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.