by Jenne Young
On a cold Sunday evening one week ago, I sat in a large circle with 18 other women. We had all come to this retreat for an intensive 45-hour yoga teacher training for working with cancer survivors. Our ages ranged from 20s to 60s and we had come from all over the US. I had been looking forward to this training, but as I settled onto my mat and looked around the room, I could feel myself closing up, feeling nervous and questioning what I am doing here. With a new cancer center opening up in our area, I wanted to get the skills to work with people going through treatment and recovering from cancer. That is why I came, to learn what postures to incorporate, how to structure the class and feel more confident as a teacher. Looking back, honestly, I didn’t have a clue. So the class begins.
Our teacher, Tari Prinster is warm, intense, and at times takes long pauses to find the right words. She is small and looks more like an elfin character out of Lord of the Rings then a master teacher who has developed this growing business, yoga4cancer. Her hair is auburn and cut in a short spiky, don’t mess with me style. She looks grounded and mythical at the same time. Or maybe I am just nervous. After a short introduction, she invites each of us to tell some of our story, just a few sentences of why we are here. A woman, I am guessing in her late 50s goes first. She looks like she could be the CEO of a corporation. She has short steel-gray hair, a strong body and a confident voice. I am immediately intimidated. She tells us she is a cancer survivor and she works with other cancer survivors. The next woman speaks; she is tall, elegantly beautiful with blond hair, and I am guessing in her early thirties. She is the type that was probably popular at school, the prom queen. She is a breast cancer survivor and she has two young boys. I look at her, I have two young children too. She is emotional when she talks. A deep sadness seems to hang about her but she lights up the room when she smiles. I fine myself shifting on my mat. The next woman is not a cancer survivor. Secretly I am relived, I have never had cancer and was starting to feel… what? Almost ashamed? But then she tells us her sister died of cancer and she cries. Her voice breaks very suddenly as if her emotions crashed through a physical barrier that was holding it back. She and her sister had done yoga together. I search for a tissue. The woman next to me hands me the box. Our eyes meet and although we do not say anything, I feel seen. And so it goes on, the circle gains voice after voice. Story after story pours into the center of our circle. In the end over two-thirds of our class have survived cancer. Others have lost their mother, sister or best friend. One woman’s husband is battling cancer as she sits here. As the stories mix together like the ingredients of a simmering soup, I can feel a huge shift in the room and within myself. I could almost feel the threads beginning to weave us together, to connect us. A tribe is forming.
I wait until almost the end to speak and here is why, I have never had cancer. My mother and sister are alive and healthy. A voice has been growing in me, urging me to get out of this room. “You are an intruder.” But I stay and when it is my turn, my story sounds very business-like. Cancer center… blah, blah…interested in helping get a yoga program started…blah.. blah. And finally I get to the simple truth: I want to be able to be fully presence, to hold space for healing. This is the work I want to do. My journey in the program was being able to say the word “cancer” without it sticking in my through. Confronting my own fears and insecurities. Tari was very gracious. She reminded me that cancer survivors work with doctors, physical therapists, nurses and nutritionists, most who have not had cancer. You do not have to have cancer to teach yoga. Her smile was radiant and it was then I started to be able to accept that. The reality is 1 in every 3 women will develop cancer during their lifetime. It is a numbers game. Cancer is a horrible disease, and the treatments can be devastating to the body.
What this group of women has in common is yoga. We each have learned through our own practice and as teachers that yoga makes life better. Yes, it strengthens the bones, helps improve sleep, relieves stiffness and extends range of motion. But there is much more. It is a practice that moves you into your body and deep within yourself. There you can recover a place of peace, wisdom, healing and most important, love.
See Jenne’s blog at http://jenneyoung.com