Ask Tari: What poses would you recommend for post operation Breast Cancer?

Recently, a friend, student and fellow yoga teacher asked me what poses I would recommend for breast cancer post surgery, as she is now facing this situation herself.  This is a common question, since 30% of all women’s cancer is of the breast. For that reason, I will share the answer.

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as one would expect.  But to put it simply = all of them.  The key is to understand what symptoms or issues an individual is facing, or what that person wants to improve upon or alleviate.  For example, is the individual wanting to build strength, reduce scar tissue, reduce the occurrence of lymphedema, detoxify or simply relax and manage stress?  These are all things that breast surgery and breast cancer can cause. Thus, all yoga poses should be embraced and used to manage the side effects of cancer and surgery.

But as the question makes reference to ‘post-operation’, my feeling is that the intention was more about scar tissue, flexibility and ultimately strength of the arms and torso.  So here are four exercises that I have found useful both in my own recovery and with my students. But there are many, many more in my book – Yoga for Cancer.

  1. Cactus Clap
  2. Dirty Tshirt 
  3. Restorative Fish
  4. Full Body Stretch 

As mentioned above, these are just my recommendations for the immediate post-operation symptoms and side effects.  The management of a breast cancer surgery can often be short sighted.  Any breast surgery or lumpectomy brings other risks, like lymphedema, or loss of strength and support of other body parts and systems.  So although the initial concern might be for the breast / upper body areas post surgery, I urge everyone to embrace yoga as a tool to manage all the side effects of any cancer and its treatments.

 

Navigating Cancerland with Yoga – by Tari Prinster

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As featured in the Spring 2015 issue of the Yoga Therapy Today by IAYT. Download the pdf here Spring2015_YTIP_NavigatingCancerland.

 

Fourteen years ago, when I heard those three words, “You have cancer,” they took my breath away. A cancer diagnosis is like falling off a swing as a child—the shock, hitting the hard ground, that thud sound, then the gasp for air, all in a split second. That is how I felt.

No matter the type or stage, cancer is a cold new reality. I survived the initial shock only to find myself enrolled in Cancer Boot Camp, what the late Christopher Hitchens called “cancerland” because of its strange customs and scary words. 1 Suddenly, I had to learn medical terms like “sentinel node biopsy” and “metastasis;” I heard about remedies like macrobiotic diets and mistletoe treatment that sounded odd to me, and I heard frightening statistics about survival rates. There was no time to sort out personal emotions before making life-and-death decisions. I found myself flooded with emotions and existential questions. How could this be happening? What did I do wrong? Why me? What do I do next? It was all so exhausting.

I had to get this roller coaster under control. Just as frustrating were all my questions about cancer as a disease, the treatment options, and their long-term side effects, none of which were ever fully explained by either my surgeon or oncologist. So, I read as much as I could, and I learned that there are few simple answers to what causes cancer or how to cure it. Sometimes, even though we follow health guidelines, don’t smoke, and eat right, we develop a cancer that starts with a random cell mutation.

When the diagnosis conversation started, my first question to my doctor was, “How do I get rid of it?” My doctor explained the basics: what a tumor is, why it should be removed, how that is done, and what happens after that. At first, I could barely hear the words, and I certainly didn’t understand them. I had a serious breast cancer—a large palpable tumor— and the treatment regimen would be aggressive because of the tumor grade.

The prescription given to me was the conventional Western route: lumpectomy surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy for ten months, then radiation. My navigation through the healthcare system started with a sentinel node biopsy, which is a diagnostic procedure to remove lymph nodes in the chest wall to check for possible metastasis outside the original tumor. Before cancer, I had no idea how many lymph nodes lived in my body, or where they were. My understanding of the immune system was minimal. That would all change.

Cancer treatments force you to think about the smallest details of daily life. I had worn a long-sleeved T-shirt to the hospital for my second surgery, but I had to use a surgical scissor afterwards to cut it open because I could not raise my arm over my head. No one had told me how to dress for cancer surgery! (Wear shirt that buttons up the front.) More seriously, no one told me that removing lymph nodes in the chest wall would traumatize the pectoral muscles.

Fears began to pile up fast. Range of motion was gone in my right arm. Removal of lymph nodes created the risk of lymphedema: a disfiguring, physically limiting condition in which lymph fluid builds up in tissues, causing swelling. As many of my yoga students now express, fear of lymphedema can be stronger than the fear of dying. Then came the warning that the loss of sensation in my right arm could be irreversible. After surgery and before chemo, my nurses explained how I would empty the surgical drains left in my chest wound and wished me well as I took the first step on the path of survivorship and went home.

Honestly, I left the hospital grateful for the knowledge and expertise of my doctors and nurses, but also feeling let down, alone, and with many more questions and fears than answers. Leaving the hospital, I had a fistful of pain meds, but no prescription to manage long-term side effects. I was warned what not to do, but not prepared with any “this is what you should do.” The big questions about living with cancer and rebuilding my life were never discussed. Caught up with so many details, I didn’t think to ask those questions, and my doctors didn’t think to volunteer such answers. Perhaps someone tried, but I was too distracted to hear.

Chemo was next, which is when I started to think about yoga. (For six years prior to my diagnosis, my practice three times a week combined Iyengar, Ashtanga, and self-practice.) Up to this point, cancer had been a great teacher. Chemo drugs, of course, are poisons designed to kill cancer cells, and in the process they kill other fast-growing cells such as hair follicles. As everyone imagines, the chemotherapy procedure creates anxiety, but it also produces new fears such as about the damage to healthy cells and a further loss of personal control. Fear is not pleasant and feeling vulnerable is hard work. Anxiety causes muscles to tighten, palms to sweat, your mouth to get dry as blood pressure and respiration rates elevate. Was I breathing? No! Gone again, that critical supply of life-giving oxygen. That I was holding my breath was a pivotal realization in my recovery.

I learned to use two yoga tools, gifts really, to prepare myself for chemo: breathing and meditation. In the past, I had underestimated meditation. Now, it allowed me to rest my mind whenever I chose, especially in the chemo chair. I could monitor my thoughts so I could go to sleep at night. I felt in charge again. With breathing and meditation I was grow- ing emotionally stronger, giving myself a way to strike a bargain with my treatments. Breath counting did not work for me, but alternate nostril breathing did. I was in control, not the chemo.

L1080562In New York at that time I found only one class for survivors, most of whom were advanced Stage IV and the focus was restorative yoga. I also started to rebuild my former yoga practice—slowly and gently, of course, but with a different focus. What interested me was not so much what I could not do, but what I could do. I was surprised when I brought my attention to other parts of my body that were healthy, like my legs, which seemed eager, ready to move and stretch.

Chemo made me tired. had expected that and anticipated the cumulative effect as I became bone-weary. However, an active yoga practice helped. It gave back energy. At the same time, I was growing emotionally stronger. It seemed that yoga focused me on the path of being a healthy survivor. I became curious. How and why were these effects of yoga happening?

At each stage of recovery, I experienced something different in my body and I had to adapt my yoga practice to the changes. Many questions arose in me about the effects of cancer treatments. But I also had questions for yoga: How to use yoga to optimize my health and to feel comfort- able in the body I now had?

L1080864When chemo finished, I asked myself whether my yoga practice needed to be different. Usually, restorative yoga with guided meditation is recommended for cancer patients and survivors. Was this what I needed?

My hope was that yoga could be a way to reclaim life during and after my cancer treatments, to get me back to normal. Hope, though, was not a plan; yoga was. I placed great expectations on yoga to give me full range of motion lost in surgery, to manage my fears, to help me flush out chemotherapy toxins, and to strengthen my immune system to resist a recurrence.

I wanted to know: What poses would be most important? How can yoga be healing and why? What are poses to avoid? What are the specific benefits and modifications for specific cancers? What is the science behind yoga? How does it work on a cellular level?

I was not a yoga teacher fourteen years ago, so I asked my teachers:

  • Will downward-facing dog cause lymphedema?
  • Would Hot Yoga be a good way to flush my body of chemotherapy toxins?
  • When is it safe to start doing yoga after starting treatments?
  • If I have implants, could they rupture doing yoga?
  • Is it okay to practice yoga with axillary nerve damage?
  • Forward bends cause me pain. Am I doing something wrong?

In the fourteen years since my diagnosis, research has begun to show evidence of yoga benefits for those with cancer. Along with patient navigators,some oncologists now recommend yoga. However, there are still many skeptics in the medical field, and much research needs to be done to bring yoga into main- stream care.

I believe yoga as a wellness plan improves the odds against cancer, giving survivors the tools to fight more effectively during active treatment or in the years after. Yoga helped me cope emotionally and physically with chemo, radiation, and other treatment challenges. This is the prescription I envision yoga folk and health care professionals giving: “Here is your last prescription. Do yoga.”

Finally, in speaking to yoga teachers and therapists as well as healthcare professionals, my experience led me to develop these guidelines:

  • Be prepared with answers to the questions, anticipated and unanticipated, that will come about yoga and cancer.
  • Learn the facts about cancer. Know that true compassion flows from knowledge and facts, not just from the heart chakra.
  • Learn the benefits of yoga as exercise beyond a relaxation technique. Acknowledge your own fears about cancer.
  • Acknowledge your own fears about cancer.
  • Encourage the curiosity of your patients and students who want to know how yoga works and how to live with cancer.
  • Appreciate that your patients want your recommendation on how they can participate in their healing.
  • Be aware that the science of yoga and cancer is still in its infancy. Stay open to the limits of our understanding and the possibility of misunderstanding. Yoga, like cancer, has scientific as well as spiritual dimensions.

L1080469Yoga empowered me to be healthier and stronger than I ever was before cancer. It taught me how to live with the uncertainty of recurrence and with lifelong side effects, and it helped me create my mantra: “Cancer steals your breath. Yoga gives it back.” A life-threatening illness can help us all learn how to live fearlessly—if faced directly. Both cancer and yoga are great teachers.

Tari Prinster, a cancer survivor, yoga teacher, and author of Yoga for Cancer, developed the y4c methodology using contemporary research on cancer and yoga. Since 2003, Tari has trained more than a thousand yoga teachers and worked with thousands of survivors. 

References

1. Hitchens, C. (2010). The topic of cancer. Vanity Fair. Retrieved from http://www.vanityfair.com/ culture/2010/09/hitchens-201009

2. Prinster, T. (2014). Yoga for cancer: a guide to man- aging side effects, boosting immunity, and improving recovery for cancer survivors. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

Benefit #10: Yoga Enhances Empowerment and Well-Being

 

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’. Buy your copy today!

Many have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition experienced by some soldiers returning from war, or by people suffering from a life-threatening accident. Cancer patients and survivors experience similar stress. We feel bombarded by frightening information, subjected to invasive procedures, and must endure cold clinics and blank stares.

Not everyone though manages stress with the same success, and a 2009 study by Costanzo, Ryff, and Singer developed and tested a concept that measures how we respond to post-traumatic stress growth, the positive flip side to suffering with stress.20 The researchers categorized the elements of surviving stressful events in three ways: survival with impairment, survival with resilience, and survival by thriving. Surviving with impairment, a survivor may blame her trauma on everything wrong with life. Surviving with resilience means she may recover from the trauma and live a serviceable life. Surviving by thriving though occurs when people make the traumatic event a pivotal point in life, changing their situation by making lemonade out lemons—ultimately thriving after cancer, for instance. The thriving survivor enjoys her blissful moments, which can lead to further change and the ability to find positive ways to manage stress.

L1080562About managing stress and cancer, Suzanne Danhauer of Wake Forest School of Medicine says, “Given the high levels of stress and distress that cancer patients experience, the opportunity to feel more peaceful and calm is a significant benefit.”21 She goes on to describe results of random trials studying the effects of yoga on emotions. Her research, conducted in 2009, found an increase of positive emotions such as calmness and a sense of purpose in over 50 percent of her subjects.

So, a growing body of research shows that yoga provides emotional benefits. Whether we use yoga to lose weight gained by taking medication, to detox our body following chemotherapy, or to regain the use of our arms, practicing yoga helps us feel better. As these benefits become more apparent, we experience increased well-being and, more importantly, feel more empowered than before. A positive spiral toward health results; as we continue to feel better, we make even better decisions about how to bring balance and ease to our lives.

L1080861Often, survivors with a yoga practice are surprised to find self-healing and empowerment in addition to their newfound well-being. Yoga empowers us to define life on our own terms. A solid practice can help reduce drug dependency or leave us feeling like we had a great massage. Ultimately, yoga helps us create a sense of balance between body and mind, the physical and the spiritual.

A final point: The first obstacle to exploring the great promises of a yoga practice is accepting that things are never going to be the same—and that is okay. Learning how to practice self-compassion is the most important benefit of all, what I call the bliss benefit.

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Ask Tari: What’s the difference between a ‘traditional’ yoga teacher and a yoga teacher for a “cancer survivor?”

Question: What’s the difference between a ‘traditional’ yoga teacher and a yoga teacher for a “cancer survivor?”

At first glance, the idea of yoga for cancer patients undergoing treatment and now in survivorship seems an obvious, logical step. What better way is there to manage anxiety, gain strength, increase flexibility and create feelings of well-being?  It seems like everyone knows yoga is beneficial.  So, why would teaching yoga to cancer patients and survivors be any different than teaching yoga to healthy people?

The popular notion is that all yoga is beneficial, whatever its style or flavor.  But as yoga teachers, we know that is not true.  Just like cancer, yoga is not one-size-fits-all.  Everyone’s cancer, treatments, side effects and body are all different. Yoga teachers must be ready to adapt teaching styles to the changing needs of students.  The difference in teaching yoga to cancer survivors is that the risks are higher and a teacher should know what those risks are.

The answer can be found found in the words of BKS Iyengar, from his book, Light on Life:

“Do not imagine that you already understand and impose your imperfect understanding on those who come to you for help.”

 

Most yoga teachers are trained to teach to a diverse, yet general, population, but not to teach to the specific needs of the cancer survivor.  Most likely, their training did not cover the life-long side effects and vulnerabilities triggered by cancer treatments, chemotherapy or radiation.

Yoga4Cancer ClassCompassion starts with a teacher’s willingness to learn about cancer, to be properly trained to teach yoga for cancer survivors, and to take the time to understand each student’s needs and concerns.  Knowing and understanding the conditions of the wounded body under that baggy t-shirt requires a yoga teacher training specialization.  This is the first step to creating safe healing conditions for those touched by cancer. 

Many teachers will have their personal fears about cancer. Conversely, many cancer survivors are not familiar with what they should expect from a yoga teacher when seeking a safe and practical class.  Yoga teachers should know to shift their pedagogy to meet the needs, often unexpressed, of their students.

Tari is nominated for the Yoga Journal ‘Seva Award’

We are thrilled to announce that Tari has been nominated by Yoga Journal for a Seva Award (Selfless Service) as part of their Good Karma Awards.  Tari is among 13 international nominated for this prestigious award.

‘The Seva Award is a yogis who are doing seva or selfless work by bringing the healing practice of yoga to underserved people either in their own communities or around the world. In choosing the 13 Seva Award winners, they searched for yogis who have been volunteering consistently (week after week, month after month, year after year) for at least eight consecutive years; who are doing pioneering work with an underserved population; and who have made progress against serious odds in a difficult situation.’ We think Tari is a good fit.
For Tari, to be just included in this small group of exceptional and compassionate yogis is honor enough and fills her heart. But we want to enlist your support as winning would bring scholarship money that we could use to grow our programs and ultimately help more cancer survivors.
So we need your vote. There is no requirements or information that you need to provide. Just a click. Then please share with your friends to vote.  Share on Facebook or otherwise! Every vote helps and gets us closer to impacting more! Together we can help more survivors.

 

Benefit #9: Yoga Enhances Body Image

 

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Buy your copy today!

People have images from news media and film of people practicing yoga. Perhaps we picture limber, lean, and youthful bodies in tights and tank tops sitting cross-legged or bent completely backwards like a human Gateway Arch in St. Louis. Celebrities and famous athletes do it. Everybody under thirty seems to be doing it. These young people might think they look like a model on the cover of Yoga Journal, and the serene look on their faces suggests that they’re not just in good physical shape, but their minds are in good shape too.

_MG_0854I believe yoga makes us feel good from the inside out. Yoga does not just help the body get strong, flexible, and detoxified. It helps our perception of the body and improves self-esteem. Cancer survivors, especially those who have survived breast cancer, have the same desire as everyone else: to look good! And yoga is for ordinary bodies. However, when baldness is not a fashion statement and makes us look sick, or when we feel weak, have gained twenty pounds from medical treatments, or have lost body parts, feeling good about how we look seems out of reach. Encouraging survivors to find a way to feel good about their appearance may sound unrealistic.

Rather than feel good, some survivors feel shame or embarrassment by their disfigurement. They say their body has betrayed them, as if blaming it helps explain a terrifying, mysterious disease. Survivors might also blame—falsely—their will, instead of their body, and think that they did not eat enough organic food, take enough vitamins and supplements, or use enough alternative therapies. Feelings of failure are not helpful and only add stress to life.

Here is what I have learned. Not only has the body not betrayed us, but by thinking this way we risk just such a betrayal. Research on stress and emotion suggests how a negative attitude towards oneself causes stress hormones to rise, thus increasing risk for cancer.18 Even though research progress is being made, we know less than we should about what causes cancer. Almost always, it is not possible to identify the exact causes for an individual cancer. Rather, the best we can do is to manage risk. What we do know, though, is that having positive thoughts cannot hurt us.19

So, a y4c yoga practice seeks to free the mind of negative thoughts and feelings about our bodies. Instead of looking into the mirror and making poor comparisons to magazine cover models, yoga teaches us how to turn the mirror around to find what is hidden on the inside. When we do something every day, even if it is a simple stretch, breathing exercise, or correcting our posture while walking down the street, we develop a healthier, more positive image of ourselves. This is how yoga starts to work and over time, will enhance your body image. By having a daily yoga practice, either alone or with others, survivors see what is good on the inside. A virtuous cycle of positive benefits results.

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Pose of the Week: Dirty Tshirt

Excerpt from Yoga for Cancer, Tari Prinster’s latest book. Buy your copy today!

Benefits:

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

Instructions:

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.

Dirty TShirt

Pose of the Month: Knee-Down Sun Salutation

A sun salutation is one of the most beautiful and effective yoga poses or sequences. It strengthens the whole body, improves balance, builds bone mass, stimulates the lymph system, and increases heart rate for cardiovascular health.  It is and should be the staple of most practices. However, for some cancer survivors, it can be daunting.

The yoga4cancer sun salutations modify the common practice to enable all survivors to achieve the benefits without the risk, concern or discomfort. Below details one of the many sun salutations featured in Tari’s Book  – Yoga for Cancer.

Knee Down Sun Salutation

Benefits: Strengthens the whole body, improves balance, builds bone mass, stimulates the lymph system, lymphatic drainage in arms, increases heart rate for cardiovascular health.

Props needed: Two blocks, blanket (optional)

Place two blocks shoulder width apart on the highest level at the front of your mat. Stand tall between them. Line up your toes with the front edge of the blocks.

Inhale: Reach your arms out and up like swan wings.

Exhale: Bend your knees as if you’re going into Chair pose and lower your arms, bringing your hands to the blocks. Keep your chest lifted.

Inhale: Step your right leg back into a lunge. Reach the crown of your head forward while reaching back through your right heel. Left knee should be directly above left ankle.

Exhale: Lower your right knee to the mat or a blanket, untucking your toes so the top of the foot rests on the floor.

Inhale: Lift your arms out and up, bringing your torso upright.

To complete the Sun Salutation, repeat each of these actions in reverse, following the illustrations from right to left.

Exhale: Lower hands to blocks.

Inhale: Tuck right toes under and lift your right knee.

Exhale: Step your right foot forward between the blocks, both knees bent, chest lifted.

Inhale: Straighten your legs, reaching your arms out and up like swan wings.

Exhale: Lower your arms. Return to stand tall position.

Repeat on the second side, stepping back with your left leg.

Modifications: For sensitive knees, set a folded blanket across the middle of your mat where your knees will land during the knee-down lunge. If range of motion in your arms is limited, lift your arms only to a comfortable height. If your hands do not reach the blocks as you bend your knees from a standing position, stack two blocks under each hand.

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Pose of the Week – The Holiday Detox

Thanksgiving Yoga

Oh boy…  we are heading into the glutinous season starting with a week full of turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, cornbread, cheese, pumpkin pie and, of course stuffing…  and if you are anything like me, I feel ‘stuffed’ even thinking about it. So I make sure to increase my detoxifying yoga poses.  Because the great thing is whether you are detoxing from chemo, getting rid of rogue cancer cells or just too much holiday food, these poses improve your bodies ability to digest, circulate and function. Also these poses can improve the relaxation response which is much needed after a house full of family and friends.  So in honor of that, the Pose of the Week is the Turkey Detox and consists of two poses: Legs Up the Wall and Knee Up Seated Twist both featured in the detox sequence in my new book – Yoga for Cancer.

Knee Up Seated Twist

Sit cross-legged with your right leg in front. Place your right foot on the floor, your right knee pointing up, thigh close to your belly. Hold your right shin firmly with both hands.

INHALE: Sit fully upright, chest broad, crown of your head lifted.

EXHALE: Twist your belly and chest to the right. Place your left hand on your right shin and right hand to the floor or a block behind you. Turn your head to look past your right shoulder.

INHALE: Sit taller and slowly turn your head to look past your left shoulder.

EXHALE: Slowly turn your head back into the twist, gazing past your right shoulder.

Repeat five times. Then repeat the sequence five times on the second side, twisting to the left.

Modifications: If your hips are tight it may be difficult to sit upright. Try sitting on a higher support and bending your lifted knee a little less deeply so the foot that is on the floor is further away from your hip. If you experience any neck pain, do not turn your head as far into the twist.

Benefits: Stimulates lymphatic system in hips and torso to aide detoxification, hip stretch, spine flexibility and releases neck tension.Knee Up Seated Twist

Legs Up the Wall

Props needed: Wall, two blankets, eye pillow (optional), bolster/cushion (optional), strap Legs up the wall(optional), additional blanket (optional)

Pull the short end of your yoga mat up to a wall. Place a folded blanket on either side of the middle of your mat.

Sit facing the long side of the mat with your left shoulder against the wall, knees bent. Using your right arm for support, lie down on your right side and as you roll onto your back, extend both legs up the wall. Keep your hips several inches away from the wall.

Rest your arms on the folded blankets in a cactus shape. Close your eyes. Rest for at least five minutes.

Modifications: If your neck feels strained, a folded blanket or low pillow under the head can offer additional support. If your hamstrings are tight, having your legs up the wall may feel like a stretch, and the back of your hips may not be flat to the floor. Move your hips further away from the wall until they rest fully on the mat. This will also release tension in the backs of the legs. Limited mobility in your shoulders or chest may require additional blankets under your cactus arms. Ensure that your hands, wrist, forearms, and elbows are all supported. As always, support both arms at the same height to maintain body symmetry. Optionally, put a bolster (with long end parallel to the wall) or cushion under your hips. A yoga strap can be belted around your thighs to hold your legs in place and allow the legs to more fully relax.

Benefits: Lymphatic drainage from legs; increases venous return from the lower body; activates the parasympathetic nervous system promoting physical relaxation, calm, and stress reduction. And feels glorious.

This is an excerpt from Tari’ book – Yoga for Cancer – now on sale at major retails.  Click here to buy your copy today. 

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Benefit #8: Yoga Helps Manage Fear and Anxiety

 

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

Fear is one of the most common and overwhelming reactions to those three little words, “You have cancer.” For most of us, if not all of us, it puts us into a tailspin of fear of pain, the impact on family, loss of income, and ultimately, death. As a cancer survivor adjusts to a life-threatening disease, an additional alarm system emerges: uncertainty. From that point on, every tweak, pain, or twitch, even old familiar ones, creates anxiety. Anxiety about what is and is not cancer becomes a new threat and constant companion. This undercurrent of anxiety and fear impact mood, fear and anxietycauses depression, and affects quality and length of sleep. These then impact our body’s natural systems to heal and restore, further weakening a survivor’s physical and psychological status. It’s a nasty downward spiral.

Yoga is well known for its powers of relaxation. Many are unaware of the physical benefits though they are easily understood and recognized in popular and modern culture. I want to provide some fact-based reasons for why yoga can help reduce anxiety and fear to essentially calm the nervous system.

The nervous system is complex network of trillions of cells and countless communication pathways throughout the body. Information is delivered to the brain in the form of sensations through sight, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching, and feeling. And the body responds to these sensations, or signals, with pleasure or discomfort and pain. Both responses are interpretations made by the brain to protect us from harm, maximize health, and enhance well-being. If we were in freezing weather and didn’t have a nervous system, we wouldn’t know how cold we were and wouldn’t protect ourselves with winter clothing, risking serious conditions like hypothermia. Without the nervous system, we would not know what is happening in the body, and it would be impossible to take care of ourselves. So an anxious nervous system not only impacts the way we emotionally feel but how our body functions and the power of our immune system.

Research about yoga’s positive impact on the nervous system, especially in reducing anxiety and fear, is plentiful. In 2013, a study conducted by the University of Calgary showed that practicing yoga led to improvements in mood, stress factors, and health-related quality of life (HRQL).15 Participants saw an improvement within the seven-week trial and then in three- and six-month follow-ups. Another study suggests that yoga can be more effective on mood than walking, which is a common recommendation for cancer patients and survivors. Yoga participants reported greater improvement in mood and a reduction in anxiety levels over the control group that only walked.16

y4c restorative poseAnxiety causes sleep disruption. It’s estimated that between 30 percent and 90 percent of cancer survivors have problems sleeping. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2013 reported that 90 percent of cancer survivors who participated in a yoga program saw improvement in their sleep; they had better sleep quality, less daytime sleepiness, better quality of life, and reduced use of medicines.17

Some psychological principles that help us are the relaxation response, the power of positive expectations, and pranayama, breath control using the practice of various breathing techniques. The latter is a key technique for inducing relaxation in the body This is the science behind yoga that invites you to enjoy safe and relaxing positions, respect your body, settle the monkey mind, work past the normal distractions of daily life, better manage fears and anxiety, and help you make time for healing.

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Five Ways That Yoga Helps Prevent Cancer

Kripalu-logo

By Tari Prinster.  Kripalu Thrive Blog on October 23, 2014.

“You have cancer.” About half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will hear those words in their lifetime. That’s 40 percent of us. We each hope it’s not us. But hope is not a plan. And if you’ve heard those three little words, as I did, your life changes forever. But blaming yourself, retreating from life, and hoping for no recurrence, is also not a plan. Adding yoga to your daily routine—that’s a plan. And an effective one!

An increasing body of research shows that yoga can help prevent cancer, and help cancer patients and survivors manage risk and side effects after treatment. As a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2000, I have felt the impact in my own body after many surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. Yoga brings balance and alignment to all body parts and systems: muscles, bones, organs, and the mind. It’s a holistic path to wellness that focuses on interconnection.

Here are five reasons why yoga should be in everyone’s cancer-prevention and/or cancer-recovery plan.

Yoga strengthens the immune system. The goal of strengthening the immune system is to keep all of the body’s systems working together. It takes a village: Failure of any one system threatens the health of the whole community. Cancer therapies that seek to strengthen the immune system are increasingly proving to be helpfulin fighting a wide variety of cancers.

Research shows that yoga boosts immunity. A 2013 study in Norway found that regular practice of gentle yoga and meditation had a rapid effect at the genetic level in circulating cancer-fighting immune cells. Mindfulness meditation also appears to change the brain and immune function in positive ways.

Yoga detoxifies the body. Detoxification is the vital metabolic process by which dead cells and toxins (the flu virus, a rogue cancer cell, or another pathogen) are excreted from the body. Yoga is the muscle of the lymphatic system—the body’s plumbing and trash-removal system. Similar to how the heart muscle circulates blood, yoga increases lymphatic flow with specific breathing and movement practices. Inversions, a fundamental part of a strong yoga practice, utilize movement and body positioning to reverse the effects of gravity on our body, enhancing the process of cardiovascular and lymphatic drainage.

Another way in which yoga detoxifies the body is through compression. B. K. S. Iyengar called it the “squeeze and soak” process, which cleans internal organs in the same way that a sponge discharges dirty water when squeezed. For example, abdominal twists activate internal organs and guide the release of toxins into the lymphatic system.

Yoga detoxifies the mind as well. A survivor lives with the fear of cancer returning, and this daily anxiety is a mental toxin. We can detoxify the mind by using the movement of the breath, by relaxing into gravity in a restorative pose, and by quietly watching our thoughts in meditation.

Yoga builds bones. How are strong bones linked to cancer prevention? Our bones house bone marrow, where new red and white blood cells are constantly being produced. White blood cells are needed to form leukocytes, our natural cancer-fighting immune cells. If our bones are compromised from a break or from osteoporosis (a side effect of chemotherapy), so too is the production of a nourishing blood supply and immune protection.

A recent pilot study by Kripalu presenter Loren Fishman, MD, applied yoga practice to sufferers of osteoporosis (decrease in bone mass) and osteopenia (reduction in bone volume). The results showed that 85 percent of the yoga practitioners gained bone in both the spine and hip, while nearly every member of the control group maintained or lost bone mass. I believe yoga is safer for strong bone building than many gym routines, because it puts weight on the bones in a precise, deliberate way.

Yoga reduces stress. Cancer patients and survivors experience stress similar to that endured by military veterans. They are bombarded by frightening information, subjected to invasive procedures, and must endure cold clinics and blank stares.

A 2009 study of cancer survivors developed and tested a concept that measures how we respond to “post-traumatic stress growth,” the positive flip side to suffering with stress. This growth occurs when people make the traumatic event a pivotal point in their life, changing their situation by making lemonade out lemons—ultimately thriving after cancer, for instance. The thriving survivor enjoys her blissful moments, which can lead to further change and the ability to find positive ways to manage stress.

Yoga can enhance that positivity. The results of a 2009 study on the effects of yoga on emotions found an increase in positive emotions such as calmness and a sense of purpose in more than 50 percent of subjects. Women participating in a 10-week program of restorative yoga classes gained positive differences in aspects of mental health such as depression, positive emotions, and spirituality (feeling calm and peaceful), as compared to the control group.

Yoga is weight management. Obesity is a key, if not the largest, indicator of both cancer incidence and recurrence. In the United States, excess body weight is thought to contribute to as many as one out of five cancer-related deaths, and being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that obese individuals increase weekly exercise to 300 minutes per week to reduce the chances of cancer or recurrence.

Research on the impact of yoga on weight gain is still in the early stages. One study showed that yoga had a more positive impact on obesity and depression than aerobic exercise. While yoga for cancer survivors often focuses on gentle or restorative yoga methods (which are necessary and beneficial approaches), it can and should be active, and therefore calorie burning—while also being safe, physically accessible, welcoming, and inclusive. Yoga can help cancer survivors manage weight gain, which improves self-esteem and the ability to function normally, and ultimately reduces the risk of recurrence and mortality.

The benefits of yoga for cancer prevention are profound and well substantiated. For yoga teachers who work with cancer survivors and those in treatment, having specific knowledge about the benefits and modifications for this community is imperative. Teachers must understand the limitations and requirements in order to support this community to practice effectively and safely.

Tari Prinster, a cancer survivor, master yoga teacher, and author of Yoga for Cancer, developed Yoga4Cancer (y4c)methodology using contemporary research on cancer and yoga. Tari has trained more than a thousand yoga teachers and worked with thousands of survivors in her weekly classes and retreats. She is the founder and president of the Retreat Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to help underserved cancer survivors through yoga.

Sources:

  • http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancerbasics/questions-people-ask-about-cancer
  • http://www.sciatica.org/downloads/YogaOsteoporosis_PilotStudy.pdf
  • http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0061910
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12883106
  • http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3573546/
  • http://www.cancer.org/healthy/eathealthygetactive/acsguidelinesonnutritionphysicalactivityforcancerprevention/acs-guidelines-on-nutrition-and-physical-activity-for-cancer-prevention-guidelines

y4c & Making Strides on Sunday Oct 19th!

 

The yoga4cancer team is proud to be part of the 2014 Making Strides in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Tari and Jennifer Brilliant will be hosting warm up yoga sessions for all the participants before their walk.  The event has already raised over $1M to help survivors. Plus, the event itself helps get participating survivors moving and achieving their 150 minutes of exercise per week (ACS recommendation).  So we are thrilled to help them achieve their goal!

All the participants will be provided information about y4c classes in NYC so they can join our growing community. Please join me in welcoming them!

To sign up, donate, volunteer or just learn more, please visit Making Strides.

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Benefit #7: Yoga Helps Manage Pain

 

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

Dorothy is a tall, attractive Polish woman who is fifty-four years old. She had a double mastectomy when she was fifty-two, which was then followed by eight months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She tests positive for BRAC 1, the breast cancer gene. Her mother died of breast cancer at age forty-seven. Dorothy expressed concern to me before a recent yoga class about a new pain she was experiencing in her shoulder blades. As if whispering a secret, she asked me if it could be cancer. I was not surprised by her question, but asked her if she felt any pain when two years earlier she detected her breast cancer. “No,” she said, “Only a lump. . . . ”

It is not easy to listen to the body. We get so many aches and pains before, during, and after cancer. Most are not caused by cancer, but that is the fear. As survivors we are hyper-alert to new body sensations and naturally, we worry. The nervous system is a tricky alarm system sending signals that are sometimes confusing, false, or, as was the case with Dorothy, misunderstood.

Tari with Student in supported Childs PoseUntil advanced stages, most cancers do not cause pain. Rather, the treatment and their side effects can cause pain, not the cancer itself. Acknowledging this fact and then applying curiosity mixed with practical information help us manage our pain as well as our fears. In my conversations with Dorothy later on, she realized that the pain she was feeling, although real, was not due to cancer. Rather, it was a strained back muscle! During class, we did many poses and patterned movements that gave her relief and insights into how she was using her shoulder and arm.

But a yoga practice can reduce pain. Studies have concluded that yoga can help reduce pain for both non-cancer and cancer populations.14 Simple breathing exercises can ‘quiet the mind’ and provide respite from the sensations of pain.  Restorative poses – included in the active y4c method – enables the body to relax, heal and improves sleep.  Additionally,  the y4c methodology modifies traditional yoga poses so that individuals can practice with less pain and ease. There are ways to help you manage body sensations and to modify poses according to your body’s needs and the changing circumstances of your recovery on a daily basis.

An example of a pose that can be pain relieving but requires modification for SOME survivors is Childs Pose.  Read here for an explanation of how to modify this pose to enable the end benefit of relaxation and relief from pain, anxiety and stress.

Read the other Yoga Benefits here.  

Sources:

Pink is making me go Red!

 

Enough’s enough. As my husband watched the NFL yesterday, I became RED from pink-washing. A blatant profiteering from our basic human fear and spreading of false information.

Here’s why: Breast Cancer Month dates back to 1985 and a partnership with American Cancer Society and Imperial Chemical Company – largest producer of mammogram machines and anti-breast cancer drugs. Interesting, how a government agency and for-profit industry have captured our attention, energy, and compassion, MONEY and painting a whole month the color pink. Their core message is that early detection through mammograms saves lives. And honestly, once, I was on the pink wagon (despite hating the color).

But that was 1985. Cancer research and science has moved on since then, why can’t we?  My own personal experience – having two mammograms that failed to detect my palpable fast growing tumor – and similar experiences of many of my students. But most importantly the huge volume of research indicating that mammograms do not – statistically – save lives. And, actually, the research indicates that 22% women are over diagnosed and undergo unnecessary treatment that face life time of side effects.  Additional this fear mongering increase use of other diagnostic tools like X-rays and CT scans that is well known to be environmental cause of breast cancer.  Not to mention the stress!

Pinkwashing_2501Worse these businesses make loads of money and give very little of the proceeds to the actual cause.  For example, the NFL Crucial Catch campaign has turned American’s fall pastime pink through promotions, merchandise, partnerships, and events. It raises millions around the message of breast cancer awareness and early detection through mammograms. And only 8% of the profits of this pink flood goes to cancer research. Yes… 8%.

Don’t get me wrong, I support many great causes this October both personally and professionally (well… maybe not the NFL) and especially those that get people moving as exercise is the #1 tool to prevent and recover from cancer. For example, I will be leading a y4c class in the Making Strides event in Central Park. The Cancer to 5K team is actively coming to our free classes.  And heck, we run our own non-profit where no one earns a salary and all the donations go to help run a program that directly help survivors gain strength, balance and sense of well being.  So my advice is not for you to STOP partaking in the pink flood but use your C-words in vetting those that we participate, purchase, partake…

  • Caution for how and what our money is being collected for.
  • Curiosity about the messages and facts behind the causes.
  • So ultimately our Compassion is accurately directed to the causes that truly help survivors and non-survivors.

Here are some great articles and movements for you to learn more!

  1. Sign the Breast Cancer Action petition – ‘Think Before You Pink!’
  2. Top 10 Tips of Prevention.  Great tips to remove toxins from your life!
  3. Learn more about the NFL Crucial Catch hypocrisy.  Great article! Love
  4. British Journal of Medicine 15 year comprehensive finding on Mammograms. Key message: Annual screening doesn’t improve mortality and 22 percent of breast cancers diagnosed by a screening mammogram were over diagnosis. Causing unnecessary treatment treatments long-lasting side-effects.

Lets join together and help these well intentioned (lets pretend the bottom dollar isn’t the key motivator) business, brands and people from spreading this harmful mis-understanding. Focus them on what is really needed.  Prevention, Eduction and Care.

Give Today! If you are lost at where to give and support, a quick plug for our non-profit.  Again, 100% of the proceeds go to helping survivors (all survivors) live longer, healthier and happier lives through yoga and other wellness programs. Today we offer several classes per week in NYC, with your help, we could go further.  Give today!

 

Yoga Pose: Warrior One

 

Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’ by Tari Prinster.  Now on Sale. 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the whole body
  • Improves balance
  • Builds bone mass
  • Stimulates the lymphatic system – explicitly lymphatic drainage in arms
  • Increases heart rate for cardiovascular health and weight loss

Props needed: Two – Four blocks, depending on flexibility.

Standing TallPlace two blocks shoulder width apart on the highest level at the front of your mat. Stand tall between them. Line up your toes with the front edge of the blocks.

INHALE: Reach your arms out and up like swan wings.

EXHALE: Bend your knees as if going into Chair pose and bring your hands onto the blocks. Keep your chest lifted.

INHALE: Step your right leg back into a lunge. Look forward while reaching back through your right heel. Left knee should be directly above left ankle.

EXHALE: Bring your right heel down to the mat, placing your foot at an angle so your toes point toward your right hand.Supported Lunge

INHALE: Lift your torso to an upright position, placing both hands on your left thigh.

EXHALE: Draw your belly back toward your spine.

INHALE: If you feel steady and have the core support to stay balanced here, then reach your arms forward and up.

Hold Warrior One for three complete breaths.

EXHALE: Lower hands to blocks.

Supported lunge with teacherINHALE: Lift your right heel away from the floor and turn your foot so the toes face forward and heel points to the back of your mat.

EXHALE: Step your right foot forward between the blocks, both knees bent, chest lifted.

INHALE: Straighten your legs, reaching your arms out and up like swan wings.

EXHALE: Lower your arms. Return to stand tall position.

Repeat on the second side, stepping back with the left leg.

Modifications: If range of motion in your arms is limited, lift your arms only to a comfortable height. If your hands do not reach the blocks as you bend your knees from a standing position, stack two blocks under each hand.

yoga4cancer - Warrior One

 

Benefit #6: Yoga Helps Manage Weight Gain

 

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

When people think of cancer patients, they imagine skinny, fragile bodies. And yes, this is often the case during active treatment, prolonged treatment, or late stages of cancer. But for many people, weight gain is a common side effect of cancer treatment. Weight gain has significant impact on both physical and psychological aspects of a survivor’s life. And a great concern of weight gain is increased chances of reoccurrence.

Obesity is a key indicator of both cancer incidence and recurrence. The American Cancer Society recommends that obese individuals increase the standard weekly exercise from 150 minutes to 300 minutes per week to reduce the chances of cancer or recurrence.12 Thus managing one’s weight should be a focus of any cancer patient or survivor (and everyone in general).

Yoga provides a safe, gentle way to manage weight. Research on the impact of yoga on weight gain is still in early stages. One study showed that yoga had a more positive impact on obesity (and depression) than aerobic exercise.13

Yoga4Cancer Class

But not all yoga is the same. And I would not argue that all styles will help you manage weight gain. Often, yoga for cancer survivors is focused on gentle or restorative yoga methods, which are necessary and beneficial approaches. But they are not an active yoga practice. Many yoga teachers are afraid to make cancer patients and survivors move and be active in class.

It is a mistake to coddle survivors, treating them as sick. I remember this from my own days of attending a yoga class with my bald head and the teacher encouraging me to lie in restorative poses and not participate in the active yoga class. I felt isolated, ashamed, and annoyed. Worse, if I had listened to my teacher, I would not have benefited fully from the active yoga practice. Therefore, including an active practice is the foundation of y4c methodology.

Tari Demonstrating Glam GalYoga for cancer survivors can be active, therefore calorie burning; and it can be safe, physically accessible, welcoming, and inclusive. Yoga can help cancer survivors manage weight gain, which improves self-esteem and the ability to function normally, and ultimately reduces the risk of recurrence.

Sources:

Yoga Benefit #5: Yoga Strengthens the Immune System

 

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

Many people make the claim that if you practice yoga, you will strengthen the immune system. Often these claims are not substantiated by knowledge of what the immune system is and how it works. Let’s explore the ways in which cancer and treatments for cancer impair the immune system and how yoga practice bolsters it.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 7.26.51 PM

The immune system is not a single, tangible part of the body like the lungs, heart, brain, or stomach. In one sense, the immune system includes all of the body’s parts and systems, being the interaction and union of all these systems (enclosed image is how I depict the immune system for myself and for my yoga teacher trainers). The goal of strengthening the immune system is to keep all the systems working together like working families in a large, healthy village. The failure of any one system threatens the health of the whole community—for example, if our bones are compromised from a break or osteoporosis (a side effect of chemotherapy) we will not be able produce new nourishing blood supply to feed our reproducing cells in other systems. Additionally,  the immune system is constantly on the lookout for a new or returning cancer cell.

Chemotherapy and other cancer treatments can compromise the immune system’s efficiency because they disrupt the development and balance of all cells, therefore stressing the body’s systems and increasing the risk of infection or other diseases. Specifically, treatments reduce white cells in the blood that are needed to form leukocytes, a natural immune protection. This is why it is so critical for active cancer patients to keep on “immune system alert.” Because yoga’s goal is to strengthen all body systems, the end product is an improved immune system.

tumor-cells-520

On a molecular level, we find further support that yoga boosts the immune system. Recent research has found that yoga causes an improvement in gene expression within lymphocytes, which are our cancer-fighting cells, often referred to as immune cells, that are being produced in our body all the time. Gene expression “is the process by which information from a gene is used to make a functional gene product,” which in this case is to aid lymphocyte production. In this science-based way yoga boosts our natural defense against cancer. Every y4c yoga movement, position, or patterned breathing technique has one goal: to strengthen the immune system!

Sources:

 

Child’s Pose: Why we don’t do it?

 

AHHH…. Child’s Pose.  The ‘resting’ pose of yoga. The needed break from downward dog or a ‘chaturanga’. The pose of comfort and relaxation… for some of us.  But not for all.

In my yoga4cancer (y4c) classes or in my yoga teacher trainings, I don’t suggest Child’s Pose for resting because for many survivors this pose is actually not comfortable and can even be harmful. I know this might be surprising to some so let me explain:

  • First, it requires a level of flexibility in the spine, hamstrings and feet, which cancer patients and survivors lack due to inexperience and / or return to exercise.
  • Second, it puts pressure on the lower vertebrae that can be compromised due to chemotherapy & other treatments that weaken bones or osteoporosis.
  • Third, cancer survivors can have sensitivity in the abdomen due to scar tissue, surgical sites, or even existing painful tumors.
  • Finally, having the head below the heart restricts breath (to some extent) can feel claustrophobic, which is a particular point of sensitivity for cancer patients who may have often been required to hold breath and stillness in small spaces (MRI machine) for long periods of time during treatments or diagnostic tests.

For all these reasons, Child’s Pose is not necessarily relaxing or comforting, which defeats its purpose entirely. Of course, for some survivors, this pose is wonderfully relaxing and helpful. It’s just important for both yoga teachers AND the students to understand the potential challenges and modifications that can be done to make it comfortable for all.

y4c Modification to Child’s Pose:  Modify child’s pose by placing a blanket under the knees and a rolled blanket under the tops of the feet. Once that is set up, place a block between the thighs, with one or more blankets or a bolster on top of that block and across the thighs. Construct a support for the chest and the head using blocks and blankets so the bend is less extreme and the head remains at the same level as the heart. Place a clean towel on the head support.

y4c Modified Child's Pose

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

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.Veronica - Cactus Clap

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

 

bc yoga (1)

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

supported-fish

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.

______________________________

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

 

New Norm: Fear less. Live more.

Or … cancer is everyone’s teacher!

by Tari Prinster

Word Power

Why are words so powerful?  Why do we say the things we do, or don’t?  Yoga teachers work hard to create relevant images and to artfully weave them into a thematic tapestry throughout the class.  A metaphor can be like miniature impressionist painting: Art painted in words by a yoga teacher!  The mind rests on such images as if upon a small pillow.  The images you create are more than inspirational—the best have a certain magic that can mesmerize, hypnotize, and modify consciousness. They can change physical awareness, and habitual patterns, and can weave together mind and body, facilitating a self-healing process that adjunctive medicines cannot.

On the other hand, words can be dangerous.  All teachers use words to direct student thoughts.  Will saying cancer or scar or chemo create a negative experience?  What are their effects, and how do they translate in the mind of a cancer survivor?

Words have new meaning when you have been personally touched by cancer.  There are people who do not want to hear the word cancer every again.  They are not likely to come to this class.  There are teachers who are afraid to use the word, believing it creates a negative atmosphere.  Both need to be realistic.

An example of the first came to my attention after a WOCS class.  A student told me she felt uncomfortable that I used the “C word” as well as being with others who were currently in “the palace” she left behind.  She did not return to class.  That’s okay.  Maybe for her, she was right about the “C word.”

A quote from Woody Allen, in the movie Manhattan, says it all:  “You know I can’t express emotions.  I internalize.  I grow a tumor.” The power of suggestion, as a theory, has existed in our culture for about a century.  It remains a centerpiece of our contemporary view of mind-body interactions.  Even skeptics of eastern meditation practices (like some psychotherapists) believe in suggestion.

Are we so powerful that the use of a word will have causal effect to harm or heal? Some insist the answer is yes, that one can take the mind’s effects on health seriously and even harness them in the service of healing.  I agree, but also add, “In mind-body work there is a need for some fresh narratives that emphasize the healing power with truth telling over deception, a need for authentic language.”. Patanjali also said, “A yogic mind refuses to accept negativity.”

On the other, other hand, the choice of words is vitally important for all practitioners, especially when working with those facing death or certain decline.  Yoga teachers need to be “mind-full” not to miss this, not to fear that we will enter territory they do not know because they have not faced death and disfigurement.  It is difficult to paint word abstractions from imagined suffering. Of course, on the other hand, it would be sad to lose any opportunity to provide genuine hope and comfort.

The fear of using words and images in shades of negative associations can be overcome with authenticity.  You may be concerned that the concept of creating a space that provides a deep healing experience for everyone who enters is promising too much.  To quote Patajali again, “Yoga fills the reservoirs of hope and optimism, helps to overcome all obstacles to health and spiritual contentment.” Yoga promises a lot.  This can play or prey on the vulnerabilities of those seeking hope and healing.  Warriors choose to come because they are looking for something.  As teachers we are responsible for those expectations and vulnerabilities.  And we are also responsible to not over promise.

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Kale Krazy!

Kale is exploding – from posh restaurants to BBQ to farmers markets.  And no wonder, its THE super green. According to WebMD, Kale is one of the healthiest vegetables on the planet and has anti-cancer health benefits:

  • crispy Kale, Collard greens,root vegetables, butternut soup 002One cup of chopped kale contains 33 calories and 9% of the daily value of calcium, 206% of vitamin A, 134% of vitamin C, and a whopping 684% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.
  • Kale’s health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients.
  • Carotenoids and flavonoids are the specific types of antioxidants associated with many of the anti-cancer health benefits. Kale is also rich in the eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds.
  • Beyond antioxidants, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.
  • Eating a diet rich in the powerful antioxidant vitamin K can reduce the overall risk of developing or dying from cancer, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Vitamin K is abundant in kale. (NOTE: But too much vitamin K can pose problems for some people. Anyone taking anticoagulants such as warfarin should avoid kale because the high level of vitamin K may interfere with the drugs. Consult your doctor before adding kale to your diet.)
  • Kale might be a powerhouse of nutrients but is also contains oxalates, naturally occurring substances that can interfere with the absorption of calcium. Avoid eating calcium-rich foods like dairy at the same time as kale to prevent any problems.

So here is our favorite new recipe.  Quick, delicious and uber healthy… thanks to Lunchboxbunch.com:

5-Step Kale Salad
5-step-kale-salad 5
Step 1. Wash your fresh kale greens. Run each thick leaf under warm to hot water and massage any grit away. Then refresh the leaves by running them all under ice cold water. (The hot and coldest settings on your tap will work.)

Step 2. Prep your ingredients. Remove the thick vein from your kale leaves and discard. (You could keep this on, but it is quite chewy.) Also prep your other veggies however you’d like. Chop, dice, cube, shred… Add the chopped kale and veggies to a large mixing bowl.

Step 3. Make your dressing. In a small bowl, whisk your dressing together.

Step 4. Toss! Add the dressing to your bowl of veggies and kale and start tossing! Massage the kale either at this step or earlier to make the leaves softer and absorb the dressing…  get your hands messy like a kid and enjoy!

Step 5. Chill it or serve it!

  • Chill it! Allow at least an hour for the dressing to really sink into the ingredients. Plus chilling everything makes it refreshing and tasty as a cold salad side. You can even make this salad the night before you serve it. Overnight chilling works! The greens should be eaten within 48 hours though.
  • Or serve right away.  If you have massaged thoroughly, you can serve right away!

Now for the recipe…

5-Step Kale Salad vegan, makes 6 cups

  • 4 cups chopped raw kale (about 1/2 small bunch)
  • 3/4 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 small avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup sweet onion, diced
  • 2-3 Tbsp seeds or nuts (I added some mineral-rich pepitas)
  • Add chunks / diced watermelon for an added touch of summer!

*you can easily change up the veggie and other add-ins as desired.

Simple Sweet Tahini Dressing

  • 2 Tbsp tahini
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice + pinch of zest
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • 2-3 pinches cayenne
  • pinch of salt + a few pinches of black pepper

(Make a double batch of dressing if you like your greens more heavily dressed)

Important notes:
* If you want to lighten up the dressing, substitute fresh orange juice for the EVOO.
* You can use raw agave syrup or brown rice syrup in place of maple if desired.
* Add a splash of tamari in place of the salt if you have it on hand!
* Be sure to stir stir stir first if your tahini settled with oil on top!
* Add a splash of apple cider vinegar if you’d like a perkier, more acidic dressing.
* I like to use pink Himalayan salt.
* Freshly finely chopped parsley is a very nice touch for this dressing.

ENJOY!

What is a Vinyasa?

 

By y4c Teacher Ani Weinstein

Translated from Sanskrit, vinyasa means: to place in a special way, order or sequence. Applied to physical practice, this signifies a systematic progression through a sequence of yoga poses that safely and appropriately takes a student from one place to the next, and in which breathing is synchronized with these sequential movements. But the more philosophical meaning of vinyasa has broader implications on both a macrocosmic and microcosmic level, from our phenomenological experience of time, to the life cycle of a cancer cell.

In vinyasa yoga there is equal emphasis on the stillness of each asana and the transitions between them. Moving into, holding, and releasing each pose is a physical representation of the cycle of life, what yoga philosophy calls creation, maintenance and destruction. Vinyasa is a mirror of the progression of time from past to present to future, and of the natural order of our experience: from birth to life to death. So the yoga practice is an opportunity to rehearse being equally awake in each moment of life.  In Buddhist terminology this is the practice of mindfulness, by which it can be observed that all experiences – our delicious meal, our successes and failures, our sense of self – arise, abide and dissolve: the truth of impermanence.

From beginning to end the arc and structure of a vinyasa class is based on these underlying tenets, from the first A-U-M ­­(made up of three Sanskrit syllables that, in part, symbolize the holy vinyasa of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva: creator, preserver and transformer/destroyer) to the final practice: corpse pose. This final pose offers the ultimate challenge of accepting the inevitability of death as an important and necessary part of life.

Cancer is caused by the uncontrolled growth of a cell. This uncontrolled growth is unleashed by mutations in DNA effecting genes that incite unlimited cell growth. In a normal cell, genetic circuits regulate cell division and cell death. Each cell is kept in balance with the health of its system, the body, as it moves through its own genetic vinyasa of division, growth and death. In a cancer cell this vinyasa has been broken, unleashing a cell that cannot stop growing and will not die.

In this instance, health on a genetic level seems to follow a similar pattern as health on a psychological level. Both appear to require a basic acceptance of the law of impermanence.

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Pose of the Month: Full Body Stretch

 

Special Benefits: Increases range of motion, cultivates movement with breath and coordination, strengthens and creates a flexible spine, increases lung capacity, stimulates the lymph and cardiovascular systems.

Practice Level: All Levels

Props needed: one bolster or two blankets

15-fullbodystretch

How-To:

Lie on your back with a bolster or two folded blankets placed overhead (but not under your head). Extend legs fully. Rest arms by your sides with palms down.

Step 1:

  • Inhale and point toes forward toward the end of the mat. Exhale and flex your feet, pulling toes back while reaching away through your heels.
  • Repeat three times.

Step 2:

  • Inhale and point toes forward while lifting your arms overhead until they rest on the bolster with palms up.
  • Exhale and flex your feet while returning arms to your sides, palms down.
  • Repeat three times.

Another response to Angelina Jolie’s Statement

 

From Ilana Morris, y4c student

When I checked Facebook this morning, my news feed was exploding with Angelina Jolie’s op-ed for the Times. I thought to myself–finally, someone with a soapbox will explain what and how cancer and its related surgeries can affect a person’s daily life. After reading the article, I felt one thing, disappointment. Was Angelina’s decision courageous and brave? Yes. Was this a difficult decision to make and a good thing to shed light on? Absolutely. But could she have done more to explain what those of us in the cancer community go through? Yes, yes yes.

Although I am not a breast cancer survivor, I did however, have many of the related surgeries–multiple biopsies, lumpectomies, a mastectomy, and reconstruction. The biggest disappointment I had with the op-ed was that it made the entire process and all the surgeries sound like a cake walk. It is far from it. Angelina will never know what it is like to have that diagnosis, and wonder, “Will I need chemo? What if this does not work? What if they cannot save my nipple?” She will never know what it is like to sign a consent form, crying, because you never thought it would come to this. All of my friends in the cancer community have. She made a calculated, well thought out, planned decision. Cancer diagnosis is a wild ride–we, as survivors and patients, do not have the gift of time that Angelina did. I wish she had highlighted more of the side effects of the surgeries, what does it mean to have drains that need to be stripped twice daily? What limitations did the surgeries cause? What is the process of reconstruction like? For me, drains and surgery and reconstruction meant that I had to move back in with my parents and leave my job. After surgery, it took me weeks to even be able to lift my hands over my head or even wash my own hair. Reconstruction was an hour’s drive in a car every 2 to 3 weeks, just to have a nurse stick a syringe filled with saline into a port in order to stretch out the tissue, just to sit in a car for another hour to get home, while in extreme discomfort.

The other issue I take with Angelina, is that she is the exception, not the rule. She is by no mean a normal, everyday woman, as she would have us believe. She is an A-list celebrity, with extremely high self-confidence to begin with. She writes in her op-ed that “I do not feel any less of a woman. I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity.” Well, good for you Angelina, but that is so atypical, that it makes me angry and want to laugh all at once. I was diagnosed at 25, but even those I know who were older had a very, very hard time with losing a piece of them, that society tells us is so important to our identity as women. I personally, could not look in the mirror for months after my mastectomy. I let my mom change the bandages, refusing to look down until, upon her urging day-after-day encouraged me to do so. It took me months to get used to having no nipple there at all, and while I am much more confident now than at the beginning, I still struggle with how and when to explain this to romantic interests. The most interesting point of all of this, to me, is that in all my struggles with cancer and trying to best express my feelings about the mastectomy, was my discovery that, in the English language there is no word to convey what it feels like to be stripped of your femininity. Yes, we have the word emasculate, but what is the equivalent for a woman? It certainly is not effeminate. So I was stuck explaining my true feelings as “I feel as though I am being emasculated, but whatever the word is for a woman”. The truth is, that while most of us wish we could be as confident about our decision or rather our reality as Angelina is, most of us do feel less or that our femininity has been diminished because we live in a society where femininity and breasts are so interconnected to what makes a woman a woman. The majority of breast cancer patients and survivors are women but the majority of us are not celebrities, and therefore our realities are much different than Angelina’s.

On Angelina Jolie’s Op-Ed Piece

 

Angelina Jolie’s New York Times article about electing to have a double mastectomy has been all over the news today. Here is Tari’s response:

Angelina,

You are lucky indeed. Your femininity has not be been damaged and your kids are not seeing anything that makes them uncomfortable.
But you are wrong to say “mommy is the same as she always was”.
When one is really touched by cancer in this way, you are not the same. You have been changed.
You are different because:
You have been touched by the terror of thinking you could get cancer. Imagine what it feels like to be told, “You have cancer”.
You are now aware of the risks and struggles others who do not have access to the testing for this faulty gene.
You are indebted to a supportive husband, fine doctors and the best modern Western medicine, and adequate insurance coverage.
And you are now happy you are not a cancer survivor.
You are a lucky one but you are changed forever.

Thank you for sharing your story to inspire other women to make this difficult decision. You are also lucky that there has been so much research on the faulty genes that can cause this type of breast cancer to help you make this decision.

Would the same amount of money that is poured into breast cancer diagnostic tools and treatments be available for other cancers, there would be many more lucky souls like yourself and fewer cancer survivors living with the life-long threat of their cancer returning. (Victims of this Emperor of Maladies)

But you still are at risk of cancer… all the other kinds of cancer, not just breast cancer. Your job is not over. What you did was prevention on one level. What you must do for yourself and your children every day to prevent any cancer is to keep your immune system strong and alert, eat smart, exercise, be happy, and of course, do yoga.

y4c Featured in YogaCity NYC

 

Helping Women With Cancer
Using Powerful Eastern and Western Tools

by Kate English

Tari Prinster’s biggest obstacle is finally being taken seriously. As the Director and Founder of Y4C (Yoga for Cancer) her aim is to take the stigma and myth out of cancer through medical knowledge, and help people heal the horrible side effects of treatment through the curative powers of yoga.

Tari became a yoga teacher after her own diagnosis of Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, 12 years ago. Since then, she has used yoga as a powerful tool to manage the daily challenges of cancer treatments, as well as the side effects and lifelong vulnerabilities they create such as weight gain, neuropathy (damage to the nervous system that can affect nerve function), chemo-related long term bone thinning and the hardening of muscle tissue that can result from radiation.

She has developed a unique, carefully constructed system of yoga poses and sequences based on the specific needs of cancer survivors. With an ever expanding client base and class schedule, she is now ready to take on the challenge of merging eastern philosophy with western medicine.

But Prinster believes that in order to gain acceptance in the traditional medical community, there has to be consistency in what Y4C delivers. Teachers have to undergo their teacher training and come out with solid knowledge as well as compassion. Y4C for Women Cancer Survivors Teacher Training is open to 200 Hour level teachers (or above), it is a 45 hour CEU with Yoga Alliance.

There are a lot of factors that make teaching to this population different from a regular yoga class, and a lot of safety issues. Women who have undergone reconstructive surgery may have a limited range of motion in their arms or lack the strength to hold weight bearing poses such as downward facing dog; lymph removal may lead to an uncomfortable condition called lymphedema which can cause swelling, numbness and limited mobility. Other treatments such as chemo ports can cause discomfort or fear of displacing them during practice. Clients should be able to come to class and feel secure in the knowledge they are in good hand because their teachers have learned the proper techniques.

“Facts motivate,” said Tari, “and we want to find out how and why does something work? Why does this thing help and that one harm? What is it about pranayama that promotes healing? Because it is undeniable that it makes us feel better.”

There is also an emotional aspect to facing cancer. Even survivors who have come out the other side of a diagnosis are going to have a lot of heavy feelings and stress to deal with. Yoga is a great tool not only for getting exercise and keeping physically fit but also for managing the inevitable emotions that arise. Being a part of a community that can relate and offer advice and support can help ward off depression for those dealing with different stages of cancer.

Tari hopes that looking at facts and results will lead to a greater understanding of why this is; and lead to more acceptance. Studies done by The University of Texas show that cancer patients who practiced yoga had lower stress hormones, less fatigue and a higher quality of life.

One of the biggest goals of the blossoming Y4C program right now is to standardize teaching. Above all else, Y4C teachers must be knowledgeable about how to prevent injuries. There is a huge responsibility on the teacher to quickly know how to handle every possible scenario – such as modifying for students fresh from surgeries or simultaneously teaching to different levels of experience and mobility – while still making the student feel comfortable and safe.

TariPrinster_215

Like physical therapists, Tari believes teachers should be trained and certified to meet set regulations. Also like physical therapists, there should be fair and steady compensation for these teachers- something that most yoga teachers can attest is hard to come by. Tari’s goal is to be able to take a Y4C class anywhere in the country or world at any time, and it is recognizably the same program going on in NY, CA, Canada, etc.

To accomplish this, there has to be recognition from the medical community. “There is research and evidence that yoga is a ‘relaxation’ tool for cancer patients, meaning that it improves their overall feeling of ‘well being’ and hopefulness. What is not researched are the benefits of yoga on the physical level. There has been little research on yoga as a benefit to any condition much less cancer. The research that has been done is focused on yoga as a ‘relaxation’ technique. The physiological benefits are only just beginning to be acknowledged.”

Studies at UCLA, U of Texas and Sage Medical Journals (among others) generally focus on the effect of yoga on the nervous system. Prinster hopes to build awareness and encourage more studies to be done that look at the actual effects of yoga on cancer patients and survivors more extensively.

A system of referrals and her website directory of Y4C trained teachers is available for those living outside of NYC. Prinster trained teachers are beginning to teach around the country. They are well trained and part of a working effort to team up with the medical community. As word and facts spread, this community will continue to get bigger and bigger.

Read the original article at Yogacitynyc.com