Teacher of the Month: Cindy Carver

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What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?

When my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer I’d been practicing yoga for a few years. Teaching yoga was not in my plans. I traveled back and forth between New York, Minneapolis and Utah to be with her during surgeries and chemotherapy. I found wonderful teachers wherever I practiced and yoga gave me the energy and strength to survive the challenges of juggling caregiving, work, and family. My mom wanted to practice yoga, too and we searched for classes that would address the side effects she experienced from her treatments and the pain and anxiety that she was feeling but this was fifteen years ago and we did not find a class, video, or book that she found helpful. A month after mom died I began a yoga certification program and began teaching the next year. So it was my mom and her experience with cancer that inspired me to teach yoga, as well as the creative, intelligent and compassionate teachers I met who supported and inspired me during this difficult time. Two years after my mom died I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I started exploring how yoga could help me recover as soon as I woke up after surgery. As I lay in my hospital bed I began gentle breathing and moving my hands and feet with my breath, then my arms and shoulders. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was moving lymph! I was on chemo for four months and experimented on myself ways to use yoga to heal and reduce painful side effects as I continued to teach.

My experience with cancer, my mom’s and my own- convinced me that I could help reduce the pain and distress of surgeries and cancer treatments and I began to offer one on one yoga sessions. I see the people I work with respond in hugely different ways, but my commitment in teaching yoga is to offer what my mom wanted but could not find: a practice that addresses the side effects and discomfort of cancer treatments and offers a different kind of healing than traditional medicine.

What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?

Tari’s training.  Before I completed the Y4C training I did not want to teach classes for people who have cancer. My private practice was thriving and I didn’t know how I would bring the skills that I had developed over ten years of teaching one-on-one to a classroom situation. After the training it clicked.

I understood how to structure a class and how to modify poses. I learned about breast reconstruction and many things about the science of cancer that I did not know before taking the Y4C training. I contacted the owners of Indian Rock Yoga in Suffern, NY and asked if they were still interested in offering classes for survivors and Cindy, Pauline, and Laura said, “Absolutely!” and we are offering classes beginning in January.

What have you enjoyed most about working with the y4c New York students?

I am struck by their intelligence, commitment, and kindness. We come together from different backgrounds, we have vastly different cares and concerns, and for and hour and a half we put our differences aside and share the same space. No matter how they may feel-grumpy, cheerful, anxious or just relieved to be in class-there is an atmosphere of respect and openness that inspires me.

How do you bring your own teaching elements into the classroom?

Ten years of teaching restorative yoga has enriched my teaching and my life in so many ways. Judith Lasater taught me how to build a pose so that it meets the needs of each person comfortably and effectively. I have learned that skillful sequencing can be the difference between a yoga class that is “good enough” and one that has the potential to heal. Being with my mom throughout her surgeries and cancer treatments and then going through the same surgery and chemotherapy myself taught me that until I walk in somebody else’s shoes I can’t truly understand their situation. That experience encouraged me to talk less and listen more and never forget the power of perspective, good humor, and a well constructed restorative pose.

Has y4c training impacted you in any unexpected ways?

It’s given me even more confidence in the power of yoga to heal. I am convinced that we have only begun to tap into yoga’s effects on our bodies and minds. I am invigorated by Tari’s teaching and training and look forward to exciting discoveries about how we can live with less pain and more ease no matter how difficult our individual circumstances might be.

What is your favorite pose and why?

Reclining bound angle, in my experience, never fails to deliver. There are so many possible variations-from minimal props to the full “Cadillac Version.”

Students have told me that they feel deeply protected in this pose. This pose opens the belly, throat, shoulders and heart area-areas we tend to protect. It refreshes and relaxes the body and mind and is the perfect pose to do if I feel nauseous, anxious, and depleted. Especially good before and after cat scans.