Yoga for Cancer… & Stress, Strength, Mental Clarity and Everything Else You Could Possibly Want

Stuck in the belief system that if you’re not working out at high intensities or pumping heavy iron, you won’t see results, yoga was nowhere on my radar for years. My interest in yoga didn’t develop until a cleanse I was following recommended it as a gentle practice to aid detoxification. Committed to achieving the best results, I followed the advice and found a Bikram studio in Chicago. During my first class, I noticed my ability to perform the yoga asanas or poses was compromised on my left side. The trouble was due to a three degree tear of my PCL (posterior cruciate ligament). I was 28 years old at the time and felt defeated by my body’s lack of strength, flexibility and agility. But I wasn’t about to give up. I kept going back and after a few classes noticed I was able to move slightly deeper into the pose each day. My progress excited and kept me committed. After 30 days, both sides of my body were equally strong and flexible—nothing shy of a miracle from where I started.
My yoga practice has fluctuated over the years. I’ve experimented with different studios, teachers, and styles. Before my breast cancer diagnosis, yoga had taken a back seat to skiing, mountain biking and hiking. After my diagnosis, I was thankful to have this practice to fall back on. Yoga has served as the only form of exercise I have consistently stuck with throughout my treatment and healing. It is my primary form of exercise, and surprise surprise, I’ve never felt stronger, leaner and more fit.
There are many excuses one can make to avoid yoga including, 1) I’ve never done it, 2) I’ll hate it, 3) It’s not for me, 4) It’s for women only, 5) My booty looks big in yoga pants, 6) Yoga is for tree hugging, granola munching, crunchy people only, 7) I’m too wound up, 8) I don’t have time, 9) It’s too spiritual, 10) I’m not flexible, 11) I’m too tired, 12) I’m too sick, 13) I like beer and hot dogs and, therefore, couldn’t possibly do yoga, 14) Fill in your excuse here _____. If you find yourself making any of these excuses, yoga will likely be perfect for you!
How to Succeed at Yoga
Keep an open mind
Everything you do for the first time feels strange in some way. As adults, it’s uncomfortable not knowing what you’re doing. Check your expectations and insecurities at the door and allow your experience to unfold naturally. You might be pleasantly surprised with what you find if go in without any preconceived notions of what yoga should or shouldn’t be.
Find a studio and teachers you love
I stopped my yoga practice a few years ago because the gym I joined lacked the environment and teachers I desired. Instead of seeking out what I wanted, I quit. Now I’m at a gym I love, with a yoga studio that meets my needs, and has teachers I enjoy. Trust your gut. If the class or studio feels off to you, shop around until you find what feels right. If you live in a location where one of the daily deal sites offers discounts, I’d start there. I purchased a 20-punch card in Phoenix for $10 at what turned out to be an excellent studio. Alternatively, go with a friend and try their studio. See if they can get you a guest card. Some places will offer the first class for free.
Understand no one is looking at you
Recently, a regular in my class asked me to let him know if is underwear poked out during class. I said he’d have to figure that out himself because the odds of me looking at him, even though he was in the row ahead of me, were slim to none. Most people in your class have likely been doing yoga long enough to know what’s going on. We are focused on our breath and the intention we set for our practice. You might look around the room to figure out what you’re doing, which is natural. But the majority of us are in a world of our own. No one will notice if you can’t do a pose. One day soon, you won’t be looking at anyone else either.
Wear something you feel comfortable in
Lululemon has contributed to the illusion that yoga class is a fashion show. It’s not. If you feel judged by what you wear, you’re at the wrong studio. Wear what you’d usually work out in and adjust going forward as needed.
Make it about you and what you need
We’re all on the mat for different reasons. Discover what you need and set an intention for each class. Listen to your body. If a posture is hurting, stop. Talk to the teacher. Let them know what’s going on. If you’re tired, rest. During my intensive treatment phase, I spent a disproportionate amount of class in child’s pose while everyone else toughed it out. I couldn’t have cared less. I was proud to be there and acknowledged the benefit of being in child’s or corpse pose, as opposed to being home in bed. Honor your body and what it needs.
Why Yoga Will be the Best Practice of Your Life
The benefits are immeasurable, but here are several reasons to get on the mat 
Decreases stress. Releases endorphins. Builds strength (inner and outer) and increases flexibility. Drains lymphatic system (flushing junk from treatment out of your body). Provides mental clarity. Enhances respiration. Leads to better bone health. Gets your blood flowing. Boosts immunity. Regulates adrenal glands. Supports proper digestion. Reduces pain. Improves your relationships. Balances your brain. Makes you happy!!! The benefits are endless.
I love my yoga practice. When my mind is spinning a mile a minute, it helps me reel in my crazy thoughts. When my body feels sluggish, tight and off, yoga provides me with energy I didn’t think I had. When I can’t let go of thoughts, they emerge and are released during class. When I’ve felt unable to workout at my usual levels, yoga gave me a way to move my body that felt nourishing and empowering. Today, as a result of my continuing yoga practice I am stronger than ever–physically and mentally.
Now that you’re all ready to stretch, strengthen and relax…..
Photo Creds: my strong, brave, fierce yoga teacher who captured me as I fell. Yoga is a practice.

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