„Hope is not a plan. Yoga can be.“
These are not my words. They are the words of my teacher, the great Tari Prinster, founder of the Yoga 4 Cancer methodology. Why am I starting this article with her words? Because nobody has as much experience in working with cancer patients. And nobody deserves more credit for her outstanding pioneer’s work in this area than her.
Everybody knows: yoga is good for you. It makes you stronger, more flexible, and more at ease with yourself. But do you know why this is the case? What the science behind yoga is? When you work with cancer patients, the science behind yoga becomes key. Because you are dealing with people who live under very special circumstances: they are traumatized by their diagnosis, they fear for their lives, they are suffering from the side effects of treatments like chemotherapy, and their bodies and minds are scarred by surgery and the experience of a severe and possibly deadly illness.
If you look at this package, you begin to understand that empathy is not enough to help. It takes knowledge. Knowledge about the psychological and physical state of cancer patients. And this is where the holistic approach of yoga comes in.
Let’s talk about the mind first: The mind is a restless thing – no wonder it is often referred to as “the monkey mind”. It is always busy projecting, judging, analyzing, worrying and planning, even when you are living a healthy, normal life. Now picture the mind of someone who just found out that she or he has cancer. You can’t imagine the explosion of thoughts and fears that happen in this person’s head. A simple “count your breath” meditation will not calm her or him down. And forget about the popular body scan – who wants to visit affected body areas and be reminded of their illness? As a yoga teacher who works with cancer patients, you need to look deeper. You need to be more careful. And you need to be more creative. Ever heard of Bhramari Pranayama and its stimulating effects on the parasympathetic nervous system? The vibration of the humming bee breath creates a soothing effect on the mind and nervous system. Well, now we’re talking!
And already, we are entering the physical aspects of yoga and cancer. What do cancer patients need that normal people do not need? The answer is exact knowledge about their surgery, their treatments' side effects and ways that help managing them. The list of problems is long: nausea, constipation, diarrhea, dry mouth and nose, fatigue, insomnia, heart problems, memory loss, menopausal symptoms (for women), lymphedema, neuropathy, numbness, dizziness, low white blood cell count, bone loss, scar tissue formation, weakness, weight changes and many more. And all of this comes in an individual mix that varies from person to person, from cancer to cancer and from treatment to treatment.
So how do you provide a safe class for such a diverse group of students? By being aware of their individual mental and physical challenges. By offering modifications to each posture. And by undergoing a special training that focuses on the needs of cancer patients. A trained teacher knows which postures help with lymphedema or bone loss, which exercises stimulate the immune system, which movements assist in detoxing the body, which asanas work against fatigue and also: which asanas should be avoided.
You see: yoga is a science – and so is cancer. If we put the two of them together with knowledge and care we can do miracles. And I don’t wish for anything less
Join Stephanie and us in an online charity yoga event on October 11th, 2020. More info: https://melonandlime.com/pages/yogaforcancer