My daily yoga practice is flexible & open-minded ~ it shifts depending on how I am feeling and what’s coming up for me that particular day. Ranging from 20-60 min., my personal practice blends gentle stretching, somatic movement, vinyasa flow (somedays slow, somedays strong), breathing, body sensing & meditation. I love going to classes too. Here are the many ways yoga supports me in treatment & managing side effects of chemotherapy; perhaps some videos will be shared soon!
- Achy Muscles: Gentle stretching & breathing with an extended exhale. If legs are extra achey, I will lie on my back and place my legs up the wall.
- Fatigue: A short, gentle flow with supported back bends & heart openers (I prefer blocks & lots of blankets).
- Processing Tough Emotions: Movement produces endorphins which also act as a “mood booster.” Often, heavy emotions arise in my practice ~ I make time to sit with them in a child’s pose or pigeon and let the tears flow. I feel yoga has the power to unlock stuck belief systems and energetic holding patterns. Crying gives it all an exit strategy and keeping a journal nearby can be helpful. Crying is healing!
- Stressful Thoughts: They will arise; I love to notice the stories my mind will tell me about my body and the future: “My body is losing strength.” “I am too tired to practice yoga.” “This pain will only get worse.” “I’m not good enough.” I invite the thoughts in and ask myself “who would I be in this moment without the thought?” I find I am more peaceful, self-loving, & present. For thoughts with a stronger hold, I’ll write them down and take them to inquiry (The Work of Byron Katie).
- Re-building Connection & Trust w/My Body: There was a period of time I felt betrayed by my body after I found out it has cancer. Spending time just to slow down and be with my body in yoga has helped me see all of the gifts it gives me on a daily basis. This may also show up as gentle strokes on my skin ~ for example, while lying on my back, sweeping my right hand across my heart, down the left arm & hand, back up through the arm pit and breast (where my cancer was diagnosed). It feels intimate and nurturing.
- Nausea: Practicing constructive rest position (lying on back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor) or reclining bound angle pose (lying on back, soles of the feet together, knees wide) has helped me with the stomach flutters. I place my hands on my belly and breath into them. I find slow pelvic tilts, rocking the knees side to side, and child’s pose to be really helpful too.
- Digestion: Common side effects of chemotherapy are diarrhea and/or constipation. My digestion has been wonderful so far and I incorporate gentle core strengthening and twists into my practice.
- Building Immunity: Any type of movement can help build immunity. Incorporating twists and inversions can be helpful for detoxifying, improving circulation/blood flow, & lowering blood pressure. If energy is very low, I’ll simply put my legs up the wall and breath.
- Building Strength & Bone Density: Add standing poses such as Warrior Poses, Triangle, Chair, Tree, Half Moon, & Goddess Pose. Modified Plank, Sphinx, & Cobra for arm strengthening. I also enjoy incorporating light weights once or twice a week. Strength can be lost due to surgery, fatigue, side effects of chemo drugs/pain medication/hormone therapy, so it’s very important to keep it rocking to prevent serious long-term side effects.
Breathing exercises, known as Pranayama in the yoga tradition, have countless benefits: lowers blood pressure, creates more oxygen in body which allows organs (heart, liver, lungs, digestive system) work more efficiently, releases physical tension & pain, improves circulation, calms the mind & nervous system, better sleep, and best of all….you can do anytime, anywhere for as little as 1 minute. Here are my favorite breathing exercises:
- Soft Belly Breathing: Can be done seated, supine, or standing ~ place a hand on your belly and simply focus your breath in this space. Feel the rise of your hand as you breath in while you expand the belly, and feel the gentle fall of the belly towards the spine as you exhale. Perfect anytime ~ even driving in the car.
- Yogic 3-Part Breath: Can be done seated, supine, or standing ~ 1st, practice belly breathing as mentioned above for at least 5 breaths. Then place your hand over the low ribs and breath into this space for at least 5 breaths. Then move your hand to your heart. In each space, notice the expansion and contract, be open to any thoughts or emotions that arise without trying to fix or change anything. Then combine all 3 spaces for breathing: exhale all of the air out of the body, then breathe into the belly, low ribs, heart and then a nice long exhale. For more energy: hold the breath after the inhale for at least 2 seconds. For more relaxation: hold the breath after the exhale for at least 2 seconds.
- Alternative Nostril Breathing: This is one of my favorites when I’m feeling like my mind is all over the place. It is best done seated and not recommended when driving. Exhale all of the air out of the body. Place right thumb over right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Place ring or pinky finger over left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat for at least 4 rounds: Inhale right. Exhale Left. Inhale Left. Exhale right. At the end, breath in through both and exhale through both. For more energy: hold the breath after the inhale for at least 2 seconds. For more relaxation: hold the breath after the exhale for at least 2 seconds.
For me, anything that brings more awareness and presence into my life is meditation. It’s the act of slowing down the mind by becoming aware of the thoughts, emotions, images that are arising and allowing them to pass through rather than run my life. I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. I am not my actions. The only thing that is real is this moment. Everything else is imagination. Meditation brings me back to this space which allows me to be calmer and more centered when dealing really any stress in life, and especially a breast cancer diagnosis.
There are so many ways to meditate, here’s what I love the most: Yoga Nidra, Breathing Exercises, Yoga & Dance as Meditative Movement, The Work of Byron Katie, Silent Nature Walks, Painting, Cooking, & Sex. I find nature to be so grounding and healing and prefer to do any of these forms of meditations outdoors when possible (ok, the sex part might be a little more difficult 😉