I was a new mother of a two month old baby girl when I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. Already I was sleep deprived and in the intense learning curve of becoming a parent. Now shock, fear and confusion about treatments were added to my mental and emotional state.
The benefit of having a strong yoga practice was that I always had access to a potential reservoir of calmness and neutrality.
On the surface, my mind was in fear and shock. I believed I needed time to investigate alternative cures that would help me avoid chemotherapy. I called my favorite yoga teacher who helped cut a path for me between the duality of thinking I had to choose EITHER holistic remedies OR go with Western medicine. He encouraged me to be open to the progress and success of western medicine while remaining grounded in what I know has healed my heart and spirit in the past. He recommended benefitting from both: “They (the doctors) have their tools, and you have yours”, he said.
In the cancer journey, you don’t have control over a lot.
But being awake to what is going on inside you (your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations) and learning how to calm your nervous system and nurture yourself are potentially under your control.
Yoga can help you increase your self awareness, lower stress, have more tolerance for the unknown, less pain, less anxiety and fear, and openness to connection with others. Healing can occur on many levels.
How does yoga help?
Yoga helps discharge stress and relax the body’s flight/fight response to fear. It can also create stability of mind.
Before the weekly chemotherapy infusion (every week for 6 months), I went to yoga class at MD Anderson. There I allowed my body and mind to relax so I could open myself to receive the healing benefits of the treatments, instead of constricting and contracting in fear of toxicity.
MD Anderson is conducting rigorous clinical trials on the effectiveness of yoga and meditation. They are finding that people who develop a regular yoga practice have a reduction of intrusive thoughts (obsessive worries), sleep disturbances and cancer related symptoms.
The point of yoga is observing what happens inside you – not how well you can do a posture, or how flexible you are. As a patient or survivor, it is important to always go at your own pace and feel comfortable in your class.
The research further shows that yoga and meditation may improve quality of life, reduce nausea symptoms, and lessen anticipatory anxiety. Fatigue, physical functioning, and stress hormones can be positively improved.
Cultivating moments of stillness leads to stability of mind, compassion for oneself and others, and gratitude for what, in this moment, we have.