Ask Tari: Advice on working with a range of participants and in a 20 min class segment.

I was recently asked for advice from a yoga4cancer Training Graduate about how to best structure a complicated and short class.  Below are some of my suggestions but I invite our trained teacher community to weigh in with other suggestions.

Mary’s challenge is to structure three 20 minutes each yoga sessions for nine metastatic cancer survivors via Zoom.  In addition, there is a range of ages (young mothers to elderly men and women) and has no information on cancer types, treatments or presenting side effects, except low energy.

Mary’s plan: simple breathing exercise; gentle neck warm ups; head rolls; gather and hold vinyasa; five spine movements (warm up arm vinyasa); moment of silence; closing.

My suggestions: Mary your challenge is a challenge. It seems to me your plan would easily fill 20 min. But here are some suggests to make variations from session to session.  Also, they are suggestions applicable to all cancers for anyone along the cancer continuum.

I assume you are explaining all the biological impact each yogic move or breath has, i.e. moving lymph, keeping the spine upright and strong. Remember if they understand ‘the why’ they are doing a movement or breath; they are more likely to repeat it on their own.  Yoga is most effective as a daily practice, not once a week or month. Therefore the more we can provide the motivation and the facts will improve participation.

Some tips:

  • Set a take-away goal for each session: e.g. elongation of exhale is key to lower stress; movement like self-lymph massage improves immunity; bone loss is worse than hair loss, stand on one leg and count to whatever. These are things they can do at home. Explain why and encourage them as their own healing agent. 
  • Start all nine in chairs for the first session so you can observe. Then suggest, warn and encourage that the subsequent sessions will have a mat/floor option.
  • For the first session your plan is great for 20 min. Except skip neck and head rolls, too risky on cervical spine.
  • Instead add lymph brushing of arms/legs and thymus taps explaining why and how this works directly on the NK (natural killer) cells in their body.
  • Enhance the five spine movements or repeat it standing up. Check out the video.
  • Ankle flexes and leg lifts from the chair, of course with patterned breathing.
  • Give them an image or metaphor in the moment of silence to direct the mind: eg ‘Image a beautiful falling autumn leaf and keep it afloat with your breath. It falls when your breath in, it rises on your strong exhale.’
  • Change your plan for second and third sessions by adding supine pose like catch & release, supine twists, and simple standing one leg balance.
  • If closing in supine, be sure to check no one is asleep before you leave zoom.