AskTari – When is it safe to start yoga?

Cynthia Asked Tari: Since my mastectomy surgeries I have not been about to gain back all the strength and mobility in my right arm and the implant makes me nervous about moving it a lot. My sister has done yoga for years and is encouraging me to start yoga classes because she believes yoga can help me regain the use of my arm. I have never done yoga before. When is it safe for me to start?

About Cynthia: Cynthia had a mastectomy and then breast reconstruction using an implant. She is 45 years old and a single working mom.

Tari Answered: The unqualified answer is, Start Now! However, you used the most important word in your question to me. SAFE. I thank you for that. Our loved ones encourage us with ideas and suggestion to speed our recovery. You have to love them for that.

At first glance, the idea of yoga for cancer patients undergoing treatment and now in survivorship seems obvious, a logical step. What better way to manage anxiety, gain strength, increase flexibility and create feelings of well being? I agree. That is certainly what I did and continue to do. However, helpful ideas come in big packages and you are right to ask when is it safe to do yoga.

Yoga is a big package. In it there are some yoga secrets as well. What is good for your sister may not be good for you as a cancer survivor. The popular notion is that yoga is good for everyone, whatever its style, flavor or size. But we know that is not true. Just like cancer, yoga is not one-size-does-fits-all. Everyone’s cancer, treatments, side effects and body are different. 

To help you understand how yoga can be good for you and when it is safe to start, here are questions back to you:

Are you ready? 

It is a good idea to have your doctor’s permission. You may have other physical conditions not related to the cancer that should be considered. In relation to your cancer surgeries, however, it is critical that all surgical drains and staples have been removed and that your incision is healing well.

What Kind of yoga? 

There are many. I have prepared a list of the yoga styles most commonly practiced and taught in the West with a short description of what to expect in a class that is based on these styles is included to help you discern what style is best for you.

A better question is: With whom? 

Healing begins with feeling safe. Feeling comfortable with a yoga teacher is the most important factor to putting yoga into your life as tool of self-healing and creating health in your future.

Yoga teachers are trained to teach to a diverse yet general population. Awareness of the limitations imposed by surgeries, chemotherapy and the many life-long side effects and vulnerabilities of cancer treatments and reconstruction are not covered in most yoga teachers training. Observe what questions a teacher asks you. This is your best test of whether the style, class and teacher are a good solution for you to begin or continue yoga.

You ask the questions! Learn about the teacher’s training and experience with cancer patients undergoing treatment and survivors in general.

Where to find a yoga class?
In generic gym-based yoga classes, teachers are not usually trained and knowledgeable of the limitations and concerns of survivors. These venues can be intimidating and risky for someone who is trying not only to gain physical strength, but also, self esteem. Find a yoga class specifically for cancer patients and survivors. Get a schedule, visit a class and talk to the teacher. Again, if you would like to know about y4c trained teachers in your location, please here.

How often?

Yoga is a practice not an event. In order to feel the benefits of yoga finding time in your schedule to practice, 2-3 times a week or more, is important. Also, it is recommended that average weight survivors maintain at least 150 minutes of exercise per week to reduce reoccurrence, and for those that are carrying weight that amount should be 300 minutes per week.  So do as often and as much as you can.  Are the classes located conveniently and at times that will fit easily into your life? Large classes can be discouraging for beginners. Trust your intuitions.

I hope this helps you find a yoga teacher and class that allows you to thrive, as well as survive. Yoga can be a tool to help you reclaim your life during and after cancer. If used properly, yoga can also be a lifetime companion that will smooth out all the challenges of life, not just the ones we experience on the cancer journey. In the meantime, please send me more questions, share your findings and stay in touch.

Namaste,
Tari