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.)

Happy Pinktober?

Well today is the first day of Pinktober, or breast cancer awareness month. And it can have many breast cancer survivors feeling a little mixed up. On the one hand, we all agree that awareness is important and if all the pink helps remind or encourage just one woman to get a mammogram that finds an early stage breast cancer and saves her life, then that is awesome! And I think that it probably does that. We appreciate the increased awareness and the plug for more research and improvement in outcomes for this too-common disease, which despite vast improvements still causes a lot of suffering and too many lost lives. On the other hand, it can feel a little over-commercialized (what doesn’t these days, really?), and like a bit of a marketing scheme to sell pink-colored everything. I do kindof love it when all the NFL guys are in their pink-accented uniforms though, I have to admit, ;). I know many women, too, suspect that much of the money that is supposed to go toward breast cancer research or to help real actual breast cancer patients might not make it to its intended recipients. (If you really want to dig into where the money goes, you can look up many of these non-profits on a website called Guidestar. It is pretty interesting). And for some of us, every pink food label and pink tv commercial just forces us to think about a really traumatic time in our lives that we’d rather not think about all day and night. I totally understand all of the different sides of this complicated quagmire.

I guess my main thought on the subject is that it is ok, whatever it is that you feel in response to this coming sea of pink. If you love it, and you feel seen and supported, that is great. Pink it up! If you dislike it and it kindof makes you sick, that is totally ok too. We all respond to the ups and downs of this crazy cancer journey differently, and no one response is right or wrong. I invite you just to be aware of how you feel (every month, but especially this one), and be loving and kind with yourself and others. Most people have good intentions, even if they are ill-informed or aren’t in line with our own feelings on the subject. Just being aware of it when we are feeling a little triggered or overwhelmed by the pink-washing is the beginning of learning not to let it get to us. We have enough to worry about, right? Why let this add to the list? Consider it another opportunity to practice our mindfulness and our equanimity. An opportunity to practice stopping, noticing whatever reaction we are having, taking a few deep breaths, and letting it go or letting it be, as you wish.

Big big love to you all, this month and every month!


Where will you choose to focus your energy today to help you feel your best in cancer recovery?

Don’t you love the new-ish ability of our cell phone cameras to shift their point of focus through the picture? So you can decide which part of the image you want to be in focus, and which part will be sortof out of focus? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could learn to do the same?! To consciously shift our focus. To choose where we want to place our awareness, to be able to direct our attention at will. This would allow us to shift our focus off of things that we deem less than ideal, less helpful for our well-being; things like fear, anger, regrets about the past or worries about the future? And we could then consciously shift our awareness instead onto things that are better for us, that help us be present, joyful, grateful, connected? Things like gratitude practice, compassion (for self and others), time with loved ones, slowing down to appreciate the beauty around us…. and on and on. What would YOU choose to focus on? Take a minute to think about it.

Wanna know the good news? We CAN! We CAN learn to do this. It just takes practice. And this is one of the main benefits of practices like mindfulness and meditation (and of course yoga as a moving mindfulness practice). These practices train us to:

1. First become aware of where and what our focus and awareness are doing at any given point. Most of the time, unfortunately, we are totally unaware, while our minds and emotions are off galavanting about, jerking us around, dragging us through complicated gyrations and whirlwinds, without any real conscious approval from us. Because, let’s face it, if we COULD choose, we would never choose some of the places our minds go, right? But our untrained minds develop these habits (remember negativity bias) in an attempt to try to protect us, not realizing that the actual result is usually more suffering.

2. Next, once we begin to notice these fluctuations of our awareness, we can begin to understand how each one makes us feel, how it deeply affects the quality of our everyday experience. For example, when you find your mind running off to crazy fears, how does that make you feel, physically or emotionally? Muscle tension, stomach upset, heart palpitating, breath shallow, irritability, impatience? Not ways we would CHOOSE to feel, right? How about when you are exercising, or working in the garden, praying, meditating, laughing with your best friend, or petting your cat? Do you feel relaxed, peaceful, heart full and open, grateful, hopeful, confident? These are things we WOULD choose if we could, right?

3. And then, through practice, we learn to consciously direct our focus, our awareness, to the places of our choosing, to the places that we know will help us feel our best. We begin to recognize more quickly when we are falling into a less favorable place, and we consciously move our awareness to a better option. For example, when I notice my mind falling into a pit of fear or judgement (which of course are totally normal, but just aren’t my favorite places to stay), I’ll usually take a few deep breaths, and then choose how I’m going to pull myself out of it. Make a gratitude list, repeat a prayer/mantra/song that relaxes or soothes me, set positive intentions for a loved one or for myself, a few minutes of square breathing or stretching, or a quick change of scenery like going for a walk, taking a hot shower, or checking on my plants. By practicing mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or other mind-body exercises, we learn which tools work best for us, and then we get good at quickly putting them into action when needed.

What is most interesting about all of this is that it is really a pretty simple thing to learn to do. It just takes practice. And our minds are sooooo amazingly powerful once we just learn to use them for our benefit, rather than being drug around unwittingly by those wild and untrained thoughts. Swami Vivekananda said “The powers of the mind are like the rays of the sun; when they are concentrated, they illumine”. By learning focused awareness, we can direct that power like a laser beam, to illumine and develop our strengths. And while this skill would be helpful to anyone, it can be particularly helpful for us as cancer survivors, as we navigate through all of the extra ups and downs that having cancer brings.

So keep practicing, learn to consciously bring things into or out of your awareness at will. Focus on the things you choose to focus on, shine the light onto your best and highest self, and see the overall quality of your experience grow and blossom.


THIS is yoga too

Most yoga photos show big, dramatic, or graceful poses, often with pretty nature backgrounds or even sometimes contrasting with busy urban settings. I love yoga photography, and full transparency, I love those pix of the big, beautiful, challenging postures. They are gorgeous and inspiring. But I think it is imperative that we remember that the real work of yoga, and the real benefits of yoga, don’t come from these snapshots in time, nor from the mastery of fancy postures. The real magic of yoga comes from the deeper work. From the quiet, contemplative, and introspective moments on our mat. In those moments that don’t look so impressive on the outside, where we are connecting, not just to our bodies, but to an even deeper place of stillness, of inner peace, of bliss.

Don’t get me wrong, a strong, vigorous, energetic yoga practice is so healing and empowering, as it deepens our connection to our body and reminds us of how truly powerful we are. This is especially true for those of us healing from a cancer experience. I LOVE this aspect of my vigorous vinyasa practice, and am so grateful for it. But to me, the even more profound benefits of yoga are found in those quiet moments, deeper than the physical body. That inner peace and bliss can be found in a simple easy seated pose like the one in the photo, OR inside of a big, vigorous pose. Enjoy them all. Embrace those big poses and revel in your strength, but take care not to get distracted and lose sight of the simple, quiet ones as well. Just stay connected to that inner stillness throughout, and you will get the most out of this truly transformative practice.

Namaste yogis

Photo cred to my beautiful and talented friend, Emily Cesca Photography

Learning to just BE with our cancer experience

Robert Frost said “The only way out is through”, and I feel that one in my bones. Some moments in our cancer journey are so painful that it seems like we just want to curl up and hope it is all a bad dream, just bury our heads in the proverbial sand, or distract ourselves in any way possible just to avoid facing it all. We might try to stuff our emotions and fears deep down inside of us, in attempt to avoid the pain of really feeling them. But it turns out that we can’t truly heal in this way. In order to truly heal, in body, mind, and spirit, we have to confront our experience and all of its parts, be they good, bad, or ugly. And I used the word confront, but I don’t mean in a confrontational kind of way. I mean openly accepting the situation, including our inner experience and our reactions to the experience, with curiosity, with courage, with a calm heart and and a big dose of loving kindness toward ourselves. It is only when we allow ourselves to really feel our experience, without judging it, just allowing it to be what it is, that a sense of peaceful acceptance can begin to wash over us, and some of those more difficult emotions just dissolve away on their own. I’m not suggesting that this is easy, or that we just take 3 deep breaths and then everything is peachy. This is hard work and it often takes a little time. And that time, while we just sit with our discomfort, with our suffering, our pain, or our fears, can be really difficult. It isn’t something we often do, even in normal life outside the realm of cancer. We humans tend to move away from suffering in any way that we can, often at great cost to ourselves and our healing. Interestingly, in this way, cancer is a great teacher. Because really, no matter how hard you try, you can’t get away from it. So it forces us to learn how to just BE with it. To just experience it all. And once we relax into accepting this, it is a truly powerful feeling, this inner strength imbued with a sense of peace, no longer struggling or resisting against ourselves. We recognize that we are so much stronger and more resilient than we thought. That we don’t have to run away any time something feels hard. That it is ok to just stop running, breathe, and face whatever challenge is happening. A tremendous shift can then occur, and whatever suffering was there transforms itself into strength.

Yoga practice trains us in this same way, as we breathe calmly and stay in sometimes painful or difficult positions for a few breaths longer than we would like, rather than falling out or running out of the room. As BKS Iyengar put it, “Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured”. This practice strengthens not only our bodies, but more importantly our minds, our will, and our resolve. We learn to really tune in to ourselves, just BEing with whatever our situation requires us to do. This is some of the magic of yoga.

So next time you are in utkatasana (chair pose), navasana (boat pose), or whatever your most challenging pose is, remember you are training yourself to breathe and stay with the challenge, to overcome the reflex to just run away, freeing yourself to be the peaceful and powerful warrior you truly are. Rock on warriors, and make your way through!


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 ( 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 (

Namaste friends

Yoga will optimize your coping strategies in cancer survivorship, greatly improving quality of life

If you’ve been following for a while, you’ve heard me say many times that yoga is SO much more than just the physical practices/exercises (asana). The full practice of yoga is a holistic mind-body practice for harmonizing our whole being, including guidance for thought patterns/behaviors, breathing practices, concentration, and meditation, along with the physical practices (click here for more info This whole mind-body program not only gets our physical bodies healthier, stronger, and more flexible, but also helps our minds to work with more clarity, balance, peace, and joy (and thereby less anxiety, tension, agitation, or confusion). How does it do this?? By training us in practices that not only tone our bodies, but that cultivate healthier mindsets, coping strategies, mental resilience, and tools to better manage our emotions. And just like anything, the more we practice all of these mind-body techniques, the better we get at them, and the more they become our baseline condition, making life and all of its challenges simpler and easier.

Let’s face it, cancer is the shits. I mean it. It is not easy. I recently learned that a cancer diagnosis is actually defined as a type of trauma in the DSM-5 (the book health care providers use to categorize mental disorders), and there is a whole literature on the traumatic experience of cancer. It literally rocks our worlds, threatens everything about our lives including our lives themselves, and puts us through innnumerable intense challenges of body and mind. I hear so many survivors (in active treatment or beyond) saying things like “Will I ever feel normal again?”, “Will this dark cloud hanging over me ever pass?”, “Why can’t I get back to my fun former self?”, “I can’t stop feeling sad and frustrated”, “My body is wrecked and I’m so down on myself”, and “Nobody around me understands”. But then, on the other end of the spectrum, some women seem to breeze through this awful experience, minimally affected, confident, active, and unscathed. So why the difference? Of course, there are clear differences in our bodies and how they handle treatment, and so some women suffer more severe side effects than others. Not to mention that our cancers are all different, so the treatments themselves vary as well. But some of this difference, I believe, comes from how we cope and the attitude that we bring to the table. From the lense through which we see this cancer experience. We all have different coping strategies that we have developed throughout our lives, from early childhood through adulthood, and all of our experiences along the way. These different patterns for how we cope and deal with stress have been studied extensively in cancer survivors, and have been shown to correlate with many outcomes, including overall quality of life, mood/depression/anxiety, fatigue, and even pain. Examples of different attitudes or coping strategies include: acceptance, positive refocusing, refocus on planning, positive reappraisal (attaching a positive meaning to a negative event in the context of personal growth), fighting spirit, catastrophizing, anxious preoccupation, helpless-hopelessness, rumination, and blame (self or others).

These coping strategies and attitudes, of course, are not fixed. They can be changed, but it takes some recognition and some effort. We have all developed the strategies and attitudes we have for a reason, likely related to trying to protect ourselves in some prior challenging situation. And in no way do I mean to suggest that our suffering is our own fault, for being the way that we are. I only mean to say that this is an area where we have some control over how our experience goes. We can learn to cultivate the healthier, more adaptive strategies and attitudes, and thereby help ourselves struggle less with the situation. For example, one can see how catastrophizing is one of the maladaptive strategies, and how it just leads to more anxiety and distress. Why would we want to keep doing that to ourselves, if we can see it and learn to change it? On the other hand, refocus on planning helps us to rationally consider what next steps we need to take to get through, giving us some sense of control and easing anxiety and fear of an unknown future. Similarly, acceptance (as opposed to ruminating on “why did this happen?” and struggling against things we cannot change, like the fact that we have this cancer diagnosis) brings a sense of peace and calm to our minds, allowing us to see with more clarity and less emotional reativity. You can go on and on, and investigate each quality and understand how it might have positive or negative impact on your state of mind, and your overall quality of life. Maybe take a few minutes looking at that list of coping strategies/attitudes and see if any of them sound like things that you commonly do in the face of stress or difficulty. Or specifically in the context of your cancer. Do you see them as helpful or harmful? Are there any that you would really like to down-regulate? Or any you’d like to get better at?

In the medical mental health world, we use something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help us identify and examine our thoughts/beliefs/attitudes, and then change them as needed to improve emotional regulation and optimize coping strategies. This type of therapy has been studied in breast cancer survivors, and found to help a number of things including sleep, fatigue, anxiety, relaxation, positive mood, and others. If you are really struggling, ask your Dr if you might be a candidate for a referral to a therapist to help you in this way.

In a prior blog introducing the idea of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, linked above, I describe an awesome TED talk in which a psychotherapist referred to yoga as “the original cognitive behavioral therapy”! Because just like in CBT in a therapist’s office, yoga helps us to look deeply and honestly at ourselves, to see how we react and how our minds and bodies respond to those reactions. Then yoga helps us by guiding us with ideas on more adaptive ways of seeing and thinking, and then asking us to practice those techniques over and over, until we begin to incorporate them. In doing so, yoga is truly a transformational practice. It not only improves our bodies and how they work, but with some effort and study, yoga can change the way our minds work, leaving us with healthier attitudes, thought patterns, habits, and coping mechanisms. Yoga trains us in some of the very things that CBT teaches, such as acceptance, positive reappraisal, trust, non-attachment, etc. This is why all of my yoga practices have a theme, an idea or mental practice to go along with the physical practice. And why I write so many blogs on such topics. Because I believe, especially for us cancer survivors, yoga’s ability to improve our minds may be even more important than the amazing benefits it carries for our bodies.

So yes, cancer sucks big time. That’s a fact. But we don’t have to let it suck the life, the fun, the love, and the joy out of us. With a little attention to our mindset and how we approach the experience, we can adjust our sails and traverse the suffering with so much more ease, minimizing side effects and optimizing our mood, quality of life, and overall experience. Why not give it a try?!


Tune in to your inner light and intuitive wisdom

Being diagnosed with cancer and traversing the frightening landscape of testing, waiting, chemo, surgery, radiation, more waiting (all of which are often darkened with the shadow of the unknown) can really knock the wind out of us. It can leave us feeling unsteady, unsure of ourselves, doubtful, fearful, weak, and alone. It might even feel like trying to walk in quicksand, unable to get solid footing or grasp onto anything stable, secure, or reliable. At these times, of course it is so important to have supportive people in our lives, such as family or partners who can offer a shoulder to cry on, and ear for listening, or a strong arm to lean on for stability. Also our sisters and brothers in the cancer journey can often lend some helpful advice from their own experiences. These are invaluable.

But my thought for the day has to do with the value of really tuning in and finding that light within ourselves that represents our own personal true north. The story goes that the Buddha, just before he died said to his disciples, “Be a light unto yourself”. Even though he had been their trusted teacher and spiritual leader, he encouraged them not to rely on the wisdom of others, but to learn to see it, each within himself. We can read a million books and listen to innumerable stories, but no one else’s experience is exactly the same as our own, and nobody else is in exactly the same place in their life when cancer hits as we are. Nobody else’s cancer is exactly the same as ours, nor is the complicated milieu of the rest of their body (immune system, hormones, metabolism, etc) or mind (emotions, mood, spiritual well-being, etc) exactly the same as our own. It is also sadly true that there may come a time when certain support systems are unavailable or they have their own issues and so can’t be such a help to us. So while it is important to have support from those around us, it is even more important to find the wisdom, clarity, peace, faith, and light that come from within us. We must find the light of our own spirit, no matter how dulled it might appear from the trauma of our experience, no matter how obscured it seems by our scars and the other changes in our bodies. Once we find that light and remember that it is always there, and will always be there, we can become comfortable with it, comforted by it. We can learn to trust our own light, our intuition, our true selves. And once we do, we’ll find our footing again, even in the quicksand, we’ll find a well of strength and adaptability that can handle any obstacle and figure out any challenge. That doubt and fear will give way and we will know that we are ok, even if the worst possible things are happening around us. Whenever hardship or grief arise, we’ll be able to tune in, to dig deep and channel our own inner resources for wisdom, strength, resilience, and peace.

The true practice of yoga, including all 8 limbs as originally described by Patanjali and as practiced by millions over the centuries, is the perfect training ground for developing this ability to tune in to our inner light. Yoga teaches us to cultivate attitudes and behaviors that are aligned with our highest selves, to practice breath awareness and breath control which work to settle the mind and the nervous system, to connect deeply with, understand, and appreciate our bodies in asana, to learn to center and focus the mind, and to really actualize that union of body, mind, and spirit. In all of these ways, yoga grounds us, helps us recognize the light in ourselves, fans the flames to keep that light strong, and keeps us connected to it, so that we don’t lose sight of it and lose our footing again. Or if we do, it won’t be for long, and we’ll be able to quickly right ourselves and regain that sense of peace and composure, confident that we can weather any storm. I know that this practice of yoga has done so for me, and that it has made an enormous difference in how I travel on this cancer journey. I hope that you will find the same.


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.


A serene encounter with reality has to be good

Continuing along in our discovery of Patanjali’s 8 limbs of yoga, this week we will take a look at the 7th limb, dhyana, sometimes described simply as “meditation”. But, for me, it requires a little more description to get the full flavor of what dhyana truly means. It is not just “meditation”, as in “I’m sitting on my cushion and doing my meditation”, but perhaps better explained as meditative absorption, or a state of alert awareness in which we are no longer “trying” to meditate or “doing” meditation, but rather we ease into meditative awareness as a state of being. We are no longer actively trying to focus and concentrate (as in the 6th limb, dharana), and no longer actively thinking about or judging the focus of our concentration. Instead, we relax into a state of keen awareness and stillness (inner stillness even though we might be physically moving), in which that state of doing transforms into our state of being and profound clarity arises. Some describe this as being “in the flow” or “in the zone”, as a condition in which we feel a free flow of our energy and awareness, unencumbered by the thinking mind, generally imbued with some sense of peace or joy.

You all know how I love quotes and I couldn’t choose just one today. A few of my favorite quotes about meditation include Thich Nhat Hanh’s “In mindfulness, one is not only restful and happy, but alert and awake. Meditation is not evasion: it is a serene encounter with reality”, Deepak Chopra’s “Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day”, and Osho’s “Meditation is a surrender, it is not a demand. It is not forcing existence your way. It is relaxing into the way existence wants you to be. It is a let-go”. Each of these quotes so eloquently describes what is really happening in meditation, or dhyana.

Importantly, you don’t have to sit in a certain position or on a special cushion to enter into dhyana and get the benefits of meditation. This state can be entered into in the midst of our other daily activities. My favorite style of meditation is actually the moving meditation that I can sometimes achieve during my yoga asana practice. I say sometimes because I’m not always able to transcend my pesky thoughts and reach that place, but when I can, the yoga practice carries with it even more magic than ever. Sitting meditation is the style most people associate with the term meditation, but there are many options, including walking meditation, any number of mindfulness practices, mantra meditation, loving kindness or metta meditation, and many others. Moreover, many people are able to reach a state of dhyana, or meditative absorption, while doing other activities like painting, singing, gardening, hiking, playing with children, or whatever gets you out of your head and into the flow. So open your mind and explore the idea of dhyana and what methods might work for you. If you are a runner or a swimmer and you know that those activities are what get you into that flow state, then keep doing those! If sitting meditation or yoga work best for you, keep doing those! But remember not to try to force anything to happen. Then you’ll just be getting in your own way. Just keep practicing, and it will come.

Why should we do these practices? Most are familiar with some of the benefits of meditation, including things like stress relief, improved mood, reduced fatigue, improved concentration and efficiency. But there are other fascinating benefits including improved blood pressure, pain control, reduced signs of aging and memory loss, improved immune function, reduced inflammation, and improved self-awareness. Many of these benefits have been studied and documented in cancer survivors as well as the general population. It is easy to see how cancer survivors would benefit especially, and ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) now recommend meditation for cancer survivors based on the proven benefits! But just as TNH says above, meditation is not evasion. We don’t use it to escape from our life or our problems, but instead to allow ourselves to experience our current situation with clarity, serenity, equanimity, and freedom from the judgements of the thinking mind and the emotions that accompany them. Ahhhhhhh, how refreshing! And this simple practice doesn’t require expensive or complicated equipment; just you, your awareness, and some time and effort!

So give it a try! Many cancer centers now offer meditation classes. You can also learn on line, or read a book ( But as with everything in yoga, be patient and compassionate with yourself. This is a practice, with no right or wrong way, and no winners and losers.