Yoga 4 Cancer (Y4C) ® classes were created by cancer survivor Tari Prinster. This is not a generic gentle yoga class; it is specifically designed for women struggling with cancer, applying yogic remedies to common issues including fatigue, weakened immune system, and limited range of motion or discomfort due to surgeries. In today’s class with Mimi Ferraro at Maha Padma Yoga Temple (formerly Bija Yoga), Sleuth discovered a warm and compassionate community, and a physical practice that was actually more challenging than I had expected.
If you’re familiar with Yogacitynyc.com, you’re probably aware of how *sneaky* they can be– popping up covertly in classes across the city and then promptly reviewing them. In truth, it’s an honor to be “sleuthed”, and even better when they like what they’ve found. y4c teacher Mimi Ferraro was the lucky target in this particular case, and she did us proud!
“How are you feeling today?” Mimi asked, checking in with each newcomer. Her demeanor was calming, confident, and compassionate. I felt cradled with healing intention as we sat on blankets to start class. Mimi invited us to set an intention for the practice if we so desired, and if not, to “just keep breathing. Well, keep breathing either way,” she added with a laugh.
“Picture your spine surrounded by an elevator shaft. The elevator starts at your sacrum, and moves through your lower, middle, and upper back, up to your head. The cables are strong, so the elevator is confidently lifted. Feel your spine stable, tall, and secure,” Mimi said as I felt the base of my skull rise.
Other than chanting OM three times at the start of class and once to finish, there were no overt spiritual references or any mention of disease: our focus was on the body and breath. “We join our palms at the heart as a reminder that we’re linking our breathing and our movement in this practice,” Mimi said.
Mimi demonstrated our opening stretch, a passive supine version of internal and external hip rotation which was her anatomical focus for the class. It felt good to lubricate the hip joints gently at first. Then standing in Tadasana, we explored this hip rotation in a more muscular way, squeezing a block between our thighs to help isolate the action of the thighs from the gluteal muscles. This gave a good foundation for the more intense poses where we later focused on this theme, like revolved and regular Triangle and Half Moon.
Mimi gave well-thought-out modifications for common conditions, such as a seated Cat and Cow pose for those needing to avoid pressure on wrists or knees. Lifting arms overhead was changed to arms to the sides when needed.
Mimi carefully ensured that we lubricated our joints well before stretching them to avoid injuries. She called out simple vinyasas like pressing our forearms together in front of our bodies and then opening into ‘cactus arms,’ alternately activating the pectorals and the muscles of the upper back. This had the added benefit of stimulating the lymphatic flow in the chest area, a particularly healing sequence for women recovering from breast cancer.
A series of de-toxifying twists built heat slowly and deliberately. Then Mimi cued us through modified Sun Salutations with the support of blocks, minus Up/Down Dog and Plank/Chaturanga. She offered enough repetitions to build strength and stamina at a replenishing, non-sweaty pace. Sleuth was caught off-guard by some long-ish holds in poses like Chair, Tree, and Warrior 1. We also performed toughies like Revolved Half Moon using a wall to brace the back leg.
Mid-way through class Mimi apologized for the lack of music today, but I personally enjoyed the silence and found that it helped me maintain a meditative internal focus.
“Your heart doesn’t move your lymphatic fluid. The major lymphatic channels cross over the diaphragm, so your deep breathing stimulates the movement,” Mimi told us. In Chair pose she had us pump our fists to stimulate the lymphatic flow. “It’s not like the Jersey Shore Fist Pump (not that I watch that show),” she joked.
Mimi coached us through Bridge pose, offering more gentle options as needed. For Supported Bridge, she recommended using blankets rather than a block under the sacrum for those with hip, lower back, or bone challenges. “You can lift your legs up for an inversion here if you choose, if it feels good,” Mimi suggested.
The class had that fierce, focused energy of people who commit to life despite adversity. There was a sense of camaraderie and closeness that I don’t ordinarily feel in a yoga class. I felt a profound gratitude for the supportive community. I rose from Savasana, renewed by the balanced and healing practice.
–Lauren Tepper for Yoga Sleuth