Why Yoga for Cancer?

“Life happens while you’re busy dreaming”

A dear friend of mine, Kelly, came face to face with reality, and life, in the fall of 2017.  I remember the day her husband, one of my closest friends, told me they found cancer in her colon, and she was going for more tests.  I will never forget the next day when he shared it was Stage 4 metastatic colorectal cancer that had spread to her liver and lungs.

Devasting.  Kelly was in her early 40s, healthy, active, doing all the right things. and this… this happens.  

I can only struggle to imagine how Kelly, her husband, their son, and their family felt.   The speed in which things were happening was incredible at this point, with multiple doctor appointments, consultations and planning, more tests, plus her first chemotherapy appointment scheduled less than a week after the initial diagnosis.  It was REAL LIFE and time was essential to get a handle on this.  

Without question or hesitation, I offered all I had plus more.   I was, and still am, fully aware it ‘takes a village’ for challenges like this.  Having been in the thick of it with my parents and other family and friends, I intended to be one of the linebackers blocking for Kelly and family.

In the midst of this shitstorm of life, Kelly asked me to help her by figuring out how to modify her yoga practice.  She had a regular practice and wasn’t sure how it would be impacted by all that was coming, both planned and unplanned.  

GAME ON.

Knowing the rabbit hole of googling and my own curiosity, I spent quite a bit of time on this ask.  The research and findings flabbergasted and inspired me; what has been documented regarding the scientific and psychological impact of yoga on individuals with cancer is simply amazing.  The research and acknowledgment is in the early stages and the conclusions so far are breath taking. Leaders in medical, wellness, and yoga communities have spoken, written, and shared the incredible impact of yoga practice for individuals with cancer.  I was stunned and humbled this was not more forthcoming in both the yoga and medical communities, and I knew then this was/is my mission and dharma to share.

Since that initial ask, and lots of reading and learning, I am still evolving in my knowledge of yoga for cancer.  My education continues, with professional certifications via Yoga4Cancer by Tari Prinster (certified March 2019) and Duke University Integrative Medicine (certified June 2019), plus I’ve been working with and learning from Kelly and other clients in public classes and private sessions since October 2017.    

I’ve plenty yet to learn, and what I’ve discovered so far is simply amazing.  It’s not just the physical practice, though there is plenty of that involved, it’s the breath, the moments, and  holding space. It’s listening, both to the body and voice; it’s holding hands figuratively and physically.

It’s treating and respecting the person; meeting him/her where they are at, and recognizing they are not simply a patient, – they are a spouse, friend, parent, sister/brother, with a mind and spirit, that needs space and healing along with the physical body.  It’s accepting this person has a family and life, dreams and fears, and cancer impacts EVERYTHING. It’s understanding that cancer treatments can be worse than the disease, not everyone is ‘cured’, and each and every experience is unique and to be honored.

My offerings vary for the person and their needs.  I host a Yoga for Cancer class at Renkon Yoga Studio (Bloomington, IL) using my certified methodologies, curating intentional space for our local community.  Additionally, I teach private sessions locally at homes, Renkon Yoga Studio, or medical facilities, and am available for virtual sessions. I’ve spent time with my clients and their families at their homes or visiting them in hospitals, and at times simply listened and held hands or wiped tears.  My goal is to create an intentional practice incorporating breath work, meditation, and movement for my classes and private sessions.

Yoga is for everyone- not just those in shape, flexy or bendy, or wanting to put their leg behind their heads.  In fact, I’d suggest those who are impacted by a major disease, such as cancer, need yoga most of all.

Daily Mindfulness – Why/What/Where/How?

Cambridge Dictionary – “The practice of being aware of your body, mind, and feelings in the present moment, thought to create a feeling of calm.”

Lifehacker – “Mindfulness has many synonyms. You could call it awareness, attention, focus, presence, or vigilance. The opposite, then, is not just mindlessness, but also distractedness, inattention, and lack of engagement.”

Have you ever driven to work, a friend’s house, or run errands – and upon arrival, have no idea how you got there?

Have you ever spent a day busy, but didn’t accomplish much?

In our day and age, our systems become overloaded…  much like the Wi-Fi at home…  with the various connections, interactions, demands of energy, output of energy, noise, lights, and more.

The practice of daily mindfulness is being aware of each moment and action, getting the most out of your time and the time of others.  I will be hosting a workshop every couple of months at Renkon Studio on how to recognize ways to carve out moments and activities that will help you focus and become more efficient while stressing less.

Topics will include:

  • How to create a practice for yourself – doing much of what you already do each day!
  • How to calm yourself when it becomes overwhelming
  • Tips and tricks to keep you on task and to reduce anxiety
  • How to capture each moment and enjoy the most of it
  • Physical, mental, and spiritual benefits
  • Hacks on best ways to do it – and easy ways to get back to it when the wheels fall off (and they do!)

I’d love to have you join this discussion, in a comfortable setting, focused on YOU and empowering you to start, continue, or go deeper into your practice.  We’ll discuss the preconceived notions of mindfulness, and get to the reality – meaning, how you can add this to your busy life and easy hacks to get more done (yes, it can happen!). 

How Yoga Has Changed My Life

I found yoga later in life at age 45 in 2012 when I was invited by a friend to attend class and I immediately felt at hOMe.

As a previously self-diagnosed type-A nervous nelly, I attribute yoga to the transformation of myself into a place of authenticity, acceptance, self-love, peace, and calm which I always felt curious about but didn’t know how to achieve before finding yoga.

Never had I imagined how much yoga could change my life, having such a positive impact to my mind, body, and spirit. Prior to yoga, I was one who always seemed to fight the current, swimming against it. But, after yoga, I felt at ease as I started going with the current of life. With this attitude, life became easier, calmer, and I lost my “black cloud” that had previously seemed to follow me.

The lesson was that life, nature, Mother Nature, God, Creator, etc was “with” us, not against us and together we could manifest the life we want. Just by being still. Just by listening. Just by letting go. Letting go to the current of life is the key to living.

I might have been late to get started, but timing seemed perfect and I have been attending classes and workshops ever since. Wanting a deeper connection with yoga, I completed my 200-hour certification through Pranakriya School of Healing Arts in 2018. I am also 1st degree Reiki Trained in Usui Tradition.

I believe yoga class doesn’t have to be a high impact, fast-paced, and/or high energy to be beneficial. In fact, I believe when life is already throwing that insanely fast pace in our faces, the yoga workout can become a work “IN” to be mindful; slowing down to the rhythm we all crave, but rarely give ourselves.

Some of us don’t even know how to be slow and deliberate in our actions and thoughts. Can this be the goal of our “practice?” And can we give ourselves the gift of quiet minds, authentic souls, and loving hearts especially towards ourselves which provides us the tools, then, to take it into the world for others?

I believe every small change can impact the world positively and I have personally experienced this change since yoga. Yoga is a way to connect with yourself, your class, and the world around you in ways you cannot do without yoga. Nothing compares to sharing yoga with like-minded people in a safe space. And yoga provides a safe space to breathe deeply, feel deeply, let go, and move the way you need to move. Not only that, but yoga gives tools to take into the world to provide a yoga state of mind anywhere, any place on an as-needed basis.

This is the gift my teachers gave me and I would love to give to my students. I have been on a lifelong journey to find myself and hope that I can lead others into the same path of finding themselves in the journey of yoga; on the mat and off.

I was proud to be part of the inaugural class at Renkon Studio. I fully embrace its philosophy that yoga is for EVERY body and look forward to sharing yoga with you and learning from you while leading classes at Renkon Studio.

The WHYs of Yoga: The Breath of Life

Some times we need a ‘kick’. Think of WHYs of Yoga to motivate you to yoga class or to practice yoga and meditation at home.

This is a series of blog posts with one of the many WHYs that yoga is so beneficial for your mind and body. Allow this WHY, The Breath of Life, to be your motivational ‘kick’.

Yoga Increases your Lung Capacity – WHY does that matter?

Our lung capacity naturally declines with age, starting at age 30. By the age of 50, our lung capacity may be reduced by as much as 50 percent. This means that the older you get, the harder it is for your lungs to breathe in and hold air.

When we breathe in less oxygen, our body and cells also receive less oxygen, forcing our heart to work harder to pump oxygen throughout the body. The heart working overtime long-term can lead to heart failure.

Earlier symptoms of reduced lung capacity include shortness of breath, decreased stamina and reduced endurance and frequent respiratory infections. YIKES!

How do we counter the natural decrease of lung capacity? A great way is…you guessed it: Yoga

A study published in the journal Chest which involved patients with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) concluded that those who were taught yoga exercises including asanas (poses), pranayama (control of the breath), meditation and relaxation techniques resulted in similar improvement as those who did typical pulmonary rehabilitation. They concluded that yoga is a cost-effective form of rehabilitation and can be adopted as an integral part of long-term management of COPD.

The American Lung Association (ALA) says yoga is a safe exercise option for patients who have difficulty breathing with lung diseases such as asthma, COPD or lung cancer.  The ALA says even simple breathing exercises, performed daily, can have a significant impact on people with lung disease – not to mention the mental benefits of yoga and mindful meditation, as lung diseases are often accompanied by anxiety, depression and stress.

You don’t have lung disease?

Count your blessings and continue to practice yoga to maintain and improve your lung health.

Research in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports, examined the effect of the yogic breathing technique, Bhastrika Pranayama on lung function capacity in athletes. Bhastrika Pranayama or “bellows breath” is a practice where the inhalation and exhalation move forcefully through the nose.

Researchers assessed 30 healthy individuals, placed into 2 groups. The yoga group practiced the Bhastrika Pranayama for 15 minutes and the control group went running for 15 minutes, 6 days a week for 1 month. Researchers found there was a significant change in the lung efficiency and capacity of the yoga group. They had more maximum ventilation volume, more forced vital capacity, more forced expiratory volume, and higher levels of peak expiration flow.

This research suggested that incorporating yoga in sports training could enhance the efficiency and performance of an athlete by enhancing lung function capacity.

Many people associate keeping fit with maintaining a healthy heart, but physical activity, including yoga, also helps keep lungs healthy. A heathy heart AND healthy lungs are needed to bring oxygen into the body, to provide energy and remove carbon dioxide, the waste product created when you produce energy.

Yoga Pranayama: The Breath of Life

Restorative Yoga – What and Why

The antidote to stress is relaxation – Judith Lasater

You lie there not doing anything, just being—something most of us feel too guilty or strung out to do on our own. – Unknown

We live in a ‘do’ and ‘go’ world, where we are always connected, moving, and many times, competing.  Many of us judge ourselves and others, the day, week, year, etc. by a list of accomplishments and/or returns.  It’s hard to disconnect or stop, both by our own expectations and the expectations of those around us.

What is the cost of all this ‘go’ – to our bodies, minds, and inner self?  In addition to the physical wear, what does this do to our minds, our immune systems, and our breath?

I confess I’m no less guilty of this than you, or you… or you there in the back (yes, I see you!).  I’ve to do lists on my fridge and in my bag, reminders on my phone, feelings of guilt that I went to bed without completing X, and of course, always trying to squeeze in Y in those downtime moments between my day job and teaching.   And of course, the guilt… the errands not run, the laundry not even started, and don’t get me started on the dust on my bookshelves.

But enough on what we all know exists in our lives… let’s talk restorative yoga.

What is it:

  • Restorative Yoga is a passive and gentle, yet powerful practice consisting of seated and supine (laying down) poses typically held for several minutes.
  • The classes tend to be relaxing and slow paced, with a whole sequence using as few as five or six postures which are held for long periods of time. Props are also used often in order to allow the body to be in the most comfortable, supported position possible.
  • Moving slowly into and holding these opening postures alongside intentional breath work allows the one to calm and center the mind and nervous system while accessing deep opening and release within the body.
  • It was developed to access connective tissues allowing for deepening flexibility and aiding healing while increasing energy flow.

Why should I do it:

  • Restorative yoga is believed to boost the immune system and accelerate the body’s natural healing process.  It is considered an ideal balance to hectic and stressful modern lifestyles.
  • The intention is to relax as far as possible into the postures, using as little physical effort as possible. The mind focuses on the breath in order to cultivate mindfulness and release tension from the body. 
  • Restorative yoga stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate, regulates the blood pressure and relaxes the body.
  • An incredible method to heal the body, it helps to the kick in relaxation response, balancing the nervous system and optimizing energy flow to the organs. It lifts the immune function and enhance the process of digestion. Basically, they set the whole body up for deep healing, growth and repair.

Other random notes on restorative yoga:

  • You do not need to be flexible.  All postures are supported to meet you where you are at that day, moment, in your practice.  
  • You do not need to have an active yoga practice, background or knowledge.  Do you know how to breath? Good – you qualify!
  • This is unlike any other yoga class.
  • Falling asleep, snoring, farting, emotional breakthroughs, tears, relaxation, release of tension, stress relief, yoga stoned feeling – all happen – and space is held for whatever else surfaces during this practice.  No feelings are invalid.

Interested?  Curious? Have nothing else to do but want to give it a go?  Renkon Yoga offers both classes and special events featuring restorative yoga.

The WHYs of Yoga : Blood is Flowing

Some times we need a ‘kick’. The WHYs of yoga are how I motivate myself to get to yoga class and practice yoga and meditation at home.

This is the third in a series of blog posts with one of the many WHYs that yoga is so beneficial for our mind and body.

It is my hope that this WHY, the flowing of your blood, can be your motivational ‘kick’.

Yoga Gets Your Blood Flowing – WHY does that matter?

During the practice of yoga and deep breathing, the return of venous blood to the heart is enhanced.

Venous blood is typically colder than arterial blood and has a lower oxygen content and pH. It also has lower concentrations of glucose and other nutrients, and has higher concentrations of urea and other waste products.

Twisting yoga poses help wring out venous blood from your internal body organs. Once the twist is released, oxygenated blood can again flow effectively to your organs.

Inverted poses, such as headstand, handstand, shoulder stand, and simply raising your legs up encourage venous blood from the legs and pelvis to flow back to the heart. This can help if you have swelling in your legs.

The deep breathing, stretching and balance poses during yoga practice are known to help thin the blood, thereby reducing your risk of blood clots. This can lead to a decrease in heart attacks and strokes since blood clots are often the cause of these killers.

You probably are not able to tell when your brain is not getting enough oxygen but cold hands and feet may be a sign that your circulation needs improvement. The relaxation exercises you learn in yoga can help your circulation, especially in your hands and feet. A deep state of relaxation and calmness allows your heart to pump more slowly and steadily, dramatically improving circulation efficiency.

Oxygen is not only important for muscles; it’s also vital for the brain to carry out all its functions. In addition, all of the internal organs improve when they are provided with an increased amount of oxygen-rich blood.

YES, getting your blood flowing really matters for your overall health. And an excellent way to get your blood flowing is with a regular yoga practice.

The WHYs of Yoga: Squeezing and Soaking

Some times we need a ‘kick’. The WHYs of yoga are how I motivate myself to get to yoga class and practice yoga and meditation at home.

This is the second in a series of blog posts with one of the many WHYs that yoga is so beneficial for our mind and body.

It is my hope that this WHY, the squeezing and soaking of your cartilage, can be your motivational ‘kick’.

Yoga Prevents Cartilage Breakdown – With the practice of yoga, you take your joints through their full range of motion while providing a normal amount of pressure and friction to them. This normal level of pressure and friction is required by your joint cartilage to function optimally and produce cartilage-maintaining molecules.

Healthy joint cartilage is like a sponge; it receives fresh nutrients only when its fluid is squeezed out and a new supply can be soaked up. Put simply, yoga can help prevent degenerate arthritis and mitigate disability by “squeezing and soaking” areas of cartilage that normally aren’t used with our day to day movements.

Without the proper sustenance to your joints by this process of squeezing and soaking cartilage, your neglected joints can eventually wear out, exposing the underlying bone like worn-out brake pads and leading to osteoarthritis.

As we go about our daily lives, we are most comfortable with the ranges of motion we commonly experience. But these habitual daily motions may not fully engage our body. The sequences of poses in a typical yoga class, even if it is the most gentle class, are designed to break those habits of motion and engage all your muscles and joints. In other words, a great squeezing and soaking.

For a more detailed explanation of the sustenance of cartilage, see this article by Sabrina Jahn and Jacob Klein in Physics Today April 2019 Lubrication of Articular Cartilage 

Yoga and Depression – My Story

For most of my life, I’ve suffered from dysthymic depression, addictive behaviors, and trauma. 

One of the reasons I came to yoga was to find relief from my pain and to learn more about my mental landscape. At the time, I probably wouldn’t have used those words. I remember that I was searching for meaning and purpose and also felt a general dissatisfaction with my life. I could sense a yearning for movement and physical engagement. I let these feelings, and a few well-placed opportunities, lead me to yoga teacher training.

Because of the many hours of work and messy discipline of my practice, I can honestly say that I am no longer completely destroyed when a depressive episode arrives. I also understand more about the root cause behind my addictions, which helps me to adjust my behaviors. This understanding could not have been possible without the self-study that meditation inspires and stimulates. Trauma and deep-seated pain resulting from generations of trauma and pain in my family has slowly begun to loosen it’s life-sucking grip on my DNA. 

I also came to yoga for spiritual growth. Yoga is the lens in which I view my reality and make sense of things. I believe that I am connected to, an extension of, and am/was/will be the source of life. I believe that you are also these things. When I meditate, this clumsy vessel of blood and bones becomes irrelevant, and my essence expands and connects again to this source. Eventually, though…I must come back and do my dishes and pay my bills. Hopefully, I can perform these duties with a bit more grace and love than yesterday. 

These are the more intricately subtle and personal effects of my yoga practice. But if you would enjoy some practical reasons to practice yoga and meditation (as a self-confessed cynic, I appreciate practicality), read on:

  1. The physical practice of yoga grows your strength, which increases your energy level. One symptom of depression is chronic low energy.
  2. The breathing exercises (pranayama) of yoga help to activate your parasympathetic nervous system, the branch of your NS which controls the passive operatives of your body such as rest and digestion. In this modern world, our nervous systems are constantly stimulated by sights and sounds (advertisements, notifications/signals, deadlines, etc.). If you feel stressed and agitated for most of the day, your sympathetic NS is working in overdrive and abusing the “fight-or-flight” mechanism. During this state, some really interesting things happen in our body: increased heart rate, rapid breathing, dilated pupils, tensed muscles, and restricted blood flow. This response is triggered by the release of hormones to prepare your body to run or defend yourself. If your NS is constantly stimulated/stressed, the never-ending production of these hormones can eventually lead to poor physical and mental health in the form of various illnesses. Breath-control is a great tool to help navigate these biological responses. 
  3. The practice of meditation can help to control what you devote your attention to. There are many different techniques and most share the idea of connecting to the “Observer” or “Witness.” Can you observe your thoughts, inner monologue, emotions, and sensations without imparting any judgement or opinion on them? We use this technique of self-study to learn about ourselves so that we may make appropriate adjustments in our everyday lives to inspire peace within. 

Meditation – why/what/where/how?

Have you ever been frustrated with a piece of technology, like your phone, computer, home wi-fi or cable? And after numerous attempts at trying to ‘fix’ it, you end up shutting it off for a few minutes, walking away… then come back to turn it on and magically, it works?

Meditation is similar, but the technology impacted – before, during, and after – is your mind, body, and spirit.

In our day and age of incredible technology, our systems become overloaded… much like the Wi-Fi at home… with the various connections, interactions, demands of energy, output of energy, noise, lights, and more.

What is meditation?

A state in which the body is consciously relaxed and the mind is able to become calm, focused and free from distraction.

“Meditation can be daily hygiene for the soul, clearing out stress anxiety, and emotional blockages from our mind and body. Mediation has been referred to as a “mental shower”, cleaning and cleansing the mind.”

Only good comes from meditation. Only good.

Why is it good?
  • Meditation allows your “thinking mind” to take a break from itself. Quiets the noise of the mind. Gives your nervous system a chance to wind down.
  • Calms the waves – when the swirl of emotions and thoughts stop, clarity begins.
  • Focus improves – first, only get used to focusing on one item, but will help with distractions in future.
  • Love yourself – if you can observe your own thoughts and be a third party to them, and see how badass you are…
  • Awake and present – you can focus on observing life.
  • More relaxed and at ease – numerous articles by smart folks that its good for you.
  • Study yourself. Get to know yourself. Love yourself. After all, you are stuck with yourself your
    entire life.
Benefits
  • Calms your entire being, leading to a calmer you!
  • Reduces stress, able to handle stress better
  • More compassionate
  • Able to see things from other points of view
  • More energy
  • Able to be present
  • Focus on one thing at a time
  • Grounding
  • Stabilizes the mind
  • Increase vitality, emotional stability
  • Develops full awareness – the mind is at peace yet highly alert
  • Harvard scientists saw brain changes after 8 weeks of daily meditation.

I’m hosting a meditation workshop on Saturday, 2.16.2019 1-2:30pm. I’d love to have you join this
discussion, in a comfortable setting, focused on YOU and empowering you to start, continue, or go deeper
into your practice. We’ll discuss the preconceived notions of meditation, and get to the reality –
meaning, how you can add this to your busy life and carve out 5-10 minutes once or twice a day* to turn
off your systems, give them a break, and come back renewed.

*I’m a yoga teacher, know that I will of course endorse longer and more frequent – but let’s start you off
easy. 🙂

WHY Does Yoga Help You Feel Good? Flexibility and Bone Health

WHY does yoga help you feel good? If you are like me, you wish to understand the science behind how yoga works to improve physical and mental health, heal aches and pains, and keep sickness at bay.

An understanding of WHY yoga helps you feel so good can be that motivational kick to step onto the mat with regularity.

There are MANY ways you will improve your wellness with yoga. Improved flexibility and bone health are just two of those. This is the first in a series of blog posts to present the many benefits of yoga.

Improves Your Flexibility – one of the first benefits of yoga that you will notice.

The first time you came to yoga class you may not have been able to touch your toes, never mind do a back-bend! With continued practice, you noticed a gradual loosening. Eventually seemingly impossible poses become possible. That accomplishment alone makes you feel good!

You’ll also notice that aches and pains start to lessen or disappear. That’s no coincidence.

Tight hips can strain knee joints due to improper alignments of the thigh and shinbones. Tight hamstrings can lead to a flattening of the lumbar spine, which can cause back pain. Tight calves can cause heel and/or foot pain. Tight neck muscles can cause upper back pain, shoulder pain, headache, neck-stiffness. OK – enough! You get it.

Simply put, muscle imbalances occur when one muscle is stronger than its opposing muscle. For example, if you sit all day at a computer, your shoulders are likely pulled forward creating a strength imbalance between the front of your body and the back. While these muscle imbalances may not be a problem at first, the real issues occur over time. Unless you find ways to fix whatever imbalances exist, you could be headed for injury and pain.

Increasing your flexibility with a regular yoga practice develops an equal load throughout your body from your feet all the way up to your head, thereby relieving an imbalance of muscular tension.

Betters your bone health – Many yoga poses require that you lift your own weight, known as a weight-bearing exercise, which is well documented to strengthen bones.

Bone is a living tissue with two types of cells. There are osteoblasts that build bone and osteoclasts that destroy bone. As we get older, particularly for women, there is a decrease in bone mineral density. Some are prescribed medications to block the osteoclasts, but those medications can have side effects and don’t build new bone cells. In contrast, weight-bearing exercise stimulates the osteoblasts and the building of new bone.

Yoga poses such as down dog help strengthen the arm bones, which are particularly vulnerable to osteoporotic fractures. Regular practice of our typical yoga poses has been shown to increase bone density in the vertebrae, femur and hip bones.

The practice of yoga poses also tends to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which has been shown to extract calcium and other minerals from bones and interferes with laying down of new bone.

Doing just a dozen basic yoga poses taking only 12 minutes a day, has been shown to prevent osteoporosis, develop better balance and coordination, and protect against falling, a major cause of osteoporotic fractures. Yoga, Another Way to Prevent Osteoporosis by Harvard Health Publishing

And YES, Savasana is included in those 12 poses.