By Guest Blogger, Pamela Kofsky
The practice of yoga is one of bringing the body, breath, mind, and spirit back into a state of balance and harmony. As a breast cancer survivor and a former oncology social worker, I know firsthand that a breast cancer diagnosis can shatter one’s sense of balance, harmony, and identity. I also know that yoga is not only a feel-good practice but it can serve as a viable mind/ body tool that can accelerate and support the healing process.
Turning to Yoga
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40. I had turned to yoga for the peace of mind that it brings, but I found that overall, a typical yoga class was not knowledgeable or sensitive to my needs. The postures, flows, and personal assists that were once inviting were now uncomfortable, often painful, and frustrating. I found a local class in yoga for breast cancer recovery and found the style of class I was looking for. A community of understanding, patient, and supportive women along with a dynamic and compassionate teacher who understood not only the mechanics of this adaptive practice but the spiritual and emotional aspects that needed just as much attention, was the beginning of my healing process. The benefits of this class were so impactful that after I had recovered from my course of treatments, I became certified as a yoga instructor and then later became certified in yoga for breast cancer recovery. I continued to study and got certified in many other healing modalities including Reiki, meditation, mindfulness, energy work, laughter yoga, and sound healing, and have incorporated them into my yoga for breast cancer care classes for a signature style with maximum impact.
So Much More Than A Physical Practice
Through my certification in yoga for breast cancer recovery along with personal experiences, I have learned that yoga is much more than a physical practice. Yoga incorporates not only the use of a variety of postures and fluid movements, but yoga also includes a variety of breath, mindfulness, and meditation practices. Research shows us that incorporating yoga into one’s healing regimen has numerous benefits. For example, the physical postures and fluid movements of an appropriately designed class for breast cancer recovery can assist with many side effects of breast cancer surgeries and treatments. Yoga postures and fluid movements can help to minimize the effects of scar tissue and chording, help to increase lymphatic flow and circulation, increase range of motion, stimulate the immune system, reduce fatigue, decrease cellular inflammation and increase strength, tone, balance, flexibility, and bone health.
In addition, pranayama, or breathing practices, serves as a bridge between the body and the mind. The breathing practices of yoga helps to assist in strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system or relaxation response, encourages lymphatic flow, and helps to tone the vagus nerve which is highly correlated to an overall sense of wellbeing.
The mindfulness and meditation practices of yoga serve to focus one’s attention on the present moment, away from the rumination of the past and the fears of the future, and to learn how to navigate stress and difficult emotions that typically arise in response to a cancer diagnosis and the chronic nature of an illness. The cumulative effects of a mindfulness practice can assist with easing insomnia, anxiety and depression, and much more. As research shows us, a consistent meditation practice can literally change the structure and function of the brain dampening the fight or flight response and increasing a sense of focus, control, and ability to break out of the cycle of psychological distress, which enables one to self regulate more efficiently.
As you can see, yoga practiced at any time throughout a breast cancer experience can be of much benefit, but there are more reasons that are just as important but are more difficult to quantify but the benefits can be even more impactful.
The Yoga Experience
Yoga ‘holds space’ by creating an environment that is non-judgmental, compassionate, and able to be a container for whatever challenging emotions or thoughts that might arise.
Yoga does not rely on the mind and words to process experiences, the movement and inherent intelligence of each posture serves as a catalyst to express emotions and move them through the body, so the intensity of the experience does not get caught or stuck anywhere in the body.
Yoga provides a much-needed sense of grounding, stability, centeredness, space, calm, a slowing down, and an opportunity to release deeply held physical tensions. It provides an experience of quiet and gentle listening where one can begin to explore and connect to one’s inherent sense of intuition and heart.
It provides an activity that is one of self-care, where one simply attends to the needs of the body, mind, and spirit. Women are empowered to make choices throughout the practice that brings ease, comfort, stability, and a greater sense of being in control.
Moreover, yoga serves as a means of self-study. Through a deeper somatic experience of the body and the gained ability to observe one’s thoughts and processes, one can become more aware of thought patterns, habits and old ways of responding that may be contributing to unconscious, cyclical behaviors. Yoga becomes a place of pause where the unconscious can become conscious and we can begin to incorporate healthier ways of being and responding contributing to a more adaptive state of mind.
Yoga is a place where one can feel ‘seen’ providing an experience where one can feel validated and witnessed in a nonjudgemental way.
Yoga serves as a means of social support. Whether a class is a private or semi-private class, one can experience a deep sense of social and spiritual connection with the teacher as well as other students in the class. This human connection can be a vital source of encouragement and motivation, especially if the person has minimal sources of social support such as family, friends, or work.
Lastly, yoga improves self-esteem, confidence, and one’s ability to handle difficult and complex situations. By practicing things that might be difficult on the yoga mat, one can transfer that skill set to real-time situations in life. By continuing to build inner strength and stamina, one becomes more resilient to change. Yoga gives us tools to use throughout the cancer experience and beyond to help navigate with more ease.
Yoga for Breast Cancer Care
Out of my own experiences and qualifications as an experienced yoga instructor and certified in yoga for breast cancer recovery, I have developed a signature program called Yoga for Breast Cancer Care. This style of class incorporates the physical practices including an upper body lymphatic clearing series and other carefully chosen postures and flows to support the healing process, breathing, mindfulness and meditation practices, and ample time for deep relaxation. Also incorporated in this class are opportunities to share experiences around a common theme and yoga tools that one can incorporate into their daily practices.
This style of yoga is appropriate for those newly diagnosed, moving through active treatment and transitioning into survivorship. Classes can be private, semi-private, or small group and done online or in person.
If you or someone that you know could benefit from yoga for breast cancer care, please contact me at email@example.com further information and registration.
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