Wanna retreat with us??

OK yogis, our April 2023 yoga for breast cancer recovery retreat in Puerto Vallarta is coming up. I am over the moon excited about sharing this special time in this incredible venue. It is going to be epic! We have a really amazing group of beautiful thrivers already registered, and I am working on finalizing plans for all of the yoga, teaching, and adventures. I wanted to update you on some important upcoming dates and information:

January 6, 2023: This is the cut-off date for registration, and I have to have the final room list to the resort at that time! This is less than 5 weeks away, so let me know what questions I can answer to be sure you get registered in time.

February 23, 2023: The final payment of the full balance of your room will be due by this date, so plan accordingly. Some are making smaller payments over time to chip away at it, and I’m happy to accommodate this if you like.

Finally, now is a good time to check your passport and make sure it does not need to be renewed. Also a good time to start looking at flights. If you decide you want to add on extra days before or after the retreat, the resort is offering a special price for 3 days before and 3 days after, so let me know if you want more information about extending your trip!

Please let me know if I can answer any questions. Can’t wait to see you in paradise!

Flying in awareness

While flying back home after a recent trip and looking out the window of the airplane, I saw these gorgeous clouds floating over the image of the earth below, and felt this interesting separation. Up here in the sky, I felt a quiet stillness, protected by that thin lacelike layer of clouds, from the busy bustle of the earth below. Not that I couldn’t see the surface of the earth, with its little towns and highways, and all of the usual activity going on there. But it felt like those delicate and loosely dispersed clouds provided a subtle but real separation. And that got me thinking it was an interesting representation of the buffer that meditation provides us from the busyness of our thinking minds. I often use the image of sinking below the surface of the ocean, dropping below the choppy waves to find the stillness beneath. This is just kindof the opposite imagery; rising above the clouds to escape the busyness below. In either analogy, you get the idea. We can learn to be the calm, still, peaceful awareness behind the activity. And learning to inhabit that place can help us feel so much better when the big storms of life arise.

Mindfulness is the key to learning to take this step back, to shift our awareness, and to be able to calmly observe our thoughts and emotions rather than being swept away by them. And mindfulness comes in so many flavors; from mindful movement to breath or body awareness, from sitting meditation to walking meditation, and from formal to informal mindfulness practices, there is surely something that can work for everybody.

It has been said that “meditation isn’t about trying to change what is; it is about changing our relationship to what is”. And I think this fits perfectly with these images of either rising above or dropping below the fluctuations of the mind. There’s no need to stop the flow of thoughts or emotions, or try to control the world around us, if we can just, instead, shift the way we perceive those things in a way that brings us more presence, more peace, and more contentment.

By practicing focused non-judgemental awareness, even if it is just for a few minutes every day, we train our minds to be able to do this. We train our minds to be able to drop below the surface of the waves…. or to rise above the surface of the clouds, to find that place of stillness and clarity. That panoramic perspective, or that bird’s eye view, so to speak. So each time you spend 5 or 10 minutes practicing gently bringing your awareness back to your breath, or you practice really being mindful of your body’s movements in yoga, or you practice focusing on loving kindness, you strengthen that ability. So give it a try! And if you are a person (like me) who says “I can’t do sitting meditation, I’m just too restless or impatient”, then start with moving meditation. Begin to learn to focus on your breath and your body in moving meditation, and over some time, the restlessness will settle and sitting meditation will become more approachable. And remember, there is no right or wrong way to practice. Just practice!

Why not start now? Set your timer for 5 minutes, close your eyes, and just focus on the sensation of your breath moving in and out. You can focus on the belly or the chest rising and falling, or the air moving in and out at your nostrils, wherever the sensation of the breath is most vivid for you. Each time your mind wanders (and it will), gently bring it back to the breath. Even if you have to bring it back 5,000 times, just keep at it, gently and patiently coming back to the breath, without making it a problem or condemning yourself in some way for the lapse in attention. Just keep practicing noticing what is happening, and being gentle and loving with yourself. Each time you come back, you’ve strengthened your mind a little more. When the timer dings, you are done. Simple as that! Before you know it, not only will you find the meditation gets easier for you, but you may find that you start to crave the little respite, the quiet restful stillness. And then eventually you’ll find yourself flying free, calm, and unaffected by whatever storms or madness might be going on below.

Namaste

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!

Namaste

This is how we do it…

Can you even believe how gorgeous this space is? Well this is one of the spaces we will use for yoga practice at the 2023 Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat in Puerto Vallarta! We’ll just move those loungers out of the way, replace them with our yoga mats, and tada! Daily yoga practice designed specifically for breast cancer survivors, with the glorious Pacific ocean as a backdrop. You might even want to take a quick dip in the ocean after practice to cool off before we head to breakfast! What better way is there to nourish your body and mind, alongside like minded thrivers who are certain to become new friends?! AND, see those pretty little lanterns hanging from that gorgeous shade tree? They light up to make the perfect spot for evening yoga as well. It is going to be truly magical! Are you coming?? Please contact me if you are interested in coming, but need a roommate. And remember, you can bring your partner or support person to join in all of the activities if you like. We are in this together, right? So it is important that they learn how yoga and mindfulness can help us in recovery too!

Click here to access all of the information: https://yogawithleona.com/retreat/

Namaste

Join us for Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery- live on zoom!

You’ve heard me talk about how much I love this program before (https://yogawithleona.com/2020/07/10/book-review-time-again/ and https://yogawithleona.com/2022/06/13/ready-for-more-mindfulness-in-your-cancer-recovery/). And you may recall that I recently became a certified facilitator for MBCR. As you can read in my last blog on the topic, I was originally planning on offering this program in a hybrid format, where much of the educational material would be pre-recorded. However, I then found out that my amazing friend and colleague Ginny Stasinski had also been certified to facilitate and we got to talking. 😉 Ginny is a former nurse turned health and wellness coach, a two time cancer thriver, an incredible athlete/marathoner, a dedicated mindfulness practioner, and a very cool human. We have so much in common, and realized that our shared experience and expertise could combine perfectly to deliver this truly transformative practice to others looking to live more mindfully in their own cancer journeys. We decided that we should team up and offer the full program in the traditional format, where all of the education and practice is delivered live in a group setting so that the participants support and learn from one another as they begin to practice mindfulness and incorporate the practices into their lives. This group format allows everyone to share their experiences, challenges, and insights on what practices worked well, what was hard or easy, how they worked around any obstacles and figured out the best practices for them.

For some brief logistics, MBCR is a 9 week course, which includes weekly zoom meetings (about 90 minutes or so in length), in which we learn a series of different mindfulness practices (including inquiry as well as meditations and very gentle yoga style movements-accessible to anyone), we practice them together, we discuss challenges and experiences, and then we recommend “homework” for you to practice on your own throughout the week.

Shoot me an email (leonabyt@gmail.com) if you are interested in more info or you want to sign up. The cost of the program gets you all 9 zoom sessions, all of the course materials and practice recordings, as well as a FREE trial membership at Yoga with Leona in case you want to check out other yoga practices too. Check the most recent program announcement for pricing, and remember, we do offer a sliding scale for anyone who wants to participate but is not able to pay the full price. Look forward to getting mindful with you!

Namaste

Yoga for Breast Cancer Retreat 2023 is on!!

For any of you who aren’t on Facebook and may not have heard, Yoga with Leona’s 2023 Yoga for breast cancer retreat is officially scheduled! And I am over the moon! So mark your calendars for April 6-11 2023, in glorious Puerto Vallarta Mexico. We will spend 5 incredible nights in a luxury all-inclusive resort right on the beach. This place is beyond amazing. All ocean view rooms, 5 pools, unlimited food and drink, 5 restaurants, 5 bars, oceanfront dining, private beach, and us – a community of like-minded thrivers who understand the challenges of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, and lovingly support and encourage one another in our healing and our growth! We’ll have twice daily yoga practice (all-levels, no experience necessary), educational sessions on yoga and mindfulness specifically for breast cancer survivors, 2 fun outings to discover and explore this tropical paradise, and plenty of time to just relax, unwind, and connect with each other and with nature.

Click here https://yogawithleona.com/retreat/ for all of the details. I expect this retreat to fill up, so register soon to secure your spot! Send me an email with any questions or to get that registration finalized (leonabyt@gmail.com). See you in paradise.

Namaste 🙏🏼

Loving ourselves and our bodies through cancer and aging

You all know I’m a classic rock lover. The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Rolling Stones, and bands like these are my jam. But I do listen to pop music on the radio when I’m tooling around town. And I’ve been obsessing on this song from Lizzo lately, called About Damn Time. What first hooked me was this lyric “I’m not the girl I was or used to be….. Bitch, I might be better”, but since then I love it on a lot of levels. Check it out if you haven’t heard it (and if u are ok w a little of the b-word 😉 ).

So the reason it hooked me is I’ve been thinking alot about embracing our changes, respecting and loving – even revering – how our bodies morph and change over time. Instead of dreading and hating these changes and feeling this negative energy, sadness, or animosity toward our own selves, why don’t we recognize all of these changes as 1) completely natural and 2) signs that we have lived rich and full lives and overcome so many obstacles?! Why can’t we see that in fact – bitch, we might be better! From our scars to our laugh lines, to stretch marks and weird fat rolls (like the ones on my side in this pic), to cellulite and sun spots, and even including our emotional quirks and habits, all of these changes are simply our bodies’ way of responding – responding to our life, to the challenges we’ve faced, to the friends we’ve made, to the adventures we’ve met, to the threats we’ve overcome, to the fun we’ve had, and even to the not-so-fun moments that have really kept us human. I’ve been thinking of my body (and mind I suppose) as a beautiful tapestry of all of my life’s experiences up to this point. Because really, our bodies are on our side! They’re just trying to protect us, right? To keep everything together despite whatver life throws our way. They don’t make those changes just to mess with us and piss us off. Our bodies and our minds respond in the best way they know how to keep us healthy and safe. So instead of being mad and disgusted at my radiation-scarred breast, I try to send some love there, to thank my skin and tissues for healing me from that damn radiation. I wink to those crow’s feet that bring back memories of so many great laughs, and those sun spots that remind me of so many fun days outside. Even to those weird fat deposits (when did that get there?! LOL) that remind me of some fabulous meals or margaritas that I have shared with my loved ones. And I’m truly grateful. I’m grateful for my body. She’s carried me through quite a lot of madness over the years and I’m still here! Thanks to all of her hard work, I’m here to enjoy another day, another yoga practice, another walk in town, another margarita w my hubs, another whatever life brings me next!

If any of this resonates with you, or these are themes you are working on in your own life, check out Ram Dass’ book Still Here. I just finished it and actually lent my copy to a close friend because I loved it so much and I thought it would help her too. It inspired much of my recent introspection and re-orienting of my feelings about aging and changing, and seeing those changes as positive and sources of joy and gratitude, rather than sadness, defeat, and decay. Ram Dass’ wisdom and inspiration are vast and profound. Check out an excerpt from the book here: https://www.ramdass.org/still-here/.

So let’s love ourselves and our bodies, just as we are. Echoing back to Lizzo, It’s about damn time!

Namaste

Determination in backbending

Here is a little progress log of me working on my back flexibility over the last several months. It is funny that I happen to be wearing the same outfit in each pic! I guess it is my favorite these days. The angles of the pix are somewhat different, but you can see my head getting ever closer to my foot! And my knee closer to the wall meaning more hip flexor openness. The eventual goal is to be able to catch that foot with my hands, to make that shape for example in dancer pose (natarajasana) or in one legged king pigeon (eka pada rajakapotasana) or in full camel (called paripurna ustrasana or kapotasana). As I always say, arriving at the goal is less important than what we learn along the way, but it is fun to see the progress. What am I learning along the way? A little about the specific areas of the body that I need to work on and a little about the quality of the effort that works best to see that progress unfold.

As you may recall me lamenting, back flexibility is one of my biggest physical challenges in yoga. I’m pretty strong and my legs are flexible, but my back? Not so much! 😉 I found this new stretch about 6 months ago and decided to try it, hoping to continue to tap into some flexibility in my spine, especially in the upper back/shoulders and in the low back/hips. It is sort of a modification of King Arthur’s pose against a wall. The upper back/shoulder tightness has been a longstanding challenge, but was made quite a bit worse by my breast cancer treatment, so it is something I really try to focus on. Recall that the scarring we develop on the front side of our chest as a result of breast cancer surgery and/or radiation causes a contraction of the front side of our chest/shoulders, which makes extending the spine (aka backbending) more challenging. So if you have a stiff upper back or a forward hunching of your shoulders, this may be part of the reason. But this is even more reason why we need to really keep after it. If we don’t continually stretch and open that front side, the tightness and contraction in those areas of scarring can worsen. For this area, getting the arms up and over the head is important (see middle and right images). I have also really been loving puppy dog pose for opening this same area recently (Click here to see puppy dog https://youtu.be/tsD3QRU-UsU).

The other area that this new stretch works on is the hip flexors. You don’t initially think that the hip flexors are that involved in backbending, but in fact they are! Just imagine the front-body tightness I discussed in the upper torso, and translate that to the front side of the lower abdomen and pelvis. Overly tight hip flexors cause contraction of the front side of that area, thus also limiting backbending. The hip flexors are a group of several different muscles that flex (or bring the thigh forward/up) the hip joint. They include the large muscles on the front of your thigh, but also a lesser-known group of muscles called the iliopsoas that originate deep inside the abdomen/pelvis and then cross the hip joint and insert onto the femur (thigh bone). The iliopsoas is very commonly tight, especially in those of us who spend a lot of time sitting for our jobs, and is an infamous culprit in chronic back pain. I think it was a big source of my back pain years ago. So learning to strengthen AND stretch the iliopsoas, along with the other hip flexors can really help us feel better. And get us closer to those fun backbends we want to be able to do.

Working on our challenging areas requires patience, commitment, and determination, but it is important to remember to keep an element of gentleness and compassion for yourself at all times. Recall tapas, from the niyamas of yoga philosophy, which teaches us self-discipline, to keep up that inner fire that drives us to keep putting in the effort. But recall also, that tapas isn’t meant to be a penance or self-flagellation. This is why I love this quote from Pema Chodron, whose wisdom continues to guide me: “Determination means to use every challenge you meet as an opportunity to open your heart and soften, determined not to withdraw”. I love this idea of the juxtaposition of the commitment and effort with this element of softness and open-heartedness. As opposed to a sort of gripping or forceful effort. And this is especially true when working on backbending, where gripping and forcing get you nowhere and in fact probably hinder your progress! Probably many of our challenges in life are just like backbending. Scary, uncomfortable, slow to see change, frustrating if you allow them to be….. but also surprisingly accessible if we just approach them gently, thoughtfully, and keep up that persistent effort. And WOW once we begin to crack them open, they feel sooo delicious, and even tiny bits of progress are rewarding and empowering.

So if you have a stiff back like I do, whether from the upper back, the lower back and hips, or wherever, give this posture a try. As with everything in yoga, start low, go slow, and listen to your body. And as with all backbends, focus on lengthening and extending the spine, stretching up and out of your hips as you bend back. Don’t dump into and compress the low back. Work at it slowly, patiently, but with softness and an open heart, determined not to withdraw.

Namaste

May we stay…. forever young?

Today is my birthday!! I’m 46 years young, though I admit I’ve been telling people I am 39 for the past 7 years. Just kidding. Kindof. 😉

I love Bob Dylan, and love his version of this song, Forever Young. But I am absolutely realizing that I should embrace each year as it passes, rather than resisting and resenting them, or wishing I could stay young forever (at least chronologically young anyway). As Mark Twain said “Do not complain about growing old. It is a privilege denied to many”. And I feel that in my bones. Traversing a life threatening illness like cancer definitely makes us realize that we should celebrate each year we get to live this beautiful life. Each year we get to spend loving the people around us. Each year we get to learn new things, to read new books, to see new sights, and to see the same old sights in fresh new ways. Each year we get to breathe more deeply, to connect with ourselves and with others in new ways, to love and understand our true selves more, and to simply enjoy being here now.

So today, I’m celebrating this new year that I have been gifted. My heart will always be joyful. My song will always be sung. And I will stay….. forever young (at heart, though probably not in body, but I’m going to celebrate those wrinkles too, as they are signs that I’ve lived and laughed and smiled all year long!).

Sending big birthday girl love to you all!

Namaste

Ready for more mindfulness in your cancer recovery?

Guess what?! I have some exciting news to share. I am now a certified facilitator for the Mindfulness Based Cancer Recovery program! Remember how much I love the book on MBCR? Here is a link to my old book report on the topic: https://yogawithleona.com/2020/07/10/book-review-time-again/. You know I have been a big fan of this book and this methodology for years. So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that the authors were offering this training course to healthcare professionals who want to lead and share the program. I knew I had to do it!

This program is truly a gold mine of simple strategies to train our bodies and minds to operate from a place of mindfulness, so that we can navigate this crazy cancer experience with more clarity, peace, and ease. And when we operate from this place, we suffer less and find more joy in each day, regardless of what challenges we might be dealing with.

If that sounds good to you, check out this video introduction. I’m going to be spending the next few months working on putting together a series of videos to train you in each step of the program. So let me know if you’d like to be on the list to hear first when that is up and available!

Namaste

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