Can anyone teach yoga to cancer patients?

22 Tari Answered: “Yoga for cancer patients is a specialization. When I was going through treatments, I found that there were few yoga teachers who understood what my needs and desires were as a patient. I went to classes that were designed basically as a series of restorative poses. Although this was lovely and relaxing, it was not satisfying nor inspiring.

I was surprised, and upset, that many yoga classes were offered by teachers without any supervised training, knowledge of cancer and Western treatments, and no personal experience with cancer. My feelings about the preparedness of yoga teachers beyond the 200-hr training programs are supported by the words of BKS Iyengar in Light on Life. ‘Is it an act of loving-kindness to assume you know the needs of those you come to you for help?”

The Big “C” Talk with Tari


Question: Do your students talk about their cancers?

Tari Answered: “Absolutely! Again, that sense of community is hugely important to what we do. When I started looking into yoga for cancer survivors, I wondered why yoga teachers never use the big “C” word– the word cancer. Instead, they emphasized, “relax” and “feel peaceful.” Ironically, these pleasant words sent my mind racing into thinking about dying. It was not healing to avoid the reason the class was offered, nor was it spiritual.

I find my students are comforted by the exchange of questions we have when I first meet them as to what kind of cancer they have, how long, what treatments, side effects and how is it going in their recovery. The relief that I am not afraid to acknowledge their illness is a relief akin to spiritual. When the class includes an explanation of how yoga deep breathing will assist in cleansing the immune system, and why that is important to lower the risk of cancer reoccurrence, the response is a smile with each inhale.

At the end of class the glow on each woman’s face is the goal of yoga. Not some kind of nirvana, nor profound enlightenment, or even heightened awareness. But simple contentment in the sheath of Anandmayakosha, the Bliss Factor that yoga offers to aid healing. This is yoga’s gift to them and to me.


I’ve always been fascinated with the big “C” word, and while I am not afraid of the word “C”ancer, I’ve found and collected many other “C” words over the years that that take me far away from the challenges of cancer: Community, Choice, Curiosity, Cleansing, Compassion…
Help me add to my collection and comment below with your favorite “C” words.

Why is yoga helpful for people living with cancer?

Tari Answered: “Yoga makes you stronger in mind and body; gives courage, hope and confidence; breaks down barriers of isolation and stigma; and can be a great way to relax.

But not to be underestimated is the connection to others. When you are told you have cancer, often it feels like you are alone. You feel stigmatized because every one treats you differently. Yoga creates community. Knowing you are not alone in your challenge is a tool to finding courage and hope.”


Yoganonamous Interview with Tari Prinster on Surviving Cancer, Teaching Yoga & Changing lives

Yoganonamous Interview with Tari Prinster on Surviving Cancer, Teaching Yoga & Changing lives
November, 2011 By Amanda Taylor

Tari Prinster doesn’t look like a woman who would let anything stand in her way.

She has a shock of bright red air, a lithe and strong body with killer arms, and broad smile that brightens any room. But 11 years ago, Tari was sidelined, with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, an invasive breast cancer.

“No matter what kind or stage, cancer steals the breath, clouds the brain, and weakens the body.,” Tari says. “The word cancer pried loose my hold on life and time seemed to stop.” And stop it did… seven months of treatment including three surgeries, chemo and radiation, not to mention unthinkable decisions for herself, her husband and children. There were also side effects, medications, expenses, insurance forms, phone calls, and empty hours waiting for test results—all floating past like debris on a sea of uncertainty and anxiety.  ” My life stopped really, until I took the next breath as a cancer survivor.,” she says. “Since then, nothing has been the same.”

Nothing has been the same for Tari, or, thankfully, for other women living with cancer whose lives Tari has touched. Two weeks after her last surgery she was given her doctor’s permission to return to yoga. Before her cancer she had been into yoga for “vanity,” the workout and how it made her look. After cancer it was totally different. ”What interested me was not what I could not do but what I could do,” Tari says.

“I discovered things that I would have missed pre cancer. I learned to appreciate the ability to breathe. I could not take a really deep breath expanding the ribs, stretching the incisions around the surgical staples. But I was breathing mindfully, enjoying it—and I was doing my yoga. The idea of activeintentional rest was new to me, an opportunity to stop trying to be so athletic and to appreciate simple relaxation.”

During seven months of chemotherapy, Tari’s daily practice varied in frequency, duration and intensity as the challenges of her recovery unfolded. Her yoga practice became her personal tool for survival. And with that realization Tari also discovered her life’s purpose, to create a yoga class for women living with cancer who also wanted to move, to heal and to find community.

In 2003, Tari began teaching her Yoga for Cancer Survivors” class at OM Yoga. The class started with 2-4 women dropping by every week and quickly grew to classes of 20 and 30. A second weekday class was added, and Tari realized she needed more teachers to cover the demand. So in 2005, she began to offer Teacher Trainings at OM. These teacher trainings were the first specifically designed to address the needs of cancer survivors offered in New York City. The program has trained over 400 yoga teachers from all over the world. The weekly classes touch the lives of as many as 40 women a week ranging in ages from 24 to 80. Women with other cancers like, lung, pancreatic, brain and even eye cancers have used the classes to find a way back to feeling normal.

Why do you love what you do?

Tari Answered: “Maya Angeleo said, “I have learned that people forget what you say, forget what you did, but never forget how you made them feel.” My goal is to help cancer patients feel empowered, hopeful and not alone. I love what I do –teaching yoga to survivors– because it gives me a way to do all those things. And it gives me the same.”


What is your dream for the future?

Tari Answered: “My dream is that Western medical professionals and hospitals will recognize that yoga taught by a specially trained and specifically certified yoga teachers is the last prescription a cancer patient/survivor needs. Beyond all the treatments, when all that is over and they send the cancer patient/survivor home, there is something else they can prescribe. Yoga for life, Yoga for all the life-long side effects that will be there no matter if the cancer is not.”

Tell me about your class at OM. What is the community like? Describe the diversity of ages, recovery, types of cancer, etc.

Tari Answered: “My students come with curiosity, hope and a willingness to be partners in a joint exploration. They also come with fear, doubts and questions about both cancer and yoga. Cancer is scary. Chemo is scary. Even yoga can be frightening to some people. We can take some of that mystery out with knowledge and wisdom, through breathing, movement and community.”