Yoga and Cancer - Five Year Anniversary

This month marks the five year anniversary of when I first offered a "Yoga for Women with Cancer" now known as "Yoga and Cancer" at Prasada Yoga Center. I've been reflecting these last few weeks on the unbelievable fact that I have been teaching this class for FIVE years. There are now seven (soon to be eight) locations that host this class and are taught by trained teachers who share my passion to provide healing to survivors through yoga. This growth is in part because I had a vision to expand this offering and also because of the support of SATYA which took my class under its wing and helped grow it into a program.

Back to my vision.

I remember distinctly the moment when I sat down and started to write down my ideas about teaching this class. It was a brain dump of thoughts that had been swirling inside my head for months inspired by personal interactions with people who were dealing with a cancer diagnosis. I had resisted writing down my thoughts because I was scared and I had major self-doubt. How could I possibly understand how to teach this class? I’ve never had cancer! I really don’t understand the impact of cancer treatments on the body and what about all the emotional aspects of having cancer? Will I know how to help people through them?

So I started researching and writing…

I couldn’t stop writing… I had multiple notepads with scribbles and notes of what I wanted this class to look like. I bought books, read blogs, visited cancer center websites, talked with people and read more. With all this research going on, I was definitely learning but I got to the point where I knew I needed to go back to my roots as a yoga teacher. I began to see that I could rely on the fundamentals of yoga which is a practice in integrating mind, body, breath and heart and that integration in practice heals. While I knew that this class needed to be different in many ways, I started to feel confident that I could teach these fundamentals in a safe, and compassionate  manner. I started to see that I could possibly do this.

Then.. I bought a journal.

I remember distinctly picking it out and knowing that once I started putting my thoughts in this journal, there would be no turning back. It symbolized my commitment and resolve to make this class happen.

Anyone who has been to my Yoga and Cancer class has seen it. It’s blue, it’s worn and I’m attached to it.  It holds some of my earlier thoughts from the days of writing out my ideas. It’s a keeper of class plans, poems, quotes, observations, and the email addresses of the first 7 survivors who attended my class. I cherish this journal because it depicts history and tells a story of community and compassion and growth in me as a teacher and of the program.

What I have learned along the way..

Everyone who attends Yoga and Cancer has been touched by cancer in some way. It is a community of people who received the daunting news of a diagnosis or a diagnosis of a loved one, endured invasive treatments, took on a financial burden and loss touch with their bodies. Moreover they lost control of their lives having to rely on decision-making held by their providers. I have learned that people who are in active treatment, surgical recovery or who have been in remission show up because they want to feel better. They want to feel empowered and they want refuge within a community where there is understanding, laughter, conversation, support and yes… sometimes tears.

I have learned that my job as a teacher is not to know everything about cancer, treatments and side effects. I don’t. But I will do my best to understand so that what I teach has a healthy and significant impact and offers relief or improvement in how they feel.

I believe now that most importantly my job is to hold space. I’m holding the space so survivors can deal with their physical, mental and emotional stuff that comes with having cancer. Teaching to this community I have met the most beautiful people and they have taught me what suffering, healing, bravery, community, humility, love, and support really means in times when you see the ugliness of having cancer.

Teaching this class for five years has shown me the fragility of life and at the same time the beauty of life.

This has been my biggest lesson.