Feeling Strong AF?

How are you feeling today? Hopefully strong AF, but it is certainly understandable if we don’t quite feel that vigorous every day. And it is really important that we are honest with ourselves about how we are doing. Cancer treatment can knock the stuffing out of us, both physically and emotionally. You know all of the ways that surgery, radiation, chemo, and hormonal therapy can zap that energy, so I don’t need to list them here. What I do want to talk about is how to start building that strength, energy, and confidence back. This is a common theme for me, as it was really important to me to feel that I would be able to get back to feeling strong, capable, independent, and healthy. Don’t get me wrong, learning to admit that I needed help and how to gracefully accept that help was a really great lesson for me and I’m so grateful that I learned it. But I didn’t want to stay there if I didn’t have to. Physical fitness was always important to me, and I wanted to continue to have that in my life. But I recall really not knowing what my future would hold, what recovery would look like, and just how much of my strength I would be able to recover. I didn’t know, at first, how much I could trust my body, and I was afraid of injuring myself and my newly healing scars. So if you are in that space, I feel you. And I hope to encourage you, to help you safely and carefully navigate this time of uncertainty, to help you find your own way to rediscovering your strength and empowering yourself in whatever way you choose. Because it is there, deep within you, that you will find your way through.

Obviously yoga doesn’t have to be vigorous to bring huge benefits to its students. Much of the meditative aspect of the practice, the self-study, the connecting of breath to body and body to mind, and so much more; can be done in a slow, gentle practice. And these truly are some of the most important benefits of the practice of yoga. But for some of us (myself included), building the physical vigor of the practice carries additional benefits that can be so helpful and transformative. For example, we learn to really connect with ourselves so we can accurately identify the point of balance between effort and ease, knowing when we can push harder and when we need to back off. Getting comfortable navigating this space helps us rebuild the confidence and trust in our bodies, and increases our insight. As we challenge ourselves physically and mentally on the mat, while practicing maintaining calm breath and mind, we also train our nervous systems to build resilience and balance deep within the body. The more vigorous practice also gives us more of an aerobic aspect to the exercise, which is helpful for cardiovascular health as well as weight maintenance. The patience required to progress slowly and mindfully makes us more able to be patient in other areas of our lives. And finally, seeing ourselves get stronger (in body and mind) is so truly empowering, reminding us of the immense well of strength and resilience that is there within us, even at those times when we might lose sight of it.

As I say all the time, yoga isn’t about mastering certain postures, looking fancy or acrobatic, or standing on your head, but rather about all that we learn and how we grow along the way as we practice. So it doesn’t matter how vigorous your practice is, as long as you feel like it is helping you along your journey. But if building strength and vigor in your practice is something that sounds good to you, know that you can do it. You may need to do it very slowly, but you CAN do it. And if you’d like some guidance, I’d love to help! I have just loaded a bunch of new medium strength and vigorous practices to the members only video library for those of you who feel ready to start turning up the intensity. Remember to really listen to your body, to start low, go slow, and use your body as your guide. If you really tune in, it will tell you what it needs.

Namaste

Do you feel at home in your own skin?

“The journey of yoga isn’t about mastering the poses. It’s about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin” – Kino MacGregor

I don’t usually post these progress over time collages, but I thought this one might be helpful in illustrating a few important points as we all continue to progress in our yoga journeys.

First, this might not look like much progress at all! It is pretty darn subtle. And it is 3 years of slow continuous effort in scorpion forearm stand (aka vriskikasana in pincha mayurasana). What you might notice is that my back is bending ever so slightly more over these 3 years, and my feet are coming slightly closer to my head, due in part to the deeper backbend, but also due to more opening of the hip flexors (front side of hips) and quadriceps, which allows the legs to stretch further back and down. Eventually, the feet are supposed to reach down and touch the top of the head. Obviously I’ve got a long way to go before I’ll reach that point. Maybe 3 more years? Maybe 10!

So the first point is that the practice of yoga is a journey that requires slow, continuous effort over long periods of time. We can’t expect our bodies to just pick up these abilities with one or a few months of half ass effort. We really have to commit some time and earnest energy to give our bodies and minds time to adjust and develop. This brings us to my second point, which is that in order to be able to commit to slow steady progress, we must learn to practice non-attachment. This means that we aren’t so attached to the specific goal of touching our feet to our heads (or whatever other specific pose-related outcome we might be striving for). If we were, we would give up after we weren’t able to check off that box in some period of time. I sure wouldn’t still be working on touching my feet to my head. I might just say, “well I don’t think my body can do that one”. And the truth is, maybe my body never will do that one. And that is ok. But I am certain that I am gaining strength, resilience, patience, and love for myself each time I try. As Kino says above, yoga isn’t about mastering certain poses. It isn’t about collecting certain accomplishments, or checking off the boxes after each pose we learn to do. It is about so much more. It is about everything we learn along the way. It is about realizing our strength and our tenacity and our capacity to continue to try again and again, even when we fall. Even when things are hard. Of course, it is ok to have some goals in mind, so that we have something that we are working toward. But we must recognize that whether or not we ever arrive at that goal isn’t the measure of the success of our practice.

As the rest of Kino’s quote reads, the journey of yoga “is about finding the feeling of being at home in your own skin”. And THIS is what I really thought about when I put together this photo collage of me practicing my scorpion in forearm stand. As I was looking at the pictures, I realized that you really can’t see the biggest difference in this posture over these 3 years. And this is often the case in yoga. There may not be big changes happening on the outside, but profound changes are happening on the inside, and they are actually the more important ones. You can’t see it, but I can FEEL it. The biggest difference in this posture is that I now feel so much more comfortable in the pose. Several years ago I could get up into a forearm stand, partly just out of brute force and stubbornness, but now I feel truly at ease in this position. I can breathe easily, and spend some time here, working slowly on the shape, feeling each part of my spine, my neck, my hips, and my legs. I can actually tune in to what my body is doing, where I need to engage and where I need to relax, and what happens when I explore those movements. Instead of feeling strained and uncomfortable, I feel at ease, graceful, and at home in my own skin. Even though my feet don’t touch my head. Of course I’ll keep working on it and maybe one day they will. Or maybe they won’t. But in the meantime, I’m so grateful that I finally realized it just doesn’t matter.

So next time you step onto your mat, remember that the practice of yoga is a long and gentle journey, that it isn’t about “perfecting” any specific shape or pose, but instead about how you feel as you are practicing, and what you learn along the way. Challenging ourselves on the mat teaches us to truly tune in to ourselves, to our bodies and our minds, as we practice. And as we tune in more and more, we learn to embrace and work with what we have, rather than fighting or struggling against ourselves or trying to be something that we are not (like flexible in the spine for me LOL). In this way, this practice teaches us to be at home in our own skin. This is the true measure of the success of this practice. And AHHHHHHH, what a feeling!

Interestingly, navigating a cancer experience can teach us similar lessons. We learn that we can’t force that year of herceptin to go any faster, or that we can’t expect everything to be perfect once we get that “final” surgery, or that we’ll be done and feel back to normal once we finish xyz treatment. Often things are delayed, complications arise, or plans have to be adapted and adjusted to best take care of our health. Maybe we have to re-evaluate our priorities and bow out of some obligations that we no longer have the energy for, or some friendships fade away as our needs change. So we have to learn to be patient, to let go of our expectations and not torture ourselves if things don’t go just as we had planned. Instead, we can try to take the opportunity to tune in to ourselves, to listen to what we really need, to be loving and understanding with ourselves and know that we are learning and healing as best we can. When we do this, just as in yoga, we can feel the struggle release a little, we can find some grace and ease in the midst of this truly challenging time, and we are at home again in our own skin. And AHHHHHH, what a feeling!

If you want some help developing your yoga practice or need any guidance, please let me know. I’d love to see if the practice of yoga can help you find your own AHHHHHH moments.

Namaste

Exercise truly is medicine in cancer survivorship

If you follow my FB page (Yoga with Leona), you saw that I recently posted an awesome interview that Dr Leslie Waltke (of The Recovery Room) did with Dr Kathryn Schmitz on the importance of exercise in cancer survivorship. If you haven’t had a chance to watch it, please do (https://www.facebook.com/lesliewaltkept/videos/386294369484336). They are both brilliant and dynamic leaders in their fields, each working for many years in different aspects of exercise in cancer. Dr Waltke is a physical therapist with many years specializing in cancer rehabilitation, and creator of the best practices in cancer physical therapy, and teaches physical therapists and other medical specialists from around the world how to best work with cancer survivors. Dr Schmitz is an exercise physiologist, a leading researcher in exercise oncology, has directed many of the important scientific studies looking at the benefits of exercise in cancer prevention and cancer survivorship, and co-developed the guidelines that we now use to recommend exercise in cancer. So these 2 are powerhouses! And their experience and work are so beautifully complementary to one another.

Exercise seems so simple that it is hard to believe that it is as powerful as it is. The benefits of exercise in cancer survivors are truly staggering. Not only does exercise help us feel better (improving fatigue, overall quality of life, sleep, lymphedema, physical function, depression and anxiety), but it also has been proven to reduce the chance of our breast cancer coming back AND to reduce the chance of us dying from breast cancer (for those who meet the recommended 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity exercise vs those who do not exercise)! Read that again. And those reductions in risk of recurrence and death are not small. Different studies report slightly different numbers, but the reductions are generally in the range of 40-60%! That is a huge difference, and is as much or even more than the benefit associated with some of our traditional treatments. I’ll write another blog about the proposed mechanisms by which exercise has these amazing benefits (otherwise you’d be here all day reading just this one!).

As I always say, we can’t control everything that happens in our cancer journey. And it is really important to learn to let go of our need for control so that we can establish some peace. However, there are some things that we can control. And how we move our bodies is one of them. No matter where we are in our cancer journey, we can work on moving our bodies, and try to strive for that goal of 150-300 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week. If you do more vigorous forms of exercise as well, the minutes required are lower. How do you define “moderate intensity”? They give a perfect and simple guide in the video, which is that moderate intensity is any exercise that gets you working hard enough that you can still talk, but you couldn’t sing or speak in long, complicated sentences. In other words, your body should be taxed enough that it affects your breath, but not so much that you can’t really talk at all (that would be moving into the “vigorous” realm). So whether that means brisk walking, dancing, tennis, or vigorous yoga, get those minutes in!

Importantly, Dr Waltke and Dr Schmitz talk about the fact that what is moderate intensity for one person might not be moderate intensity for another, so we all need to evaluate the level of our exercise for our specific situation. AND, moderate intensity may look very different even for the same individual, at different times through their treatment. For example, the week of your chemotherapy, just getting up and walking to the mailbox or doing a load of laundry may constitute moderate intensity, while 2 weeks later when you have recovered a bit, you might need to walk all the way around the block one or a few times to get into that moderate range. So it is important to know that this will be a moving target, and that is ok. Also know that sometimes you may need to exercise in shorter periods, for example just 5-10 minutes several times per day, rather than 30-60 minutes all at once. This is a place where yoga philosophy and training ourselves to really tune in to our bodies, to study ourselves, to be flexible and compassionate with ourselves, and to use our energy rightly is so important. We can’t be so attached to some specific exercise goal (ie I must walk 2 miles 3 times a week or whatever) that we wind up hurting ourselves, and taking steps backward. So really listen to your body, adjust as needed, and just do your best. Learn to push on days when you feel up to it, and to back off on days when you need to. Eventually you will build strength and the exercise will get easier and easier for you. You will feel empowered, and you will also be much more in tune with yourself and your health.

Another very interesting challenge that they discuss is what to do for the person who really doesn’t like to exercise. First, they encourage us to explore lots of different types of exercise. There really are so many things we can do. From walking, to dancing, to swimming, weight lifting, yoga, aerobics, zumba, hiking, rowing, and walking your dog. Most people can find something they like. But if you truly can’t, then just buckle down and do it anyway! We all have to do some things we don’t like, right? But we do them anyway because we know they are important or good for us. I mean, do you really like brushing or flossing your teeth? But you do it anyway, right? Getting our exercise in truly is important, in so many ways. Aside from all of the benefits discussed above specific to cancer survivors, there is also extensive literature in the general population for the role of exercise in prevention and treatment of everything from heart health to blood sugar/diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. There are just so many reasons to get our bodies moving!

Please check out the website for the Exercise is Medicine/Moving through Cancer program for more information, great graphics, links, and references (https://www.exerciseismedicine.org/support_page.php/moving-through-cancer/).

Namaste friends

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.

Namaste

Finding strength in your inner light

So last Friday’s post was one that resonates with me strongly, about right use of energy, mainly addressing the need to slow down and rest sometimes. This is because I tend to be energetic and motivated, sometimes to a fault. I can push myself too hard, and wind up exhausted. This is not smart nor productive in the long run.

But the flip side of brahmacharya, or right use of energy, is just as important. That is, recognizing when you do have energy to push your limits, to build strength, to challenge yourself to do just a little more, including maybe things you’ve never done before. Because if we don’t challenge ourselves, we will never discover the true extent of our strength or possibility. As breast cancer survivors, in order to really challenge our limits, we sometimes have to confront fear. It is easy to be fearful, afraid that we just can’t do certain things because of our cancer treatment, or afraid that we might cause harm to ourselves if we try. This is one of my frustrations with some exercise offerings for cancer survivors, which just stay safe and only offer gentle yoga or other gentle types of activity, as though this is all we are capable of. Of course, gentle movement is extremely important at certain times, and so it does play a key role for us. But it isn’t the only thing we can do.

In my own recovery, I refused to believe that I would just be relegated to the gentle practice for the rest of my life. I was, and remain, intent on regaining the strength and flexibility to return to a full, strong, vigorous yoga practice. And I hope to convince you that you can do the same, IF that is what you are interested in. Maybe handstanding or other arm balances aren’t anything that you care about, and of course it is not important to develop any specific type of posture to be successful in your yoga journey. It isn’t about the individual postures themselves. What is important is using the physical practice to dig deep into yourself, to see your profound strength and resilience, to see your inner light, to learn to listen to that inner wisdom, and to there find the courage and confidence to challenge yourself to do whatever it is that you want to do. If gentle yoga is what you want and what you feel you really need, then gentle yoga is right for you. And there is nothing wrong with staying right there. But if you want a more vigorous practice, and you think it might be fun to learn new postures that look challenging, then drop the fear and trust yourself to try! We cancer survivors CAN do it. We just have to be a little more careful and a little more mindful than the average person, as we build the strength and flexibility necessary for more challenging postures. We have to take our time, slowly and methodically building our practice and making sure that at each new step our bodies are ready for the next challenge.

But being more mindful is one of the key things that the practice is about (and one of the ways the practice helps us in life off the mat). So in a way, being a cancer survivor, and having a few physical changes, like scar tissue, fibrosis, or asymmetry, actually makes the yoga journey that much better. Because we are forced to really be in tune with our bodies, to really feel what is going on as we progress in yoga, our practice truly becomes a meditation and a journey inward toward self-realization. And there, deep inside of us, where we see that inner light and get in touch with our true selves, is where all the good stuff is. Push yourself to get there and then take your time to see it. As Mooji says, “Step into the fire of self-discovery. That fire will not burn you. It will only burn what you are not”.

Namaste

Navigating re-entry after cancer as a graceful dance

I listened to a TED talk the other day from a young leukemia survivor, who described the challenges of “re-entry”, or coming back to normal life after surviving a grueling 4 year cancer journey that included tons of inpatient chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. This re-entry phenomenon is the time after active treatment, when we are “done”, and cancer-free, and ready to get back to our lives. Although, as this young cancer survivor described, it is never really quite that simple, and can be very challenging in ways different than active treatment. We don’t just flip and switch and go back to who we were before cancer. We are changed. There are physical changes, mental/emotional changes, changes in our values, changes in how we perceive the world around us, and perhaps even deeply spiritual changes. This young woman was graceful and beautiful, and described the process with honesty and vulnerability.

But as I was listening, I found myself a little perturbed. I am quite a stubborn person (as my poor husband well knows). And there are certain things that I just refused to believe, or accept, during and into my re-entry. So I was thinking to myself, “I don’t buy that. We don’t have to just accept weakness, or limitation, or that there are things we cannot do now because of our cancer history”. But as I was sitting there with my stubbornness, sometimes disguised as strength or resilience…. this quote came to me from BKS Iyengar:

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured”.

And along with the quote, the realization that the re-entry dance lies somewhere in between. In fact, as much as I don’t like to admit it, there may be consequences of cancer treatment that we cannot cure, no matter how stubborn and strong we are. I have a few. But there are certainly also things that we can overcome with a little persistence and effort. So it takes really listening to ourselves and our bodies to learn which are which. And to learn how to slowly and safely overcome the ones that we can (to cure what need not be endured), and to gracefully accept and learn to work with, instead of against, the ones that we can’t (to endure what cannot be cured).

And THIS is some of the magic of yoga. Yoga isn’t just stretching and strengthening our bodies. It does that of course, but it also helps us to dig deeper, diving inward to really get to know and understand ourselves on a deeper level, where we can really find that balance between effort and ease, between the strength to overcome and the equanimity to accept. We are each unique and different in where we lie on that spectrum, and in what we need to achieve that healthy balance. Yoga helps us to really see ourselves and what we truly need, and to then develop those healthier mental and physical habits, that will bring us peace, health, and clarity, to help our re-entry transform us for the better.

So step onto your mat, and let yoga teach you, as Iyengar said, to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured. Use what you learn to find that “new normal” that is better, healthier, and happier than you were before.

Namaste

(cute cameo in the photo from Howie, our latest rescue)

“You are the universe in ecstatic motion”

Rumi said “Stop acting so small; you are the universe in ecstatic motion!”. I love this quote because it just makes me feel my inner strength and resilience, my true self, my divinity, even. I think that a breast cancer experience (or any other difficult life experience, for that matter) can sometimes make us feel helpless, weak, small, and defeated. We can feel like we have no power to weather the storm, to turn the sails, and to come out the other side healthy and not damaged. And of course it is ok to have flashes of that mindset. It is only natural. But we must recognize that sort of thought pattern when it begins to arise, and change that inner discourse to something healthier and more empowering. Because in reality, we truly do have that power.

In the quiet moments of our yoga practice, when we can truly turn our awareness inward and allow the outer world to melt away, we can get in touch with that place inside of ourselves, where we have this power. And by power, I don’t mean like brute force power, or power we might use to control others. I mean that quiet, peaceful, imperturbable power and fortitude to withstand anything our life throws at us. I mean that dynamic flexibility and deep faith that allow us to gracefully roll with the punches, and not get disheartened when things get tough. Because they do get tough. That is just real life. We, as cancer survivors, have had to dig deep and find this inner strength and resilience over and over again, from the first diagnosis, through telling our loved ones, through different types of trying treatments, and through long follow ups and recurrence scares. But the truth is that we have infinite ability inside of us to handle life’s difficulties, if we can just learn to see it and to tap into it.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (the original written text on yoga), he says “Study thyself. Discover the divine”. Whatever our spiritual beliefs are, yoga can help us look deeply inside of ourselves and find that place of true power, that place of divinity, of the universe in ecstatic motion. Don’t let yourself walk around being anything less.

Namaste

Book review time

Ok y’all, I’ve been thinking I wanted to share with you a few of my favorite books. So of course, I felt like I had to start with this one! This comprehensive and easy to understand book was written by Tari Prinster, the founder of Y4C, or Yoga 4 Cancer, with whom I trained last year. You can find it on Amazon. I also highly recommend checking out their website, which is packed with great information, as well as a directory of Y4C trained yoga teachers across the world.

Tari is a breast cancer survivor herself, and so understands all of the challenges we face firsthand. She demonstrates profound compassion and understanding, and shares some personal accounts of the inner emotional experience of having cancer that many of us will identify with, and has helpful advice on how to traverse the experience in healthier ways. She has been teaching yoga to cancer survivors now for more than a decade, and has called on medical experts in different fields to help her develop the program in a truly scientific manner. Based in a deep understanding of what happens in the body with cancer and cancer treatments, her program is specifically designed to help cancer survivors receive the benefits of yoga in a safe and effective manner. She is very cautious in providing clear instructions for beginners, so that they may learn to practice safely, taking into account whatever physical limitations they may have from treatment (or for other unrelated reasons). BUT (and this is one of my favorite things about her), she also encourages cancer survivors to know that they can work up to a strong and vigorous practice if that is what they want. She empowers survivors to continue to build strength and flexibility, not just believing that all we can ever do is gentle yoga because of our cancer history. The book provides many illustrations of different postures, including a number of different sample practice sequences designed for different times in your treatment and recovery. She also explains a lot of the science and biology behind how and why yoga is particularly beneficial to cancer survivors, which helps immensely in understanding what the practice is doing for us on a deep level.

In summary, I believe every cancer survivor should read this book and consider how yoga might help them in coping with the effects of the disease and treatment. Whether you are young or old, fit or not, have a prior yoga practice or not, and whatever stage or type of cancer you have, you will learn important information in this book that will help you take some control of your situation and harness the power of these ancient healing practices.

Namaste

Nov 2019 Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat

Sometimes in life, you just get blown away by how beautifully things can turn out. This year’s Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat was one of those times. This group of amazing breast cancer survivors, and a few of our support people, gathered in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to relax, restore ourselves, learn about and practice yoga, support one another, delight in nature’s beauty, share stories, empower one another, and heal ourselves in body, mind, and spirit.  We also had a few margaritas, a lot of laughs, and some fun adventures. It was truly moving to see the love and support shared by this beautifully varied group of people. We all have different stories, different stages of cancer, different treatments, different physical abilities, different backgrounds, and are in different places and stages of our lives outside of cancer. But we all came together, listened, and offered what we could to each and every other member of the group. My heart honestly just swells a little, even now a month later, as I think about it and look back over the photos (just part of the group pictured here, see the slideshow on my homepage for more!).

As another cancer survivor friend of mine said recently, the Cancer Club sure isn’t one you want to join willingly.  But once you become a member, there is something really special about how we rally around one another, offering advice, support, or maybe just a hug and some understanding. We all recognize something of ourselves in one another, and true compassion springs forth from there. Perhaps we remember when we were in the same difficult situation waiting for test results, or we recall having those same side effects, or those same fears and stressors. Our differences melt away, and we see another beautiful soul going through a shared experience. Cancer, as shitty as it is, is a great equalizer. No matter how rich, beautiful, famous, or talented you are, cancer and cancer treatments affect us all deeply as human beings and human bodies, without much regard for all of those things that we sometimes think are what define us and that can divide us if we let them. In the face of a cancer experience, our differences pale in comparison to our commonalities, and we feel a fellowship and a camaraderie with those around us.

Interestingly, a very similar thing happens in yoga. Yoga practice teaches us compassion and understanding of ourselves (through practice of the yamas and niyamas, asana, and really all of the 8 limbs), which then develops naturally into compassion and understanding of others, and a recognition of our oneness with all beings. Sadhguru (an Indian yogi, teacher and philosopher) said “If you can break the illusion that you are separate, and begin to experience the oneness of existence, that is yoga”. This is, of course, referring to yoga as a state of being (not as just the physical asana practice part of yoga), to yoga as a state of union and oneness with the universe.

So in a weird way, cancer can be the catalyst that nudges us into a state of yoga, opening our hearts and minds to oneness and connecting us to others and to all of life’s experiences. And what magic ensues when that occurs! That is the magic that I felt at our retreat, with all of these beautiful people.

As Ram Dass says, “we’re all just walking each other home”.  I love walking with all of my gorgeous, loving, and awe-inspiring cancer-surviving sisters!

“Good times, bad times, you know I’ve had my share” — Led Zeppelin

In breast cancer, as in life, there are always going to be some days which are “better” or “worse” than others. But one thing that yoga teaches us is that so much of this has to do with our own judgement of the situation, and how we choose to react to that judgement. Santosha, which is the 2nd of the niyamas (the internal practices or guidelines for our behavior as we relate to ourselves) in the 8 limbs of yoga, teaches us to find contentment or a sense of satisfaction with ourselves and our situations, despite external circumstances. This allows us to find peace, true joy and happiness, despite the fluctuations in our surroundings and material things, which of course are all impermanent. Practicing santosha, or contentment, allows us to break free of the suffering we put ourelves through by always wanting things to be different than they are. When we drop that attachment to things or conditions, and instead become open to receiving whatever life brings us, we open ourselves up for gratitude, growth, peace, and bliss.

Of course, some days truly are very difficult, and it can feel almost impossible to be content. This is natural. I mean, the first few days after each of my chemotherapy treatments were truly crappy (no pun intended, as I received Perjeta, which causes severe diarrhea!). But like everything, those sensations and side effects were temporary, and eventually subsided, leaving space for better days to come. This photo is from one of those better days, about 2 weeks after my first chemotherapy. My hair had begun to fall out, so I shaved my head. But I was getting my appetite and strength back, was feeling a little better, and decided to do some yoga. It felt amazing to feel good again, and I realized I would be able to get through this, knowing that the bad would come and go, with beautiful rays of light in between, illuminating all that I had to be grateful for.

I was grateful for the chemotherapy I was receiving, which is really a modern miracle, capable of curing many women with breast cancers that would have killed them just decades earlier. I was grateful for the supportive care medications that helped with the side effects, for my loving and supportive family, for peanut butter cookies that tasted like magic when my appetite returned, and so many other things that were truly good in my life.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama said “Unfortunate events, though potentially a source of anger and despair, have equal potential to be a source of spiritual growth. Whether or not this is the outcome depends on your response”.

So don’t worry if you have some rough moments. We all do, and it is natural when going through something difficult. But try to remember santosha, and find some level of contentment, despite all circumstances. Remembering the things in your life for which you are grateful is a great practice to help you cultivate santosha. Listen to some music that you like, take in a little nature, or practice some calming breathing exericises (more on this in the Pranayama video coming soon). As you feel the contentment creeping in and replacing more negative emotions like anger or frustration, you will feel the peace and joy expanding in your life. And the next time something difficult comes along, you will find it easier and easier to minimize the negative effects of those difficult experiences. And maybe instead of Zeppelin’s “Good times, bad times”, you’ll feel a little more like Louis Armstrong’s “What a wonderful world”.

Sending my love and light to you, as you progress through this cancer journey. Namaste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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