Yoga + Cancer

How I Found Yoga

For years, well meaning friends have tried to get me to the mat.  The ploys ranged from “you’ll feel so relaxed you’ll sleep like a baby” to “it will be a fun girls’ night”.   Each attempt sent me deep into myself to reiterate  the reasons yoga wasn’t for me.  Some of the reasons were:


  1. Bare Feet.   Gross!  Shoes were made for a reason, right?  My bare feet belong in only two places – my shower and the beach.  Otherwise, cover them up.  And that goes for all of the rest of you.  Keep your feet to yourself!
  2.   Who has time to for this?  If, and I mean IF, I have time for a work out, I’m certainly not wasting it on yoga.
  3. Meditation? Okay, I’ll accept that it might be good for me.  Maybe even great for me.  But, quite frankly, quiet time is sleep time.  I have two speeds – fast and asleep.
  4. Touch. Just don’t.  Don’t touch me.
  5. Incense, candles, altars, Buddah’s. I’m the first one to light a scented candle and hang a meaningful picture.  In fact, I believe these items are imperative to a meaningful life.  But the scents should be vanilla and come based in wax, and the pictures should be of the Eiffel tower or family on the beach.
  6. You spend how much on Yoga?  Really?


Then came cancer.  A bad one.  Stage 3B ovarian, high grade epithealial.  Ovarian cancer brings  a low survival rate and an extremely high recurrence rate, so high in fact that the words “remission” or “cure” are not really used.  The most I could hope for was “NED”, No Evidence of Disease, aka “it’s still there but not large enough for us to treat, but come back in 3 months and it will probably be large enough then”.    Viewed as a chronic disease, I knew that it was only a matter of time before I was back in chemo, bald, nauseous, tired and questioning why I was alive

Enter in the Cancer Surviving Therapist who said, on my first visit, “You must go to Yoga for Cancer Survivors.  It will change your life”.    I left her and silently listed the reasons she was not the therapist for me, chief among the reasons being her insistence that I try Yoga.  I decided not to go back to her; she was obviously a hippy freak.   Yet the next week I gave her one more chance.   She was persistent; dogged even, in her quest for my well being and, before I knew it, I was in Yoga for Cancer Survivors.

Day one was awkward.  I kept my head down, talked to no one (except the teacher who insisted on getting really close and discussing my health – yuck!  Personal space much??).  And I left thinking well, I don’t really get it, but if I’m bored on Thursday  I’ll try again.  And I did.  Two days later I was back.   This time the teacher didn’t talk to me.   Nor did any of the other “survivors”.  In my solitude I found somethingSomething brought me back to class 3, then class 4, then 5 and 6.    We never spoke, except to say, on our way out the door “stay warm” or “have a good weekend”, but we were bonded, not just by cancer but by Yoga.

Today, eight months later, after joining a studio, building a home altar and practice space, attending class 4 to 6 times each week and bragging on Facebook with each pose I master, I look at my initial list and see this.

  1. Feet.  They are beautiful.  Did you know that?  The sound of bare feet on the wood floor of the yoga studio is music to my ears.  It is the sound of people at one with the earth, in peace with their bodies and in touch with their souls.   It is the sound of eternal life.
  2. Time revolves around my practice.  I realize now that there is nothing but now, and that each moment I make the choice.  The choice to be happy or sad, the choice to be angry or joyful, the choice to be at peace or at war, fearful or brave.  I choose happiness, peace and braveness, as much as I can.  Sometimes Yoga has me feeling grief and pain; I am still human!  But each time the weight is less, the burden easier.
  3. Meditation is the easiest part of practice now!  I thought meditation was the complete emptying of my mind; the ability to give my mind over to a higher power and to escape my body completely, for long periods of time.  How wrong I was!   My brain is amazing, and so much more scattered after chemo, yet still able to come back, over and over again, to my intention of the day.  Back and forth I go, between my grocery list and my intention word “surrender” and it’s okay!  Perfection be damned, my mind is my friend not my enemy.
  4. Touch. Please, I secretly implore my teachers.  Please touch me.  Adjust my posture.  Challenge me.  Push my shoulders into place.  Move my foot, lean against my back, straighten my hip.  Prove to me that I am okay, I am strong, I am worthy.
  5. Incense, candles, altars, Buddah’s.  I have them all.   My children bought me my first Buddah for my altar.  I light my incense and set my timer and escape into myself.  I love the words Namaste and Shanti.  I wake to them and fall asleep to them and they bring me the peace I have been seeking for many, many years  (I don’t have to divulge my age, do I?)
  6. Money: I spend it.  Willingly.   It now seems such a small price to pay for the privilege of practicing with the teachers I love, hearing the feet on the wood floor, picking the blocks and blankets, setting up my mat in my favorite spot, taking heart bench next to my fellow Yogi who is always next to me yet rarely speaks to me.  What is the right price to connect with these people?  What would I pay to practice with them each day, to share our bodies and souls in a way that requires nothing more than showing up?   How to value the space where I can rest, challenge myself, smile, sink into myself, cry, connect, with no self-consciousness?   What is the price for the space that has taught me to love myself, in sickness and in health, till death do I part?

What has Yoga done for me?  It has brought me to life.   When I feel  well, I master crow, or side plank.    When I’m ill, after surgery, or just a bad day, I sink into child’s pose and savasana.   It seems  not to matter.  I am there.  On my mat,  merging with the souls around me, the souls who yearn for peace and connection, and I find it there, in our sacred space.



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