are deforming, or we lack body parts that made us feel “normal”. We have weird teeth or “ugly” fingernails. I could go on all day about all of the crazy things we can dislike about our own beautiful majestic bodies. I won’t bemoan the root of all of this body-hatred, but suffice it to say that the media’s portrayal of fake-perfect airbrushed bodies along with corporations’ taking advantage of our feelings of inferiority to sell more products that they tell us will make us better or prettier or enough – are more than adequate to mind-f@ck most of us. And as you can imagine, this type of body-hatred, or this mindset of being “less than”, creates an unhealthy and unsettled environment in our bodies and our minds.

Here is the amazing news. And a word of caution. Yoga IS a mind-body intervention, and therefore an exercise in embodied awareness. Yoga can really, really help us reconnect with our bodies. But it only really works if we practice mindfully. And we remind ourselves to practice with love, respect, and reverence for our bodies. If we approach the practice as a celebration of our strength, beauty, and resilience. If, as we move mindfully, we really sense our bodies and find that perfect balance between effort and ease. We challenge ourselves at our healthy limits when we feel up to it, but we also slow down and soften when that is what is needed. We must be cautious not to approach the practice like a flogging, or a penance for eating that ice cream, or with the main goal of trying to get our bodies to look better. We must be cautious not to criticize or judge our bodes as we practice, thinking “well I used to be more flexible” or “I hate that I can’t do this posture very well because of x,y,z”, or “if my back was just more flexible, then…”. This creates a cloud of negativity, rejection, or even hostility that hangs over and permeates our relationship with our body, and can be counterproductive to our efforts.

In order to create the healthiest possible environment in our bodies and minds, the ideal environment for healing to occur, we must practice connecting to our bodies and to our breath with love and kindness. And also with some honesty. I mean, I DO have ugly fingernails 😉 (along with cellulite and scars and plenty of other things that have caused me grief over the years). But that is ok. Because what I am learning is that my body is worthy of love and reverence JUST AS IT IS. Fingernails, scars, cellulite, stiffness, and all! My body has carried me through tremendous periods of stress and illness in my life (not to mention almost 47 trips around the sun), and has done its very best to heal and protect me through it all. The scars and cellulite and other weirdnesses are just a part of the story. Yoga is teaching me to really feel my body and to listen to and embrace her inner wisdom. Instead of judging this magnificent body, I will choose to feel gratitude and respect for her. I will make my practice a celebration of my strength and resilience, an honoring of what I CAN do today. I will let go of any tendency to criticize myself, or to wish my body were in any way different than it is. And I believe THIS is where the real connection will arise. Where the true yoga will happen. Where the heaviness of all of that judgement and bitterness will be lifted, leaving space for peace and joy and wellness to flourish. And this is especially important in those times when your body is in the midst of some really heavy stuff and needs a healing environment even more than usual.

I’ve been focusing on this intention during my yoga practice the last few days, and I really like it:

May I love and respect my body JUST AS IT IS

May I see clearly my own strength, beauty, and resilience

May I awaken to the light of my own true self

Give it a try. And remember, this is a practice! None of us will be perfect, and those self-criticisms will probably still creep in and come and go. But if they come just a little less than last month, and then a little less, and a little less…. it will be worth it!

Namaste yogis. The light in me honors the light in you ✨✨✨

This post was inspired by a chapter in Kino MacGregor’s new book Act of Love. Check it out!

Find your glimmers to bring light to cancer recovery

Have you heard of “glimmers”? This is a term I just learned a few weeks ago, and have been reading about and thinking about ever since. As I understand it, the term was coined by Deb Dana, LCSW, a clinician, teacher, and expert in complex trauma. It comes from the Polyvagal Theory, as originally described by Dr Stephen Porges. I’ll get back to that in a minute.

Everyone knows the term “triggers”, and it has become a bit of a buzzword in recent years, and honestly I think is a bit overused, which takes away some from its true meaning in psychology. Triggers are events, experiences, or other stimuli that initiate a traumatic memory or response in the body or mind, via the nervous system. So triggers literally trigger our nervous system to fly into fight or flight mode (or even freeze/fawn, which I’ll mention later) in an attempt to protect us from some subconscious/imagined trauma or threat. Often, however, there is no real threat in the present, only the memory of some past threat. But our bodies and our minds can’t tell the difference, and respond with the same cascade of stress hormones and other reactions as it would if we were in the middle of that same threat all over again. Think, for example, of feeling a sensation of nausea just walking into and smelling the oncology clinic, even though you’ve been finished with chemo for months. Or feeling the sensation of fear or dread as you wait for results from follow up testing, just like you were taken back to your original diagnosis all over again. Or the sensation of tension arise in your jaw or shoulders or the pit of your stomach just seeing some emotionally abusive co-worker or family member come up on you caller ID. We’ve all felt it. And those who have been through a truly traumatic experience tend to feel these even more strongly. Sometimes they can be literally crippling. And as I’ve mentioned, having cancer is officially considered a traumatic experience by the medical/psychiatric community. It may not be the same as traumas like childhood abuse, natural disaster, or violent assault, but it is a trauma nonetheless, and can result in similar types of responses in the body.

The good news is that there are also stimuli that can initiate a response from the balancing side, the rest and digest, or social connection, part of our nervous system. These are the Glimmers. So these are sortof the opposite of triggers. These are experiences, events, or other stimuli that “trigger”-but in a good way- our nervous system to respond with a cascade of the feel good chemicals and reactions, that leave us feeling safe, connected, at ease, relaxed, comforted, connected, and nourished. Think of your glimmers, be they internal or external. They could be things like the warm sun on your skin, the comforting voice of a loved one, the sound of birds chirping in the morning, the feeling of your own breath gently rising and falling, the smell of warm cookies just out of the oven, the feeling of freedom when you float in the ocean, your favorite old music, or the feeling of connection you have with your best friend or your yoga community. These stimuli cue safety and ease, opening us up to experience peace and joy in our daily lives. And the really great news is, they are all around us, if we just learn to tune them in.

Let’s come back to Polyvagal theory just for a moment. It isn’t super important to understand this background, but it is interesting and may help shed some clarity on how to identify more glimmers. It highlights the safety and community aspect of this story, which is particularly important for trauma survivors. The traditional understanding of the autonomic nervous system, and the way I generally think about it, divides the system into 2 parts: the sympathetic, or “fight or flight”, and the parasympathetic, or “rest and digest”. These 2 sides of the nervous system act in concert to keep us balanced, with the sympathetic becoming activated in response to a stressor preparing our bodies to respond as needed, and then the parasympathetic engaging once the threat/stressor is neutralized to bring us back to balance and rest. Polyvagal theory posits that the parasympathetic side of the system can be further divided into 2 parts, the ventral vagal and the dorsal vagal branches. The ventral vagal branch is activated when we feel safety and social engagement, along with that traditional idea of rest and digest. So we are relaxed and at ease, but also feel safe and connected, and are able to be active and engaged without feeling stressed or overwhelmed. Some might call this the flow state. Activation of the dorsal vagal branch, on the other hand, which is considered a more primitive part of the system, results in the extreme opposite end of rest and digest, in which we suffer depression or dissociation, complete shutdown or immobilization, perhaps like a possum playing dead. This state is sometimes called freeze or fawn. So in Polyvagal theory, we can operate and move through these 3 main states: 1. Ventral vagal, our ideal state of joyful engagement, 2. the traditional fight or flight where we are stressed, anxious, irritated or angry, or 3. the dorsal vagal, where we completely collapse and can’t function adequately. Phew, that was more than a moment! 😉 I explain this theory because I think that the safety and social connection aspect of Polyvagal theory is an important key in recovering from traumatic experiences and in learning to heal our nervous systems and return to wellness and joyful living.

That brings me to the next piece of good news! Neuroplasticity is the phenomenon of the human brain and nervous system adapting and changing, both functionally and structurally, in response to our experiences and our actions. In short, sortof like a muscle, neurons that get used frequently develop stronger connections and become even more active. Sadly, this can work against us in trauma response, in that these triggered emotions and reactions can become stronger the longer they continue to be stimulated. HOWEVER, the glimmers can too! Soooo, the point of all of this is that focusing on our glimmers, on moments and memories and experiences that make us feel safe and joyful, at ease and connected, can actually help our nervous systems heal from our traumas. These glimmers cue safety and remind our nervous systems that things are ok now, that the threat is in the past, that it is ok to let down our guard, to enjoy that sunset, or that quiet cup of tea. These glimmers can help us build resilience so that when we are triggered and fall into fear or anxiety, we have some tools to more quickly pull ourselves back out. If we know what our glimmers are, we know what to do. We do some relaxing breathing, or listen to our favorite old music, or maybe we make a few of those cookies, get out in nature, or go for a swim. We call up a loved one and are soothed by the glimmer of their voice, or we go to a yoga class or a support group and feel at ease in the company of our friends. And every time we focus on a glimmer, we strengthen that part of our nervous system that feels safe and at ease. And we train our brains to see and feel the hundreds of glimmers that are available to us in every day.

Glimmer on, my beautiful friends.

Allowing each moment in breast cancer recovery

Don’t get me wrong, I love growth, and working on becoming a healthier, happier, more balanced human. BUT, I also think one of the most important things we can learn to do is just to stop. To let go of the need to always be grinding, and striving, and pushing for better, because that mindset carries with it the undertone that what we are in this moment is not good enough.
🪷 I think it is just as important to allow, to accept, and to love ourselves exactly as we are in this moment. To drop the unnecessary turmoil and tension that come with thinking we should be some other way, or that the next moment (or day, or week, or year) will be better than this one. And this is true, even -and maybe especially- in those moments when we are a hot freakin mess.
🪷 This is one of the gifts of mindfulness. To get comfortable being at ease, no matter what the moment brings. To give ourselves grace, to allow and accept the “full catastrophe” (as JKZ calls it in the title of his famous book) that is human existence. It’s messy, and crazy, and challenging… and beautiful. We just need to allow ourselves to stop and feel it all. 💕
🪷Wishing you all a nourishing and joyous weekend!
🧘🏽‍♀️💕🧘🏽‍♀️💕🧘🏽‍♀️💕

Yoga with Leona’s Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat 2023 in Puerto Vallarta was beyond incredible!

There were so many beautiful moments that I can’t even begin to capture the magic in one post. But I will try to share a few snippets here to give you an idea. I hope you will be interested in joining us for the next one! Wanna practice yoga with me each morning in this gorgeous little spot overlooking the majestic Pacific ocean?

We practiced tuning in to our own bodies, connecting to our breath, and being truly present with whatever each moment brings with gentleness and gratitude for where we are today in our healing journeys.

We got to take in this gorgeous scenery while connecting over amazing meals, relaxing poolside, or chatting under the palapas on the beach. Many deep conversations were had as we supported each other, learned, and grew together.

We also had plenty of fun and laughs. We got out on the bay for a gorgeous catamaran tour, felt the breeze in our hair, the sun on our skin, and the sea all around us.

We had so many delicious meals together, and took our time to bask in the beauty of the sunsets.

I am beyond grateful for all of the beautiful humans that came together to make this retreat truly magical. Thank you all for sharing your hearts and your lights, for your kindness and presence in supporting one another, and for giving yourselves this beautiful gift of yoga. Keep practicing!

Namaste (I honor the place in you in which the entire universe dwells. I honor the place in you, which is of love, of light, of peace, and of truth. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, we are ONE.)