Ask Tari: Are your yoga classes for women only?

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Recently, I was asked if our yoga4cancer classes in New York City are women only. ‘Good question!’ I responded, and ‘Thanks for asking.’ This gives me the opportunity to clarify my approach and my working policy for our classes.

First, a little history is needed.  In 2003, I started a yoga class for women breast cancer survivors at OMyoga under the sponsorship of a foundation whose mission was to support women only programs.  Within the first few years, we extended the program to help women beyond  those suffering from breast cancer.  For many years the classes continued under the title: OMyoga for Women Cancer Survivors, WCS. Two years ago when OMyoga closed the doors of its studio in Manhattan, I knew our yoga classes must continue but in a new form.  This was the birth of yoga4cancer.

In setting the foundation for yoga4cancer, I knew I wanted to help as many survivors as possible – no matter race, gender, creed or background.  Cancer doesn’t distinguish, why should we?! It seemed appropriate to offer them to all cancer patients and survivors. Plus in the 10 years since the inception of the program, more men were interested in learning & participating in our classes and in yoga in general. Many men had become teachers within the y4c family and using our principles everyday to heal. So I didn’t want to exclude any type of cancer or person it effects.  Cancer is not gender specific and yoga is beneficial to all, male or female.  Our instructors and classes are capable of helping anyone no matter the type of stage or type of cancer – male or female.

That being said, like most yoga classes, whatever style or specialty, the number of women usually outnumbers the number of men participating.  So it often appears as if only women attend y4c classes. But in fact, we welcome all cancer survivors of both genders and all races to y4c classes. Spread the word.  Bring your male friends to class!

Your Invitation to Cancer to 5K!

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yoga4cancer and The Retreat Project are proud to announce their partnership with Cancer to 5K part of the Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adults. Sign up for FREE before August 16th!

Shanette Caywood

The Cancer to 5K training program is launching in New York City on Saturday, August 16! Cancer to 5K is a FREE, 12-week, run/walk program designed to introduce or reintroduce cancer survivors to being active. There is no fundraising commitment for participants or for volunteers, and participation is open to survivors regardless of age, treatment status, or fitness level.

Team workouts will take place on Tuesday evenings and Saturday mornings in Manhattan, and the team’s goal race will take place on Saturday, November 1.

Find out more and register to participate today at www.cancerto5k.org, or contact Program Manager Laura Scruggs at laura@ulmanfund.org / 410.964.0202 x108.

y4c Community Classes will be part of the training program as well.  Participants will have the opportunity to join our classes to help on their journey to the 5K challenge.We look forward to welcoming them to our community.

Sign Up Today!

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Yoga Pose: Cactus Clap & Dirty T-Shirt

Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

Benefits:

  • Range of motion in shoulders and arms
  • Chest and upper back stretch/strengthening
  • Lymphatic drainage in arms

Veronica - Cactus Clap

Cactus Clap:

Seated in a comfortable position on the ground with bolsters, blocks or blankets.  Or in a chair.

Sit upright with palms on your thighs.

INHALE: Lift your arms to shoulder height, bending your elbows to make a cactus shape, with palms facing forward.

EXHALE: Bring your palms and forearms together in front of your face.

INHALE: Reopen your arms to cactus.

Repeat the last two steps three times. Move slowly, following your breath. Then lower your arms and rest your palms on your thighs.

Modifications: Forearms and palms may not come all the way together. Bring them as close as is comfortable.

CactusClap Illustration

Dirty T-Shirt

INHALE: Lift arms to cactus.

EXHALE: Fold left arm over right, giving yourself a hug.

INHALE: Begin to lift your elbows higher. As if taking off a T-shirt, slide your fingers up your arms as you reach your arms toward the ceiling. Expand your chest.

EXHALE: Lower palms to thighs.

Repeat sequence, this time folding right arm over left to give yourself a hug. Then repeat the entire sequence six times, alternating which arm is on top.

Modifications: The action of removing the imaginary T-shirt may be difficult if you are recovering from surgery. Modify by skipping this movement and returning to cactus arms instead.

DirtyTshirt Illustration

Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

 

Yoga Pose: Warrior Three at the Wall

Benefits: 

  • Strengthens the whole body including core, legs, hips, shoulders, arms and back muscles
  • Builds bone mass
  • Increases heart rate for cardiovascular health and weight maintenance
  • Stimulates the lymph system
  • Increases leg flexibility

Props needed: Wall, table or stable chair with a high back

Begin in Down Dog at the Wall (optionally, rest your hands on a chair back or table instead of the wall).

INHALE: Slightly bend your left knee. Lift your straight right leg up and back, maintaining a neutral spine.

EXHALE: Press your left foot into the floor and straighten your left leg. Engage your abdominal muscles to support your spine. Reach the crown of your head toward the wall while reaching back with your right heel, toes flexed downward. Notice if one hip is lifting higher than the other, and try to make the hips even.

Hold for three breaths.

As you INHALE lengthen from the crown of your head to your lifted heel.

As you EXHALE root down through your standing foot.

To release from the pose, bring your hands back to the wall. Lower your right foot to the floor and walk toward the wall to come up to stand. Repeat on the second side, reaching the left leg back.

Modifications: The lifted leg does not have to be at hip height. Lift it as high as you are able (never above hip height) while keeping it straight.

Warrior Three at the Wall

Feeling strong? Want a challenge? Try the below variation!

INHALE: Reach your left arm straight back alongside your left hip, palm facing hip.

EXHALE: Reach your right arm back alongside your right hip. Now you are balancing in Warrior Three without touching the wall.

Warrior 3

 

Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

 

Yoga Pose: Cat and Cow

Benefits:

  • Spine and hip mobility
  • Arm strengthening
  • Detoxes by stimulating lymph system in arms and torso
  • Releases tension in lower back, upper back & neck.

Step 1: To Set Yourself Up on Hands and Knees

Place your hands directly under your shoulders, spreading your fingers and feeling your whole palm connected to the floor. Place your knees slightly apart, under your hips. If your knees are uncomfortable on the floor, put a folded blanket under both knees. Rest the tops of your feet (toe-nail side down) on the floor. Find a neutral spine position, neither sagging your belly toward the floor or mounding your back toward the ceiling, but “flat” back like a table. Your neck and head position are a continuation of your neutral spine. Reach the crown of your head forward, keeping your gaze on the floor.

Cat and Cow

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 10.03.55 AMINHALE: Arch your spine by lifting your tail toward the ceiling and dipping your belly toward the floor. Broaden your chest, reaching it forward through your upper arms. Extend the crown of your head forward and slightly up, keeping the back of your neck long. Imagine you are a sway-backed cow.

EXHALE: Press your hands and shins into the floor and round your spine by curling your tailbone down and lifting the middle of your back toward the ceiling. Drop your head toward the floor, relaxing your neck completely. Imagine you’re a hissing, Halloween cat.

REPEAT for ten breaths.

Modifications: If you feel tightness or a painful twinge in your back, make these movements even slower and more subtle, arching and rounding your spine to the degree you can, without causing discomfort. Over time your spine will become more flexible.

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y4c Teacher of the Month: Katy Keys

 

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Q: What was your original inspiration for teaching yoga?

A: As a therapeutic massage therapist for many years, my own yoga practice began to deepen, and I realized that I could use this knowledge to help my clients.  I was already seeing cancer survivors on my massage table, so it made sense that yoga could help people feel more at home in their own bodies.

Q: What was your inspiration to teach cancer survivors specifically?

A: This seemed like a natural extension of what I was already doing.  I could see that many new survivors were looking for ways to reclaim their sense of power and balance.  Yoga teaches all of us new things about ourselves and the world we live in.

Q: What have you enjoyed most about working with this population?

A:  I love teaching absolute beginners about yoga; especially the breathing practices.  With cancer survivors, there are many ah-ha moments, and they are priceless!  The thing I enjoy the most is seeing them grow in their practice as they become more confident and settle into their own strength.  The seasoned students begin to take the new ones under their wings, and help them feel more at ease.  To be honest, I think I am learning more from them than they are from me!

Q: When/Where do you teach classes?

A:  I am fortunate to be teaching at Fitness One at Memorial Health University Medical Center in Savannah, Georgia.  The fitness center and oncology department work together to get the word out to potential students, who can attend the classes for free.  They are held weekly on Tuesdays at 6:30 pm and Thursdays at 12:45 pm.

 Q:  What did you find to be the most useful element of y4c training?

A:  My training with Tari was so helpful in bringing everything together for teaching survivor students.  The most eye-opening aspect of the training was the experiential practice where each of us used props in order to reduce our strength or range of motion, or to mimic the effects of lymphedema.  It made me even more compassionate toward those who are struggling with this.

Q: How do you incorporate your own teaching elements in y4c style classes?

A:  As a massage therapist, I am a natural nurturer, in that I practice ways to support and encourage the student without causing pain or discomfort.  We focus on alignment and breathing, and I invite them to challenge themselves safely.

Q:  Has teaching yoga to cancer survivors surprised you in any unexpected ways?

A:  My students are such an inspiration to me, and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with them.  I have learned to be more patient and compassionate with myself as well as with others.

Q:  What is your favorite asana?

A:  My favorite asana is Ardha Chandrasana (Half-Moon Pose) because I feel like I am flying!  I teach this pose with modifications using a chair for students who are unable to reach the floor with their hands.

 

Teacher of the Month: Lorien Neargarder

Lorien Neargarder
Q: What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?
Yoga really helped me improve my quality of life. My practice offered me tools to manage my chronic pain and identify unhealthy thinking patterns. I wanted to show people that there are other ways to live, ways that minimize suffering.
Q: What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?
My experience with cancer actually began long before my experience with yoga. Over 20 years ago, I lost my grandmother to cancer. She was very special to me, but not an easy person to love. I watched as her support system disintegrated as she grew weaker, and I thought that there must be a better way to be with cancer. I didn’t originally think to work with people with cancer when I started teaching yoga, but I was drawn to the therapeutic side of yoga. This led me to work privately with people. Right from the beginning, cancer showed up: between the time that we scheduled the appointments and seeing them, several of my long-term students received a cancer diagnosis. I worked with these people one-on-one and realized how much it help them. That was 4 years ago and I haven’t stopped!
Q: What have you enjoyed most about working with this population?
They laugh at my stupid jokes… No, actually, the people that come into my classes who are dealing with cancer have very few ego issues. They are so open and willing. “What have I got to lose?” is such a liberating attitude to work with! And yes, they do laugh quite easily.
Q: When and where do you teach classes for cancer survivors?
Tuesdays noon-12:45 at Breathe Los Gatos
Wednesdays 10:00-11:00am at Kaiser Santa Clara
Wednesdays 1:30-2:45pm at Samyama Yoga Center (for Stanford)
Wednesdays 6:00-7:00pm at Cancer CAREpoint
Thursdays 1:30-2:45pm at Samyama Yoga Center (for Stanford)
Q: What was the most useful element of y4c training for you?
The first workshop I took with Tari taught me how to say the word “cancer” out loud without fear or judgement, and the second training I took with Tari taught me how to feel the limitations of some of my students through the experience of taping and padding my body and then practicing a yoga class. Both changed the way I was teaching!
Q: How do you bring your own teaching elements into the y4c classroom?
I incorporate many pauses and check-ins throughout the practice, because I want people with cancer to develop their “inner” listening skills, which can be used in situations off the mat as well. I love using analogies – especially if they incorporate animals – to teach the actions of the body. It usually brings a smile to their faces and a twinkle in their eyes.
Q: Has y4c training/teaching impacted you in any unexpected ways?
Yes! I found an ally in what I knew to be true: that people with cancer need movement – even subtle movement, and that empowering the students when they feel at their most powerless is important. Since I don’t have a cancer experience of my own, I doubted these ideas until I heard Tari explain them.
Q: What is your favorite asana and why?
I love pigeon pose – sometimes called swan pose. It’s the pose that started it all for me! My chronic back pain was reduced so dramatically after my very first yoga class, and it had to do with practicing this pose. For the past 15 years, I have tried to find some way to do this pose every day, or else my back reminds me!

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.

Flat & Fabulous

 

A letter to all physicians from Barb Bordwell, member of the Facebook group “Flat & Fabulous”, regarding breast reconstruction (or lack thereof) and patient decision making.

 
Dear “____”,
I am a member of a Facebook Closed Group of the same name that has now grown to over 360 members.  Some who chose no reconstruction from the beginning, some with failed reconstructions who have deconstructed, some with medical conditions that make reconstruction too risky or impossible, and some who are still at the front end of their journey and considering all of their options.  Our members include the whole range from those who wear breast forms sometimes, always or never. And even some among our midst, who with our blessings and full support, will one day change their minds and go on to have reconstruction.

I sense that you and many of your surgical colleagues care about women who have had mastectomy or facing it whether from breast cancer or the threat of it.  Yet as I hear the stories and see the photos repeated over and over, it becomes immediately apparent there is a huge disconnect between patient expectations and the reality of the actual results, whether from initial mastectomy or from deconstruction.   At the very same time, there are a small percentage of stellar examples so we know it can be done.  What we do not understand is why stellar is not the norm and what we too often see is not the exception.

For the vast majority of us who choose mastectomy without reconstruction, our expectation is smooth, flat, fairly symmetrical scars and a chest that is not unlike a prepubescent child with scars and no nipples.  That is the typical patient expectation.  We accepted that as the expected reality when we made the decision.  Instead, what too many are alarmed to discover upon waking is that they have been left with large pendulous pockets of extra skin, dog ears, scars that wander all over the place, and looking at times as if a summer sausage was encased under the skin and then the adjacent area sucked down to the chest.  They are then told they can “easily” have it fixed in a year or so.  Excuse me?!? Even an episode of the Doctors that I saw online left the impression that a woman’s only options are frankly a mess or full on reconstruction.  I am here to say that is a flat out lie, I know it, you know it and they know it.

Often among the many reasons we chose no reconstruction was to prevent the need for any further medically unnecessary surgeries or procedures to the highest degree possible.  We are asking for a Breast Surgeon to give us their very best and something we can live with.

With Pinktober upon us, my reason for writing to you is to hopefully open a discussion between the Breast and Plastic Surgeons who care for us and the patients.  I imagine some will say their patients do not typically come screaming in over the extra skin.  Probably not.  After all, the reason they chose no reconstruction was to avoid additional surgery.  Even if they complain, what can you offer them but …more surgery.  They then are faced with the very thing they did their utmost to avoid or suck it up and try to live with it.  There is this too often heard remark from surgeons “…I left the extra skin in case you ever change your mind about reconstruction.”  News flash to those in the medical field: your question should be “What if she does NOT change her mind?” and the answer to that question should NOT entail additional surgery to achieve.

The following is what I and some of my sisters in scars discuss that we would like to see:
1.     No reconstruction and/or Flat & Fabulous are offered equally with all of the reconstruction options.  For the most part, we are grown women who are perfectly capable of deciding what is best for ourselves and our families.  We are the ones who have to get up every day and look in the mirror and therefore it should be up to us to make the fully informed decisions.  It is time for shaming and bullying of patients by doctors and other professionals to stop.
2.     That Flat & Fabulous will just be seen as normal.  I live that reality.  Sounds like the bra burning of the 1960’s but in fact most people we pass in daily life rarely notice and even more unlikely to care if they do notice.  If we suddenly had big ones, people would notice, but small or flat – not so much.
3.     That the surgical outcome expectations for those choosing no reconstruction will be ever better.  There are a few among you who need to be brought up to acceptable standards or weeded out, perhaps a couple I would be tempted to send to prison.  Strange as it might sound, I know a few veterinarians who are so accomplished, I wish they were working in human medicine.
4.     To understand there is more to the discussion leading to decisions than just longevity.  If one chooses no reconstruction, for many (not all) symmetry and balance are of utmost importance and therefore justify a contralateral prophylactic mastectomy.  Not everything can be boiled down to simply what is medically necessary.  In the same vein, a patient comparing her life with the choice of lumpectomy with radiation and hyper-surveillance, against her life with mastectomy, may choose mastectomy as the lesser thing in the long run.  Granted her length of life may be equivalent but she may see her quality of life between the two as very different.  I compared the two and chose the bilateral mx including the contralateral prophylactic.  Have never once questioned whether I made the right decisions for me.  Each one of us needs to search her heart and make the right decisions for her and statistics are just not the whole story.
5.     To the Plastics, a gentle reminder that we are living breathing human beings and not just simply living canvases for your artwork.  Why do so many of you refuse to do revisions to simply remove all the extra tissue left from the original surgery in order to give us what we expected on the first go round which was as smooth, flat and as aesthetically pleasing as possible?  BEFORE you try to even dare to suggest reconstruction, can you truly say that it would be equal or less in time on the table, recovery, additional procedures and costs over her lifetime, as a simple one time revision?  Until we conjure up Samantha to twitch her nose, we all know the answer to that question is a resounding NO.

This is an opportunity for you and your colleagues, whether breast or plastic, to bridge the disconnect between our expectations as patients and the typical surgical outcomes.  We have large circles out there and sadly every day brings more women coming behind us.  I think we can likely agree that a well-informed patient with realistic expectations is a plus and that is the main reason that I am reaching out to you and your colleagues.  Pinktober seems the ideal time to bring it up and right now today are women, both in the Flat & Fab group and outside it, who are gathering all the information to make their own difficult decisions.  I would love to hear from you all.  If you would like photos, I am sure they could be provided.  All the way from what we think is ideal, to acceptable, to completely unacceptable.

Barbara

P.S.  Did you notice that I did not once suggest what any patient “should” do?  That is for them and only them to decide.

Yoga Benefit #4: Yoga Keeps the Spine Strong

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

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My spine was the reason I ‘found’ yoga. And the primary driver was vanity. About 15 years ago, I worried about developing the curve associated with age – like my mother had developed – and heard that yoga was good at preventing.  And it worked. Also I witnessed and learned that having correct spine posture goes beyond vanity; it keeps me healthy day in and day out. It ensures all my systems are functioning properly. Its vital to be being young as well as looking young.

Here’s why: Posture is the position in which we stack the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and use muscles to keep them in place. When we properly align the body, the spine takes on a beautiful, natural ‘S’ curve. When we let the body slump, we change the spine’s shape and restrict body systems like digestion, respiratory and cardiovascular, causing us to look and feel unhealthy. Bad posture limits and crowds the space necessary for lungs, stomach, intestines, and even the heart to function. We need oxygen to feed our cells, and we need our gastrointestinal system to be unrestricted so it can remove potential carcinogens from foods we have consumed. With good posture, adequate space exists for all the organs to work together. And in this way, good posture aids detoxification.

Yoga teaches us to align the bones of our spine to create good posture in every pose and movement. We also learn to use the breath to make the spine strong as well as the rest of the musculoskeletal system. The first step, however, is to take an honest look at your posture, like I did. This will help you determine what your ‘S’ curve is.*

In the y4c method, we seek to create proper alignment and good posture. We refine the techniques of movement through five natural and healthy directions in which to move the whole spine and keep it strong. They are: lengthening upward and downward, bending forward, bending backward, bending sideways, and twisting around the spinal column.

A recent Norwegian study confirms the benefits of yoga on vertebral fractures and osteoporosis. But the research warns that too aggressive a practice could be harmful, leading to compression of the spine. The study recommended “mild spinal flexion and extension” and “moderate weight-bearing.” This is why y4c methodology focuses on supported poses and deliberate alignment to ensure that the spine is not put under too much stress. For example, we encourage a Supported Forward Bend with blocks in order to protect lower vertebrae while enabling a student to gain the benefits of a forward bend.

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Finally, developing back strength for correct posture is essential for breast cancer survivors after axillary node surgeries (which I had) or breast reconstruction surgery (which I passed up). These procedures leave women (and some men) with significant scar tissue, reducing strength on both sides of the torso. Women who have undergone reconstructive surgery can face months of rehabilitation, pain and restricted movement. After my surgeries, my arm movement was restricted and I regained range of motion and strength with my yoga practice. Because breast cancer is the most newly diagnosed cancer in women at 29% of all cancer incidence, a yoga practice should look to improve flexibility, regain range of motion and reduce scar tissue for the upper body. Without careful focus on and consistent maintenance of abdominal and back muscles, the spine can become compromised, thus impacting other functions such as balance, breathing capacity, circulation of blood and lymph fluid, and proper digestion.

Sources:

  • American Cancer Society, ©2012 Surveillance Research
  • E.N. Smith and A. Boser. “Yoga, Vertebral Fractures, and Osteoporosis: Research and Recommendations.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy 23 (2013):17–23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24016820

 

Yoga Benefit #3: Yoga Increases Range of Motion and Flexibility

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

As a yoga teacher, I hear one thing all the time: “I can’t do yoga because I’m not flexible!” People say this before they’re diagnosed with cancer, or even if they are not given a cancer diagnosis. A flexible body is a useful body because we can do more with it, moving bones freely and without pain. We want to be able to reach for that shoebox on the top shelf, or bend over to tie our shoes.

Cancer treatments, however, can reduce flexibility because surgeries and radiation create scar tissue around muscles and joints. The scarring can make the body stiff and painful to move. Other treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy create joint stiffness, which decrease the body’s ability to bend, limiting the muscles and bones’ ability to work together efficiently. All of these problems make life’s daily and necessary functions difficult, such as being able to walk the dog, or to move a chair. In fact, we consider ourselves recovered from cancer when we have resumed ‘normal’ activities.

Tari Demonstrating Glam Gal

A yoga practice will improve flexibility, making movement easier. Like a parked car that will not move if it sits on its wheels for eight months, we must keep the joints moving and the muscles stretching, or they “rust.” (Actually, if we do not use muscles, they deteriorate more rapidly than we imagine.) What we learn is how to become more flexible by changing habits that prevent flexibility as well as how to protect ourselves as we reach our goals. This approach is designed to increase flexibility, and to regain and maintain mobility in daily life.

My y4c methodology looks at body movement in a logical, patterned way. Movements are slow and gentle, supported with careful attention placed on to where the bones are moved and with what muscles. Increasing range of motion happens by alternating the extention and flextion of muscles combined with patterned movement. You will learn how to explore your range of motion and be given guidelines to help you through various stages to regain range of motion, strength, and flexibility in general. You will also learn how to use passive, restorative poses and gravity to increase flexibility, as these use well-supported poses to soothe muscles. Gradually, you will go about daily life activities with less pain and more confidence.

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Where’s Tari?!

Over the past year, we have featured Tari in various poses around the world on Facebook.  They have been super popular and amusing (for both viewers and photographers).  So we thought it would be fun to share our favorites here.

Today’s pose is just outside the y4c Offices in New York City.

tari on canal street

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where should her next photo be taken?

YOGA BENEFIT # 2: YOGA STRENGTHENS THE BODY

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

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What defines a strong body?  Is it having sexy, toned muscles, or is it the ability to walk to your 8th floor apartment carrying 30 lbs. of groceries?  Some people choose to build a strong body with weightlifting and cardiovascular exercise in the gym, but not with yoga.  The physics of strength building is based on the same principle of creating resistance, regardless of where one pursues it.  The difference between going to the gym and doing y4c yoga is the difference between using weights and using your own body.

Cancer treatments like chemotherapy and radiation weaken the body in the act of eliminating cancer as a life-threatening disease. These treatments attack fast-growing cells, but healthy cells, such as bone cells, muscle cells, and the cells of most organs, are affected. Additionally, during active treatment, people face fatigue that makes normal activity challenging and contributes to further muscle atrophy.

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Many methods of building strength exist from weightlifting to vigorous walking to running. For a cancer patient and survivor, safety is a primary concern and yoga can build strength in a gentle and effective way. For example, yoga uses a person’s body weight as resistance unlike weightlifting. The y4c method eases the body into positions or using support systems, like yoga props, enabling people to build strength over time and without harmful pressure on a weakened skeleton.

Bone Strengthening. Individually, bones are rigid organs; linked together, they form the skeleton, our internal support structure.  Bone is living tissue made of calcium and collagens, and it is constantly changing—just like all body parts.  New bone cells are always replacing old ones.  There are two proteins in bone cells that are responsible for maintaining proper bones and density known as osteoblasts (which build bone) and osteoclasts (which diminish bone).  As we get older, this balance gets disturbed and having thin, weak bones is considered an inevitable part of aging—especially in menopausal women.  An overlooked side-effect of cancer treatments is the thinning of bones, which happens because the balance of these proteins is disturbed, much like they are in the elderly. Remember that chemotherapy is designed to interrupt the activity of cells that build. It targets osteoblasts in much the same way it targets cancer cells.

When bones are not stressed by how we use them, they do not build.  Research has shown one of the common solutions for weak bones is weight-bearing exercise.  In a study conducted at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in China in 2004, regular participation in weight-bearing exercise was beneficial for accruing peak bone mass and optimizing bone structure.[i]  Weight-bearing exercise has been mostly limited to the kind done with barbells, so the common recommendation to build bones is to lift weights.  A recent pilot study of osteoporosis and osteopenia sufferers suggested that 85 percent of the yoga practitioners gained bone in both the spine and the hip, while nearly every member of the control group either maintained or lost bone mass.5

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I believe yoga is safer for bone building than many gym routines because it stresses bones (or puts weight on them) in a precise, deliberate way. Through y4c methodology, we use our body weight and focuses on alignment through simple activities like balancing on one foot.

 

Cardiovascular Strength and Fitness. Running is a popular exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness. The goal is to enhance the body’s ability to deliver larger amounts of oxygen to working muscles along with burning calories for weight management. Cardiovascular fitness, like from running, results from the improved efficiency of a lower heart rate and from improved oxygenation throughout the body. A 2013 study showed that yoga improved several cardiovascular health advantages, like heart rate and respiratory function, at the same level as running. However, running and other high impact exercises can be risky for cancer patients and survivors due to weakened bones and joints. Running has been proven to contribute to osteoarthritis, arthritis of the joints that causes swelling and pain. Therefore, a regular yoga practice can provide the same cardiovascular benefits as running without risk to joints and pain. Furthermore, heart disease can be reversed, or at least managed, through diet, meditation, and yoga, as reported in Dr. Dean Ornish’s Program for Reversing Heart Disease (Ballantine, 1992).  Currently, Ornish is studying whether prostate cancer can be reversed by diet changes and yoga.

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Research shows that yoga helps keep a heart healthy and strong, and this is where the y4c methodology is different from other approaches to yoga for cancer patients and survivors that focus only on gentle and restorative yoga. We teach patterned movement, ranging from slow and gentle to active, which sometimes may appear similar to cardiovascular exercise—heart rate and breathing increase and people sweat! An example is the inclusion of a modified sun salutations, which is a sequence of yoga poses designed to move the spine, arms, and legs in precise directions combined with deep breathing. The body moves, the heart beats, blood flows, and the breath deepens—all combining to build a strong heart muscle.

Yoga Benefit #1: Yoga Detoxifies the Body

 by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

Detoxification is the metabolic process by which toxins, or harmful things, are changed into less toxic substances and flushed from the body.  Similar to how an environmentalist would remove pollution from a lake by flushing it with fresh water and directing drainage. Yoga is a powerful tool in the cleansing or detoxifying of our bodies.

Yoga borrows from the science of physics using the principles of movement, gravity and resistance to achieve this goal. All of our body’s systems participate in this cleansing process, but primarily the lymph system. Think about the lymph system as the body’s plumbing service and trash can for removing potential cancer cells, toxins and other waste (garbage!).  However, the lymph system has no organ that circulates its fluids, so it depends on the movement of muscles—especially the heartbeat, the breath and gravity—to flush waste from the body.  We use yoga to encourage lymphatic flow by placing the skeleton in certain postures, then moving them in specific patterns with our muscles.  Because muscles need more blood flow when moving than when resting, movement increases the heartbeat.  The demand for more blood results in a more rapid movement of blood being pumped through the cardiovascular channels located throughout the body.  Since the lymph system parallels the cardiovascular system, lymph fluid also flows better when blood is moving more forcefully and quickly.

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The largest lymph node “waste” collector is the thoracic duct located in the body’s center. The thoracic duct best kept secret of yoga and cancer experts. This central powerful vessel starts at the top of the sternum, reaching all the way to the small intestines.  Proper diaphragmatic breathing will move lymph fluid from the arms, legs, and head toward the thoracic duct.  From there, lymph fluid is cycled through the body’s laundry system and toxins are excreted, sweated out or otherwise expelled in the proper, well-designed process. Simple movements coordinated with diaphragmatic breathing does this. No magic. Just yoga.

The y4c methodology uses these three familiar physics principles in specific poses and with simple vinyasa sequences that involve actively moving muscles and bones. However, even seemingly passive restorative poses create subtle movement that directs the circulation of lymph and blood. By placing the head below the heart in restorative poses, gravity reverses the flow of body’s vital fluids. In addition, such poses encourage specific muscles to lengthen and relax. In itself, this may not appear to be a cleansing or detoxifying process, but considering that post-cancer treatment long-term side effects can leave a survivor’s body riddled with scar tissue and missing organs, creating obstacles to feeling and functioning normally, these poses are very liberating as they encourage passive movement of muscles and fluids.

Finally, yoga can clear, cleanse and “detoxify” the mind, too.  A cancer survivor lives with the fear of cancer returning, and this daily anxiety is a mental toxin.  By applying the same physical techniques, we detoxify the mind by using the movement of the breath, by relaxing into gravity in a restorative pose, and by managing negative thoughts while meditating. The biology of relaxation is based on the principle of reestablishing emotional balance. Left to itself, “the body will naturally relax when tired and arouse itself after rest.”1  Not so the mind. Yoga’s meditation tool can help to ‘refine’ the process of ushering out harmful, unnecessary and emotionally demanding thoughts. Even for a second, this can be a powerful benefit.

Let Pema Chodron’s words constantly irrigate, dilute and detoxify your thoughts. ‘No feeling last forever.’2

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Sources:

  • How Meditation Heals: Scientific Evidence and Practical Application, by Eric Harison, Ulysses Press, 2000
  • The Pocket Pema Chodron, Pema Chodron, Shambalah Press, 2008

AskTari: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

 

My friend Amanda recently wrote to me, and asked:

Looking back, do you remember yourself at the moment when you lost all your hair?  I know I will lose what little thin crop I have left.  And I am so uncertain about my ability to go ‘bare topped’ and/or scarfed-up or if a wig is necessary for certain times and places. Casual acquaintances will notice and I’ll have to explain.”

My first response came from a detached resolve to my post-chemo life and the aging process that’s accompanied by thinning hair. I felt guilty. I had forgotten the initial terror, upon feeling globs of hair come out with a gentle combing. Finally my sister said, “There is nothing there to style, Tari. Shave it!”

This is one of the first MASKS OF VANITY cancer removes. Just the week before, surgeries had reshaped my body with the loss of most of my right breast.

Becoming a cancer patient is synonymous with loss; not loss of life, because as a cancer survivor, you still have that. Rather, it’s the loss of body parts, a sense of wellbeing and wholeness, control of treatment side effects like hair loss, privacy, and ultimately, the loss of dignity.

I needed to reassure Amanda that the loss of her hair was temporary; an assault on her privacy and self-image for sure, but it was also a positive sign that the chemo was working. A hairless head would be a badge of courage, and would show she was winning the battle.

To some this “positive” spin might seem crass, but in my eyes, losing one’s hair to chemo is a good thing. It means the chemicals are killing fast-growing cells, like hair—and cancer. Of course, not all chemo has this side effect, but if or when it does, I say celebrate.

Ah, the significant insignificance of a bad hair day! I’ll be the first to admit I started doing yoga for all the wrong reasons: VANITY. Yoga creates long, lithe muscles; the appearance of a beautiful body. Cancer removed that mask. It removes lots of masks that we hold up in life.

As a yoga teacher now, I see my students struggle with this all the time. Some women worry about losing their jobs, and others fear their husbands will never touch them again. The stigma of image is horrible in this culture.

The hair-loss is temporary, and how we choose to respond to it can be the first step toward empowerment as a survivor. It’s an opportunity to face the world as you really are, and even try something new.

My goal as a yoga teacher to this special population is to return the control that is automatically lost with the words, “You have cancer.”. I show women through yoga, how their dignity is right there for the taking, and how they can live comfortably and love the body they have.

So much of the focus these days is on finding a cure for cancer. Important—of course! But it’s just as necessary to empower those dealing with it, and to empower the survivors. It’s making someone feel like a human being again, instead of just a “patient”, with all the sterility the word implies.

Early on as a survivor, I found that yoga gave me back the mind and body control I felt I lost when I became a cancer patient. It enabled me to regain mobility in my arms so I could support my body weight and function normally again.

During chemo treatments, I was amazed at the number of times I was given advice by family and friends to “take it easy”. In fact, it would make me angry that my new identity as a cancer patient came with a disability statement, however well intended. Most treatment options bring bad feelings and reduced energy, but nothing that should allow for life-on-the-couch to replace sensible exercise.

As a cancer survivor and yoga instructor, I am going to make the case that cancer is a “negotiable” disease, and not necessarily a death sentence that takes your life-giving-breath away. I am going to make the case that there are ways to be a “well cancer patient” and survivor, to reduce stress, promote healing, enhance quality of life during chemotherapy and to find feelings of wellbeing. My prescription is yoga. I make no claim that it is a cure for cancer, but simply a proven prescription and philosophy that provides benefits to everyone. Yoga can teach you how to strengthen the immune system and soften the worst effects of illness and treatments. It can also ground you, even while stripped of your masks and help you become more of who you truly are. And yes, it can help create an amazing body, no matter whose eyes are beholding it.

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Ask Tari: How do you help numbness in the toes?

 

Q: One of the teachers at the school where I teach has numbness in her toes from the chemo. I’ve suggested doing some Qi Gong and foot massage to help. Do you have any other ideas?

A: Your colleague is experiencing a common side effect of chemo: Peripheral Neuropathy. It is cause by the effects of chemo on the nervous system. Oncologists (cancer doctors) and cancer research do not have an answer.  Massage is not effective because this is a condition unrelated to blood circulation or muscles. Qi Gong can provide some benefits, as well as yoga.  Both will cultivate awareness of the nerve synopsis that is interrupted by the chemo, which will allow your friend to protect herself from falls and other injuries. Unfortunately, these effects of chemo cannot be minimized. They can be cumulative until chemo is stopped. There is hope to know that when she finished treatments, this side effect will gradually pass.

There is only one medical prescription given for this condition: antidepressants, which are thought to act on brain chemicals involved in transmitting pain signals.
I take great care to instruct yoga students with simple balances as a tool to manage foot neuropathy. One leg balances also builds bone. Bone loss is another long term side effect of chemo.
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More on neuropathy for your reference:

Patients taking mitotic inhibitors, such as taxanes and vinca alkaloids, platinum-containing agents or proteasome inhibitors may develop neuropathy in the hands and feet. It can develop weeks, months or years after treatment and typically involves the fingers and toes, or the entire hand and foot. Symptoms usually resolve completely, although it can take a few weeks to many months or even a couple of years as the nerves slowly heal. Some drugs can cause permanent neuropathy, and in rare cases, can also injure the auditory nerves, causing hearing loss.

Sensory neuropathy, the more common type, may cause pain, numbness, tingling or loss of sensation because it affects the nerves needed for touch, temperature and pain. Motor neuropathy results in a disruption of signals to the muscles and can result in symptoms, such as muscle weakness, clumsiness, balance problems and foot drop.

Patients who develop neuropathy during chemotherapy should tell their doctor right away, since more severe symptoms tend to improve slowly or persist. Neuropathy is often treated with either anticonvulsants or antidepressants because of their effects on certain chemical signals. Doctors typically prescribe a low dose and then increase as needed. A compounding pharmacy can prepare a topical cream that can reduce the severity of side effects. Also available topically is an anesthetic patch, which can be applied to intact skin in the area with the most pain. In some cases, a change in the dose or type of anti-cancer drug may be necessary.

from: http://www.curetoday.com/index.cfm/fuseaction/article.show/id/2/article_id/1005

New Norm: Less is Less and the more is in the moment

by Tari Prinster

Self-healers

A yoga class used well can become part of the arsenal to frighten away future cancers. Yoga is supposed to restore the body and free the mind from negative feelings caused by modern life.  Cancer is a modern life negative.  Some couch it in terms of a battle for life.  Yoga prepares the battleground (the body) and provides useful weapons of “carefrontation,” or self-healing.  Instead of running from the cancer, the fear and the uncertainty, each warrior can learn to fight for his or her self.  “When a human being suffers an emotional loss that is properly dealt with, the mind responds by developing new growth.”

Chemotherapy acts in the body like an industrial-strength toxin.  Yoga can act as the body’s natural cleansing agent.  By putting more oxygen in to the blood stream, eliminating toxins with sweat, by stimulating the bowels and facilitating lymphatic flow, a warrior can detox their own body.  No pills, needles, doctors, or insurance payments.

Cancer patients find themselves in distracted states of mind, bombarded by frightening information, subjected to invasive procedures and clinical environments.  A yoga class can be the safe environment that quiets the mind and plants the seed of self-healing.  When we are ill, finding our deepest most sustaining energy, mental and physical, is a task that we can only do for ourselves.  The warriors will listen attentively to every suggestion on how to fight and how yoga works.  They will remember and they will thank you.

Living with fear is the first lesson cancer gives.  For a survivor, uncertainty is a new and constant companion.  How to be fear-less becomes a shared goal for teacher and student.  If you are the teacher in this special population of warriors, expect to witness fearless living.

Rest & Restore with Supported Fish

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Special Benefits:

  • Increase chest muscles range of motion
  • Improve breath fluidity and awareness through chest opening
  • Deep relaxation due to gentle support

Practice Level:  All Levels

Props needed: Two blocks, two blankets, optional eye pillow

Place one block horizontally across the mat on the lowest level, and place a second block twelve inches behind the first block (at the head end of mat) on the medium level. Set a folded blanket on each side of the head end of your mat. Have the eye pillow within reach.

Sit in the center of the mat. Bend knees, placing the soles of feet on the mat, and begin lowering back onto your elbows. Rest the bottom tips of shoulderblades (bra strap area) on the low block. Support your head with the higher block, adjusting the location of the head block as needed.

Extend your legs. Arrange the eye pillow over your eyes. Rest your arms comfortably on the floor in a cactus shape. Use blankets to support the arms if needed. Let your body release into the support of your props. No need for effort here! Let this be a time to soften and feel nourished.

Stay for three to five minutes.

To come out of the pose, bend your knees and place the soles of your feet on the mat, and carefully roll off your props to one side, bringing yourself up to sit.

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Modifications:

If you feel discomfort in the low back, try placing a bolster or rolled blanket across the mat under your knees in a bent position for support.

While your arms are in a cactus position, both arms should be fully supported, with the backs of your hands and forearms forming a straight line. If needed, create a wedge with the folded blanket to support the forearm and wrist on an angle. If one arm reaches the floor in a cactus shape but the other does not, be sure to prop both arms equally.

New Norm: No news is bad news.

by Tari Prinster

Who’s Responsible?

Something that is very different in a y4c class is the exchange or non-exchange of information. As yoga teachers, we are trained to ask for injuries or concerns in a public forum at the beginning of class.  We assume if there are none, that people are taking responsibility for their own secret affliction/condition.  In a class for cancer survivors, the norm is different.  Public disclosure is awkward, and can invite an inappropriate response or lengthy exchanges. And useful information can be easily missed. Taking time to do the “intake” rounds before class and in semi-private is important. It is the teacher’s responsibility to create time and space for this to happen and to make certain critical facts are not missed.

There are two other shifts of responsibility. First, start with a student’s expectation of what he or she can do. Second, think about the student’s expectation of what the teacher knows and understands. With the first shift, students may be reluctant or embarrassed to talk about newly installed expanders, surgical drains, or chemo ports. Or students may not even know they have a condition that puts them at risk in certain activities or positions. This does not shift the onus to the student. It is still the teacher’s responsibility to know that such conditions exist and to ask questions at the right time and place.

The second shift is more dramatic.  By just offering a class for cancer survivors, a teacher is saying, “I am responsible.” When a student confides their cancer details with you, this intimate sharing forms a relationship of trust and assumes an expertise. “Teacher knows best,” or at least “knows.”  Knowing how to ask about cancer makes you different from other yoga teachers, therefore maybe you do know best.  When you become the teacher of a class for cancer survivors, you are implying that you know what is under the baggy t-shirt.  Your students want you to have the expertise.  It makes them feel safe.  Carefully balance the confidence placed in your expertise with the awareness and acknowledgement that you are a yoga teacher, not a medical professional, and this is a yoga class, not a medical clinic.

Tari Prinster at Monterey Cancer Yoga Retreat