Pose of the Week: 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. 

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.



Five Ways That Yoga Helps Prevent Cancer


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.


  • 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.  


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. 


  • 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.


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.

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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.


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!



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?


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!


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!



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.


  • 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


  • 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


  • 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.

_MG_0345 _MG_0347

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!