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’. Purchase your copy today.

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’. Purchase your copy today.

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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’. Purchase your copy today.

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

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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.

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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.

Wild Dunes-19

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

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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.

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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 

 

Teacher of the Month: Mimi Ferraro

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Q: What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?
A: I actually wanted to become a yoga teacher specifically to teach people who have/had cancer. When I was diagnosed with cancer myself and in the middle of the long slog of hormonal treatment, a dear friend was kind enough to give me private lessons. Though I had practiced yoga before, this was my first real and consistent exposure to Vinyasa yoga. Then a studio in Brooklyn, Bend & Bloom, gave me free classes, and I was hooked. I wanted to become a teacher and to teach other people who went through what I went through because I wanted to be able to help them the way my teachers have helped me.

Q: What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?
A: See above!

Q: What have you enjoyed most about working with the y4c New York students?
A: The y4c New York students are wonderful — engaged, curious, funny, and very strong. I enjoy being part of this community of women and helping guide them to greater strength, mobility, and, I hope, contentment.

Q: How do you bring your own teaching elements into the y4c classroom?
A: I try to challenge the y4c students, but I always temper the challenge with my very dry humor. And I’m always looking for new orientations for poses — for example, if a pose is something we would normally do with a lot of weight in the arms, I flip the pose upside down or sideways to make it more accessible. Or if a pose is a difficult balancing pose, I will modify it to be done on the floor to start, so that more people can experience the benefits without having to worry above all about balancing. I enjoy these physical puzzles. I also try to get my students to listen well, so they don’t have to look at me, and they can really allow themselves to experience a moving meditation during the flow segments of the class.

Q: Has y4c training/teaching impacted you in any unexpected ways?
A: I was (only slightly) worried that working with women with cancer would be difficult in that it would continually re-traumatize me based on my own experience with the disease, and would keep me too much in the “world” of cancer. I think that’s a delicate balance for a lot of people who have been through cancer. But, actually, I find that because yoga is such a healing practice, this doesn’t happen. The practice of teaching, in and of itself, is very grounding for me, and I appreciate that the students are here and willing to accompany me. I very much feel like, even though I’m the teacher and they are the students, we are in this together.

Q: What is your favorite asana and why?
A: I LOVE backbending. Almost any backbending. Cobra, bridge, wheel, full pigeon, bow. I love the physical action of opening the front of the body, de-slouching, and engaging the back muscles in healthy ways. And I love the idea of opening the heart through these asanas. It’s very easy to get so protective of our hearts after going through cancer (especially if it’s a type of cancer that involves a lot of surgery to the chest area) that we slump forward and round our shoulders, both because of post-surgery tightness and because we want to be shielded. Backbending opens us back up to the world. It’s the future.

10 Tips to Thriving

From Tari

1) Instead of worrying about something you don’t want, imagine the things you do want
2) Commit a little act of kindness to someone else each day.
3) Be clear with your words.
4) Look for the good in you—not just in others.
5) Listen more than you talk.
6) Connect with others.
7) Reflect.
8) Move.
9) Breathe.
10)Be Grateful.

Living Beauty Retreat

Yoga Is A Rinse Cycle

 

by y4c teacher Jennifer Brilliant

Why Do We Feel Better After Yoga?

Yoga gives us emotional support and tools for working with the fear, stress and anxiety of cancer. By slowing down to breathe and sense our bodies, we take a few glorious moments to be in the present moment.  During a yoga class, we focus our minds and bodies on the exact time and place.  The touch of the blanket, the sounds in the room and the movement of our breath are a huge relief.

The teacher shows us which foot goes where.  We are given hands on help and a soothing voice to guide us.  We are cared for and in turn learn to care for ourselves.  Cancer patients and survivors are already dialed in to pay attention to how they feel all the time.  In a yoga class, feelings of fear are put aside and our focus is placed on the here and now.  Yoga helps us to be selective and constructive about the way we feel about our body now.  Off the mat, this is training for life – learning to know when to rest and when to keep going.

Through yoga, we can reach into our tender, deepest layers.  It is at these special moments where we can connect to our unconditional love, peace and happiness.  We build our confidence and a sense of empowerment in a community that wants to see each person smile and succeed.

A yoga practice is like the rinse cycle; we end up feeling clean and refreshed.

Temperture Rinse Knob

 

Jennifer Brilliant teaches regular y4c classes at her studio in Park Slope, Brooklyn on Thursdays at 5:45pm

Yoga Pose of the Month – Gather and Hold

Yoga Pose of the Month – Gather and Hold

Rest your hands with palms face up and fingers folded inward on any surface. Begin to inhale and open your fingers wide as if waiting to receive a gift. Hold your breath and fingers like this as you count to three. As you breathe out slowly, curling your fingers into your palm. Count to three. Repeat with simple movement and natural breath.

Gather life’s gifts with open hands and full breath. Hold and savor.

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Q & A with Tari: How did you begin to serve?

(from a recent Huffington Post interview)

Q:How did you begin to serve?

A: While I was in treatment my doctors commented on how quickly I recovered compared to others, and I began to ask if it had anything to do with the yoga. I came to a new relationship with my yoga practice through cancer, and I began to wonder why and how I was recovering so quickly and thoroughly, emotionally and physically. Because the doctors couldn’t understand why I was recovering better than others given the treatments that I was undergoing, and because the yoga community at that time had no answers, I began to research on my own and build a program around it. Once I had an understanding of the biological and physical relationship between practicing yoga and undergoing cancer treatments, I began to share a specialized practice with other cancer patients and survivors in need.

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Building Strength, Bone and Balance with Warrior 3

 

Purpose: Building Strength, Bone and Balance

Props needed: Wall, chair, or table

43-a-warrior3Instructions: Begin in Down Dog at The Wall, with the body forming an L shape, hands shoulder-width apart, and feet hip-width apart and parallel.

Bend left knee slightly and shift weight into your left foot. Inhale and reach your right leg up and back to hip height, or as high as you are able while maintaining a neutral “flat back” position with your spine. Keep the right leg straight as you lift it.

Exhale and press your left foot into the floor to straighten the leg. Engage abdominal muscles to support your spine. Reach the crown of your head forward while reaching back with right heel, right toes pointing down. Notice if one hip is lifting higher, and try to make the hips even.

Keep your gaze on the floor.

Inhale and reach your left arm straight back alongside the left hip, palm facing your hip. On another inhale, if you feel stable, try reaching the right arm back alongside your right hip. Now you are balancing on one leg without the support of the wall! Use your breath to support the pose, finding more length from your head to your lifted heel with each inhale, and pressing down through your standing leg as you exhale.

Try balancing for three breaths. To come out of the pose, return both hands to the wall, bend your left leg slightly and lower your right foot to the floor. Walk your feet closer to the wall and come up to stand.

Repeat standing on right leg and reaching left leg back.

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Modifications: The lifted leg does not have to be parallel to the floor. Just lift it as high as you are able (not exceeding hip height) while keeping it straight.

Special Benefits: Builds bone strength, improves balance and concentration, enhances awareness of breath practice, improves core and back strength, stimulates the lymph and cardiovascular systems.

 

Q & A with Tari: How do you model leadership when working with underserved populations?

 

(From a recent Huffington Post Interview)

Q: How do you model leadership when working with underserved populations?

A: By doing what I do. By providing access to safe yoga classes at a reasonable cost with Living Beauty Retreatteachers who have been thoroughly trained.
Also by providing scholarships to retreats and ways for people to discover yoga for the first time and to continue on from there.
Taking responsibility for one’s health and future is the most important part of one’s own healing process. I practice this myself and encourage students to do the same– to take responsibility in finding health. It is not something that the medical profession can give to us– it is something we have to create and maintain for ourselves. Owning that process changes everything. Staying healthy isn’t going to happen easily– it is an ongoing challenge with daily choices. Without effort, change won’t happen. No effort is a loss.
I teach students to walk through their fears.
It is most beneficial to walk through fear of change, of pain, of lack of control, by doing things that are challenging. What students need and want actually is to be treated normally. In the process of being treated normal, they are going to get stronger. If the practice is just restorative and not an effort to be normal and gain strength and stability, it is much less effective.

AskTari: 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?”

AskTari – Can Yoga Help or Hurt Back Pain?

Yoga for back pain?

Karyn M: Karyn is 56, an 8 year ovarian cancer survivor, and a filmmaker. Her back pain is related to prior conditions not cancer or treatments. She works long hours sitting in front of a film-editing computer. She rarely exercises and is carrying more weight than she should.

Karyn asked Tari: After the class on Tuesday I had back pain, not as severe as the previous time when I had to stop in the middle of a class but still enough to restrict my mobility somewhat. So my question is; are there some conditions like mine — I have been diagnosed with moderate spinal synosis – where you would say yoga is not a good thing? You know how beneficial I think the classes are in general and how much I enjoy them but as this is the second time I have had a problem with my back I am wondering if I should carry on. What do you think?

Backpain

Tari Answered: My gut says you are trying too hard in class. We need to do a private so you can learn how to ‘prop-up’ yourself when I, or an assistant cannot get to you. Also so I can learn more about what you are experiencing in class. My gut also says, if you stop moving and stretching you will get worse rather than better.

Spinal stenosis happens as people hit the half-century mark, their spinal canals start to narrow and nearby ligaments thicken. That can cause bone spurs and that pain can get worse from walking and weight-bearing activities. Unfortunately, surgery is the best corrective method.

So it could be the walking and lifting after class, not the class that is causing the pain. If you can do restorative poses at home when this happens, you can help to relieve some of the pressure inside the spinal canals. Yoga may be for you more than an exercise, but a prescription for when you do experience pain. You are just beginning to learn about your body’s abilities and its’ new limitations through taking class. Now I want you to take home some techniques that can be used as muscles relaxation and restoration.

In class we need to be attentive to your intention for the day. Less is always more. But not fewer yoga classes, less eagerness to keep up with the class and more awareness of where ‘Karyn’s’ limit is.

Good back health can be maintained:
Here’s how to practice good back health:

  • Stretch.
  • Lift with your legs.
  • Don’t go all-out and overdo it.
  • Continue to exercise, including weight-bearing routines (which will help with core strength, too).
  • Practice good posture
  • Do what you can to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get up from your computer regularly. “The biggest thing you can do for your back health is to stay active.”

I will try my best to help you. I would rather see you come to class and be less active, then to stay away. I hope this helps.

Namaste
Tari

Gravity Bringing You Down?

 

I think not! Gravity has a tremendous benefit to the body, and y4c yoga consciously uses gravity’s gifts to our students’ benefit in the following ways:

Bone building

Resistance against the pull of gravity puts stress on our bones that is needed to keep the bones strong. Osteoblasts and osteoclasts are the specialized bone cells responsible for bone mass. Osteoblasts produce bone matrix, resulting in increased bone mass. Osteoclasts resorb bone matrix and result in decreased bone mass. Osteoblasts and osteoclasts maintain a dynamic balance in response to the mechanical needs of the bones. Just as movement increases muscle strength, resistance against gravity increases the activity of osteoblasts and strengthens bones. Yoga poses that involve weight bearing on the bones, such as standing and balancing poses, increase the active resistance of our bones against gravity, improving bone health.

Venous return

Our heart pumps oxygenated blood through our arteries to every part of the body, and de-oxygenated blood back to the heart through our veins. When we are in an upright position, de-oxygenated blood must travel upward through our veins from our lower body to get back to our heart. Like water being pumped uphill through a hose, the venous return of our blood is slowed by the pull of gravity. Extended inactivity can cause blood to pool in the legs, potentially causing swelling, blood clots and varicose veins.  Yoga inversions use gravity to help aid venous return to the heart from the lower body, and more efficient recirculation of oxygenated blood.

 Lymphatic drainage

Our lymphatic system is much more dependent on gravity than our circulatory system. Inversions, or a simple positional shift such as lifting our arms, can be very effective for lymphatic drainage, reducing the risk or symptoms of lymphedema.

 

Yoga Pose of the Month – Bend’n with the Wind

 

Root your feet downward like tree growing into deep rich soil. At the same time, imagine your spine reaching up to sunlight like a tree branch. Your arms drape lightly from your SideBendshoulders, palms facing your body.

Breathe in, grow taller. Breathe out, bend right, keeping both feet equally rooted. With each inhale, center the spine like a tall tree. With each exhale, bend with the wind. Alternate sides. If space allows, lift and sway your arms like bending tree branches.

Be like a tree, always growing deep and always reaching up.

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Teacher of the Month: Jeannine Bishop

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Q: What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?
A: Some years ago I found myself at an overwhelming point in my life,
and I began to re-evaluate my priorities and values. Yoga taught me to
let go of negative external conditions affecting my life, and I
discovered the serenity and clarity that yoga granted my heart-mind
and body.  The change yoga made in my personal life inspired me to
study and pursue teacher training so I could share this amazing gift
with others.

Q: What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?
A: After witnessing the physical and emotional tolls taken by cancer
with both close family members and dear friends, I knew first-hand of
the great need for calmness in dealing with these life-changing
issues. I never had any doubt of this calling, so I began my y4c
teacher’s training with Tari Prinster at Kripula in 2011 immediately
after graduating with my initial Hatha Yoga Teacher Certificate.

Q: Have you found there is a high need for your services in the Chicago area?
A: There are so many people of all ages dealing with cancer and the
permanent impact on their lives here, and sadly, many of them struggle
to find teachers with the proper training and understanding of the
specialized requirements of cancer survivors, so there is certainly a
demand for more y4c teachers equipped to deal with these exceptional
students. In Chicago, there are not many private studios with classes
dedicated to cancer survivors, so the majority of available classes
are hosted by hospitals or wellness centers.

Q: Would you recommend y4c training to others? If so, why?
A: I not only recommend y4c training to every yoga teacher with the
passion to teach cancer survivors, but I think it is an absolute
requirement. Cancer survivors have very special needs depending upon
the stage of their recovery, and I never fully understood or
appreciated the dangers & implications of not taking these needs into
account before my specialized y4c training; it is an outstanding
teacher’s training program that not only prepares you to understand
the limits and specialized approaches needed to teach survivors, but
it also brings you closer to a survivor’s needs in order to support
them physically, mentally and spiritually during their time of
recovery and beyond.

Q: How do you bring your own teaching elements into the y4c classroom?
A: I love to bring a balanced harmony of meditation, pranayama, and
asanas into my y4c classes.  I really stress the importance of breath
work and the sacred marriage between breath and movement.  When you
relax, silence your mind, and achieve a sense of peace and well being
the healing process starts.  I always have a short quote or poem to
share and the beginning of each class, and I constantly remind myself
that this is not ‘my’ yoga class but rather, it is ‘theirs’. I also
encourage the communal gathering, socializing, and sharing of stories,
treatments, etc., before & after class as this is an important part of
their healing process.  I strongly remember Tari expressing in my y4c
training that our classes should reflect a sense of community,
courage, calmness, healing, and strength, and I’ve found the
application of these principles to be amazing and beautiful in my y4c
classes.

Q: Has y4c training/teaching impacted you in any unexpected ways?
A: Training was a pivotal point in my life and a confirmation that I
definitely wanted/needed to teach cancer survivors.  Teaching y4c
classes has created such joy in my life, and I truly feel blessed that
I am able to teach and share the benefits of yoga as well as have such
a positive influence in the lives of my students.  And I am constantly
surprised at the lessons my students teach me: they have an endless
amount of courage, love, and support for each other, as well as a
sense of calmness and inner strength when they leave the class which I
greatly admire.

Q: What is your favorite asana and why?
A: Warrior 2. It is a pose that allows my feet to feel fully grounded,
my body strong, and my breath move through my entire being.  I
definitely become aware of the natural pause of my breath after every
inhalation and exhalation, allowing my heart-mind to focus inward.

Q: What are you working on now?
A: I currently teach y4c yoga at The Wellness Place
(http://www.wellnessplace.org) in Palatine, IL. This center provides
cancer-related counseling, education and support programs at no charge
to cancer survivors and their family, friends, and caregivers.  We are
now working on opening a third class for survivors which I will teach
starting in July, 2013 as it is my passion to continue to bring the
y4c mission into these classes for these exceptional students.  I also
teach yoga and meditation to residents at a Brookdale Senior Living
facility utilizing additional focused training in Therapeutic Yoga For
Seniors I received at Duke Integrative Medicine in Durham, NC. Like
cancer survivors, seniors have very specialized physical challenges
that require extra attention, and their need of the benefits provided
by yoga and meditation are all the greater for it. I am so grateful to
have gained the knowledge from both y4c and Seniors training; the
rewards of teaching both groups are beyond measure.

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yoga4cancer participants at the Wellness Place, Inverness, Illinois

AskTari – Is it possible to do yoga in a CT Scanner?

 

Muriel W: Muriel completed her cancer treatments in May 2009. Her oncologist requested a CT scan for her first sixth month post treatment check up.

Muriel Asked Tari: Yesterday I was so nervous when I got onto the scanner, I stopped breathing before they told me to. My heart was pounding hard, I was feeling claustrophobic and extremely uncomfortable. Then I remembered your words, ‘Count your breath slowly and the mind will follow.’ I did. I immediately became calm, my muscles relaxed, and I finished the scan feeling optimistic and empowered. It was like magic. Thank you for this simple yoga lesson and breathing technique.
I was wondering at the time, was I doing yoga in a CT scanner? 

Tari Answered: Yes, Muriel you were doing yoga. You don’t need a class, a mat or a teacher to give you directions. That is what makes yoga such an important tool in your recovery process. You can do yoga anywhere and anytime. And it helps you manage those naturally scary moments we all have, like being in a CT scanner.

Sometimes we need yoga most for places not designed for quiet sitting or exercise. You are stuck in traffic, or waiting for a doctor’s appointment, or expecting a phone call with test results, or in your case, in a the CT scanner.

Yoga is a portable prescription for relaxation and renewal. I am sending you ten more yoga things you can anytime or anywhere…in a bed, in a chair, in a car, at the store, in the air… I call it Pocket Yoga©.

Muriel, I hope that your scans were all ‘negative’ and that you kept breathing calmly all the way home. I love hearing stories about how yoga has been helpful and comforting to people in the simple ways. Thank you.

y4c Teacher Training: A Student Experience

 

by Jenne Young

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On a cold Sunday evening one week ago, I sat in a large circle with 18 other women. We had all come to this retreat for an intensive 45-hour yoga teacher training for working with cancer survivors. Our ages ranged from 20s to 60s and we had come from all over the US.  I had been looking forward to this training, but as I settled onto my mat and looked around the room, I could feel myself closing up, feeling nervous and questioning what I am doing here. With a new cancer center opening up in our area, I wanted to get the skills to work with people going through treatment and recovering from cancer. That is why I came, to learn what postures to incorporate, how to structure the class and feel more confident as a teacher. Looking back, honestly, I didn’t have a clue. So the class begins.

Our teacher, Tari Prinster is warm, intense, and at times takes long pauses to find the right words. She is small and looks more like an elfin character out of Lord of the Rings then a master teacher who has developed this growing business, yoga4cancer. Her hair is auburn and cut in a short spiky, don’t mess with me style. She looks grounded and mythical at the same time. Or maybe I am just nervous. After a short introduction, she invites each of us to tell some of our story, just a few sentences of why we are here. A woman, I am guessing in her late 50s goes first. She looks like she could be the CEO of a corporation. She has short steel-gray hair, a strong body and a confident voice. I am immediately intimidated. She tells us she is a cancer survivor and she works with other cancer survivors. The next woman speaks; she is tall, elegantly beautiful with blond hair, and I am guessing in her early thirties. She is the type that was probably popular at school, the prom queen. She is a breast cancer survivor and she has two young boys. I look at her, I have two young children too. She is emotional when she talks. A deep sadness seems to hang about her but she lights up the room when she smiles. I fine myself shifting on my mat. The next woman is not a cancer survivor. Secretly I am relived, I have never had cancer and was starting to feel… what? Almost ashamed? But then she tells us her sister died of cancer and she cries. Her voice breaks very suddenly as if her emotions crashed through a physical barrier that was holding it back. She and her sister had done yoga together. I search for a tissue. The woman next to me hands me the box. Our eyes meet and although we do not say anything, I feel seen. And so it goes on, the circle gains voice after voice. Story after story pours into the center of our circle. In the end over two-thirds of our class have survived cancer. Others have lost their mother, sister or best friend. One woman’s husband is battling cancer as she sits here. As the stories mix together like the ingredients of a simmering soup, I can feel a huge shift in the room and within myself. I could almost feel the threads beginning to weave us together, to connect us. A tribe is forming.

I wait until almost the end to speak and here is why, I have never had cancer. My mother and sister are alive and healthy. A voice has been growing in me, urging me to get out of this room. “You are an intruder.” But I stay and when it is my turn, my story sounds very business-like. Cancer center… blah, blah…interested in helping get a yoga program started…blah.. blah. And finally I get to the simple truth: I want to be able to be fully presence, to hold space for healing. This is the work I want to do. My journey in the program was being able to say the word “cancer” without it sticking in my through. Confronting my own fears and insecurities. Tari was very gracious. She reminded me that cancer survivors work with doctors, physical therapists, nurses and nutritionists, most who have not had cancer. You do not have to have cancer to teach yoga. Her smile was radiant and it was then I started to be able to accept that. The reality is 1 in every 3 women will develop cancer during their lifetime. It is a numbers game. Cancer is a horrible disease, and the treatments can be devastating to the body.

What this group of women has in common is yoga. We each have learned through our own practice and as teachers that yoga makes life better. Yes, it strengthens the bones, helps improve sleep, relieves stiffness and extends range of motion. But there is much more. It is a practice that moves you into your body and deep within yourself. There you can recover a place of peace, wisdom, healing and most important, love.

See Jenne’s blog at http://jenneyoung.com

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.

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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.

How to Reduce Stress and Strengthen Your Immune System

 

By Ani Weinstein (y4c teacher)

One way that yoga supports the immune system is by reducing stress and creating a nervous system response toward relaxation. It has become widely accepted that heightened levels of stress directly and negatively impact immunity. According to Harvard Health Publications of Harvard Medical School, “experimentally created ‘stressful’ situations delayed the production of antibodies in mice infected with influenza virus and suppressed the activity of T cells in animals inoculated with herpes simplex virus.” Another Harvard study showed that the stress of isolation can also suppress immune function. Infant monkeys separated from their mothers, especially if they are caged alone rather than in groups, generate fewer lymphocytes in response to antigens, and fewer antibodies in response to viruses.

Stress is a natural response to a cancer diagnosis, and to the subsequent, often rigorous, treatments. Add this to the regular stress of everyday life, and it becomes an issue that absolutely must be addressed in order to support a resilient body and mind with a strong immune system. Every y4c class provides specific techniques and tools to help reduce stress, both on and off the yoga mat

The y4c Prescription:

1. Restorative yoga poses support relaxation:

  • Supported Supta Baddha Konasana

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  • Legs Up the Wall

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2. Simple breath awareness techniques create a relaxation response:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet to the floor. Place one hand on your belly and one hand on your chest. Notice the natural movement of your breath under your two hands. Begin to observe the very end of your exhales. If you can do so without creating stress or tension, subtly lengthen your exhales and find an easy, relaxed pause at the end of each exhalation.
  • Sit in a comfortable position, such as in a chair or on the floor. Place your palms face-up on your thighs. Begin to notice your breathing. As you feel yourself exhaling, make gentle fists with your hands. As you inhale, open your palms wide. Continue opening and closing your palms in time with your breath. Let the rate of your breath guide the movement of your hands, not the other way around.

3. Group yoga classes offer community and social time, which help in combatting loneliness or a sense of isolation. 

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Stirring the Pot– A Note from Tari

 

“The main point of Buddhist teaching instructs us to move towards difficulties, not away. It is there … that we can begin to think of our life as offering endless opportunities and to start doing things differently.” – Pema Chodron

During lunch with a young friend this week, we discussed her age-appropriate process of making choices about career, realizing as she spoke that no option had a ‘success guarantee’. I was first struck how lucky she was to have choice. But in the end, she really has no choice. She must move forward with her life. In this conversation, I was again struck by the duality that cancer creates in our lives. (As with so many things.)

Unlike a career, cancer chooses us. The ‘C’-words that career and cancer share are two other  ‘C’-words: challenge and change.  No matter what my young friend ultimately chooses, it will challenge her. And no matter what her choice, it will change her life. The choice will not change her, rather give her the opportunity to polish the jewel she already is.

Careers, like cancer, present us with questions and challenges, and inevitably change us forever. Whether we chose them or not, it all makes us stronger.  Try as we might to control the outcomes of our choices, we cannot. The future is full of uncertainty. That and fear are the largest stone on the path. Try not to control it. Instead, take the path through fear and into the future. Stop for a second, take a breath, put aside doubt and begin to polish the moment. There is no cure for the fact that life is NOW.
My advise to my young friend was to take the path less traveled even though there were visible challenges the size of boulders along the way. She wrote me later that my comments stirred the pot of her thinking. I was pleased.  A pot well and strongly ‘stirred’ can only bring forth a good stew… and other good things.

Walk through your fears to opportunity and a cure.

Walk through your fears to find life.

Namaste,
tari

AskTari – When is it safe to start yoga?

Cynthia Asked Tari: Since my mastectomy surgeries I have not been about to gain back all the strength and mobility in my right arm and the implant makes me nervous about moving it a lot. My sister has done yoga for years and is encouraging me to start yoga classes because she believes yoga can help me regain the use of my arm. I have never done yoga before. When is it safe for me to start?

About Cynthia: Cynthia had a mastectomy and then breast reconstruction using an implant. She is 45 years old and a single working mom.

Tari Answered: The unqualified answer is, Start Now! However, you used the most important word in your question to me. SAFE. I thank you for that. Our loved ones encourage us with ideas and suggestion to speed our recovery. You have to love them for that.

At first glance, the idea of yoga for cancer patients undergoing treatment and now in survivorship seems obvious, a logical step. What better way to manage anxiety, gain strength, increase flexibility and create feelings of well being? I agree. That is certainly what I did and continue to do. However, helpful ideas come in big packages and you are right to ask when is it safe to do yoga.

Yoga is a big package. In it there are some yoga secrets as well. What is good for your sister may not be good for you as a cancer survivor. The popular notion is that yoga is good for everyone, whatever its style, flavor or size. But we know that is not true. Just like cancer, yoga is not one-size-does-fits-all. Everyone’s cancer, treatments, side effects and body are different. 

To help you understand how yoga can be good for you and when it is safe to start, here are questions back to you:

Are you ready? 

It is a good idea to have your doctor’s permission. You may have other physical conditions not related to the cancer that should be considered. In relation to your cancer surgeries, however, it is critical that all surgical drains and staples have been removed and that your incision is healing well.

What Kind of yoga? 

There are many. I have prepared a list of the yoga styles most commonly practiced and taught in the West with a short description of what to expect in a class that is based on these styles is included to help you discern what style is best for you.

A better question is: With whom? 

Healing begins with feeling safe. Feeling comfortable with a yoga teacher is the most important factor to putting yoga into your life as tool of self-healing and creating health in your future.

Yoga teachers are trained to teach to a diverse yet general population. Awareness of the limitations imposed by surgeries, chemotherapy and the many life-long side effects and vulnerabilities of cancer treatments and reconstruction are not covered in most yoga teachers training. Observe what questions a teacher asks you. This is your best test of whether the style, class and teacher are a good solution for you to begin or continue yoga.

You ask the questions! Learn about the teacher’s training and experience with cancer patients undergoing treatment and survivors in general.

Where to find a yoga class?
In generic gym-based yoga classes, teachers are not usually trained and knowledgeable of the limitations and concerns of survivors. These venues can be intimidating and risky for someone who is trying not only to gain physical strength, but also, self esteem. Find a yoga class specifically for cancer patients and survivors. Get a schedule, visit a class and talk to the teacher. Again, if you would like to know about y4c trained teachers in your location, please here.

How often?

Yoga is a practice not an event. In order to feel the benefits of yoga finding time in your schedule to practice, 2-3 times a week or more, is important. Also, it is recommended that average weight survivors maintain at least 150 minutes of exercise per week to reduce reoccurrence, and for those that are carrying weight that amount should be 300 minutes per week.  So do as often and as much as you can.  Are the classes located conveniently and at times that will fit easily into your life? Large classes can be discouraging for beginners. Trust your intuitions.

I hope this helps you find a yoga teacher and class that allows you to thrive, as well as survive. Yoga can be a tool to help you reclaim your life during and after cancer. If used properly, yoga can also be a lifetime companion that will smooth out all the challenges of life, not just the ones we experience on the cancer journey. In the meantime, please send me more questions, share your findings and stay in touch.

Namaste,
Tari

Using Gravity to Address Lymphedema

 

By Jennifer Brilliant

The accumulation of fluid associated with Lymphedemna occurs when lymphatic fluid cannot return from the limbs to the thoracic region of the body.  This issue is a common side effect of many surgeries and cancer treatments. Any pose that uses gravity to assist in correcting the proper flow will be beneficial to the reduction and/or prevention of lymphedema.

Arms RaisedThis uses gravity to assist flow of lymph, increase body awareness, musculoskeletal strength. Arms up position also challenges cardiovascular system.

To Do:

url-11Dandasana – Staff pose (Seated on a blanket with legs straight out in front of you. Spine is upright) Inhale your right arm up, exhale and lower. Inhale left arm up, exhale and lower. Repeat 3 times.

 

 

url-12Sukhasana – Easy Crossed Legs with arms lifted, palms facing each other. Inhale your arms up, exhale and bring your arms down. Repeat 3 times.

 

 

 

url-13Tadasana – Mountain Pose. Inhale your arms up, exhale your arms down. Repeat 3 times.

 

 

 

 

Elbow Pump– Increases flexibility in your shoulders. As arms raise, gravity is used to increase lymph drainage.

To do: Grasp opposite elbows. Keep your torso stationary and facing forward.  Alternate movement of elbows side to side.  Continue with this repetition gradually raising arms higher and higher to your comfort level. You may be able to grasp elbows and move arms side to side with arms overhead. If you have a more limited range of movement, raise arms to your comfort level.

Viparita Karani – Legs Up Wall– Uses gravity to aid lymph drainage, rests your body and mind

To do: Place your buttocks up on a blanket and rest your legs up on the wall and relax for several minutes.  This allows lymph fluid to drain towards your thoracic duct.

New Norms – Everybody is doing it

Looking around a crowded subway train during homebound rush hour this week I noticed just about everyone was looking down at an iphone or kindle… playing games, reading emails, ebooks, etc.

A 2+ child’s father held the iphone as she used her tiny finger on it to entertain. Dad held a Kindle in his other hand. Whats going on here? Except for the 2 year old, everyone slumped forward head hanging off their spine using a ‘device of distraction’ to keep their mind busy on the long commute home. Everyone is doing it: Distracting themselves, avoiding eye contact, continuing to work, and basically letting their mind rule their bodies. Why do we do this I wonder?

Imagine what would happen if everyone sat up tall, lifted their head over their shoulders, closed their eyes and began to breathe … slowly, quietly, counting or not, the inhales and exhales. I am sure that would be enough to suppress their tired restless minds and relax the neck muscles until the next stop. Perhaps, if that felt good, maybe doing it to the the stop after that, and after that, it would become a ‘practice’.

But then this would be doing yoga, right?  Every one should be doing it.

I wonder how much better the ride would be, how much more quickly the same problems would get solved, how much nicer dinner and a nights sleep would be. Might we all get home safe and happier? Don’t know until you try.

New Norm: Yoga on the F train – Everybody’s doing it.

Namaste, tari

(pictured above: y4c teacher Jennifer Brilliant)

(Pictured above: y4c teacher Jennifer Brilliant. Photo by Gina de la Chesnaye )

 

 

An Interview with Liz Batenhorst

 

Author of “Beat Cancer Chase Happiness: A Resource Guide for Battling Cancer from a Caregiver Turned Survivor”

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In less than one year, Liz Batenhorst learned the ins and outs of what a cancer diagnoses really means- first as a caregiver to her mother, then first hand, as a patient.

An advocate for positive thinking, affirming mantras and exhaustive research, Liz used all of her newfound knowledge and experience to reach out to others. Her e-book, “Beat Cancer Chase Happiness: A Resource Guide for Battling Cancer from a Caregiver Turned Survivor,” serves as an insider’s guide to resources and acts like a friend and seasoned veteran letting you know the hairy details of what to expect. Liz hopes that the information in her e-book will spark conversations within the community, and set up a Facebook page to create a space for sharing information.

The y4c blog was lucky to have the chance to catch up with Liz and ask her a few questions about her book and her experience at The Retreat Project’s fall retreat.

y4c-Where did the title of your book come from?
LB: When we were going through treatment, first for my mom and then for myself, my husband and I knew that- look, this is going to change us in many ways- some will be good, and some bad. But we asked, what do we want to do after cancer, how do we want to live our life? And that is where we came up with the title, Chasing Happiness.

y4c -How did you find y4c/The retreat project?
LB: My reflexologist recommended it; she gave me some flyers and pamphlets. I went online and checked out the information on the website and then applied. I thought this would be perfect to deepen my practice and start to get into meditation at a deeper level.

y4c -What impact did it have on your healing process?
LB: I think it had multiple impacts. One, it was amazing to see all of these women, how positive they were and how much cancer had changed their lives. Two, I was inspired by the Retreat Project itself. My husband and I had already started working on Chase Happiness at this point, although it hadn’t launched yet. I knew we wanted TRP to be one of our beneficiary organizations after this weekend. It really opened up my mind; I was able to see for the first time how yoga was a part of healing from the perspective of a cancer patient.

y4c -Did you do yoga before you were diagnosed with cancer?
LB: No- I had never done any of the integrative practices- yoga, reflexology, acupuncture, meditation. None of these were offered to my mother when she was diagnosed with cancer, I found them coming up again and again in the research on treatment I was going through as her caregiver.
Because of that experience, when I was diagnosed right away I made sure I knew what was available to me. I noticed yoga helped me most with the side effects of treatment. It also was a good start in grounding yourself, in learning to take the present moment and just be present in that moment. It helped alleviate some of the stress and anxiety, especially through breathing exercises. It helped me build flexibility but also strength, and importantly it helps me build bone density.
But it also helped with a lot of the things nobody wants to talk about, like constipation. It just kept coming back to play a huge role in my recovery. I found that I didn’t have the same level of side effects as other friends or people that I knew going through similar treatment. It is also possible that is because I went in healthy, I had none of the 10 Risk Factors.

y4c -Do you continue to practice?
LB: I do, yes. My two daughters, 8 and 10, also practice with me now and they really like it. We try to pull my husband in. He practices with me sometimes, too.

y4c -Did you notice a difference between the y4c approach and regular yoga classes?
LB: I didn’t before I went on the retreat. I had the privilege of going on a TRP retreat this fall and Tari really taught me a lot about the difference of teaching yoga for cancer and regular yoga classes.
I had also been working with a woman who worked with cancer patients before, as I had recently had a port implanted. I didn’t want to do anything to hurt that, or to cause a need for more surgery.
I do wish I had known more about yoga before I started treatment. I met Kitty, a y4c teacher, on the retreat and found that she was from the same area in NJ as I am. I would have looked her up; one of her teaching jobs is at my local studio, Yoga Synthesis. We do keep in touch, Kitty sends me emails with information and her newsletters, and I have her listed on my resources page.

y4c -Did you learn anything from your fellow retreat project attendees?
LB: My husband and I were already working on the e-book Chase Happiness, so I was able to ask the other women, “Did anyone ever tell you this?” And everybody said no. They were a wonderful sounding board.
I don’t pretend that it is a medical guide, because it is not. It is more of an insider’s guide of resources, whether people choose to use them or not. Websites that offer solid information- and don’t just scare the heck out of you., the best books on how to talk to young kids about cancer, the best cook books, just a compilation of my research knowledge and tips all in one place. It is really about my own journey and my wish to share it. In the e-book, after ever section I say, this was my perspective. What is yours? What helped you? Let us know on the Beat Cancer Chase Happiness FB page. I want to create a community where people can come and ask these questions, and get into the details of what nobody ever tells you.

Please visit www.chasehappiness.com/beat_cancer.html to learn more about Liz and purchase a copy of the e-book Beat Cancer Chase Happiness.

Ask Tari: Would Hot Yoga be Good for Me?

 

Background: Chemotherapy treatments for more than 8 months have left Sara weak and fragile. In addition, she experiences constant discomfort in her joints and neuropathy in her feet.

Sara asked Tari: Last week in yoga class you explained how yoga can help detoxify my body. This makes a lot of sense to me, especially when I think about how the lymphatic system removes toxins through sweat and urine. I want to do more yoga to purify my body, but I am not very strong right now. I was wondering if HOT YOGA would make me sweat more and help detoxify the chemo from my body faster?

Tari Answered: Thank you for asking me this question. I hope the answer will be helpful to many who do not understand what to expect in a HOT YOGA class. The answer is yes. HOT YOGA will make you sweat more.

I wish you had asked me the question, ‘Would HOT YOGA be good for me now’? The answer is a very strong NO! Not because HOT YOGA is bad, but because it is not the best choice for you now while you are still being treated and until you are feeling stronger.

The word YOGA can be misleading. There are many kinds of yoga and not all yoga is the same. Certainly not all yoga is gentle. HOT YOGA classes are vigorous and challenging. It is a method based on what is called, BIKRAM Yoga, using a series of 26 poses and breathing exercises in a room heated to 105 degrees. The purpose is to warm up the muscles quickly and promote detoxification via sweat. Classes are usually always the same. A similar style called Ashtanga Yoga is also a fixed set of poses linked by flowing movement and synchronized breathing to produce intense internal heat. One style uses external heat, and the other, internal heat, to produce the purifying effect of sweat.

I don’t think either of these yoga styles would be the best way to put more yoga in your life and experience the detoxifying benefits of yoga. However, I will offer you some simple guidelines and suggestions in finding the proper yoga for you while you are undergoing cancer treatments.

Things to ask and look for in a yoga class:

  • Ask for a class description. The word ‘gentle’ should be in it.
  • Make sure there are restorative poses included in that description. Restorative Yoga provides detoxifying benefits to your nervous system, as well as your lymph system.
  • Before class, meet the teacher and explain your interest in practicing yoga as a cancer survivor.
  • Feeling comfortable with a yoga teacher is the most important factor to putting yoga into your life as tool of self-healing and creating health in your future.
  • Express concerns you have and ongoing side effects, such as; lymphedema, neuropathy, chemo ports or surgical drains.
  • Tell the teacher you are in treatment. This is not a secret best kept.
  • Ask the teacher if he/she has had specialized training teaching yoga to cancer survivors.
  • Volunteer pre-existing health conditions to the teacher.

For example; high blood pressure or hip replacement.

Often those issues need more safety consideration when doing yoga, than cancer.

  • Ask what the average class size is likely to be.
  • Make sure the teacher knows your yoga experience.
  • Trust your intuitions about the teacher and the environment.
  • Have your doctor’s permission to do gentle yoga.

I want to applaud you for being curious about the different styles of yoga. Your goal to detoxify your body by doing more yoga is best found in balancing effort with ease.

Always keep in mind, that ‘the more peaceful you can become, the more healing you receive’©.

 

Pose of the Month: Yoga Neck

 

Take a comfortable posture sitting or standing. Center your head atop your spine with the chin lifted. Breathe in and grow taller. As you breath out, slowly let your left ear lean in the direction of your left shoulder and relax the muscles in your neck. Breathing in, reach your right hand towards the ground. Breath out, leaning deeper to the left.  Center on an inhale and lean on the exhale for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side, leaning right, reaching left for 5 breaths.

Yoga Neck 3 or 4 more times.

Who you are is always changing.  Always opening.  Always breathing.

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Love Begins Within

 

Valentine’s Day is often associated with the Hollywood image of “ideal” romance between couples. With this overriding concept afoot during this time of year, it is easy to miss out on the lovely simplicity and subtlety of real life love. The relationships that shape our day-to-day existence can be less than exciting and perfect, but are so valuable and important to nourish.

Yoga teaches us to get to get to know our own imperfections intimately. By doing so, you can begin to cultivate compassion for yourself– strengths and weaknesses alike. This practice of kindness to yourself easily translates into kindness for others.  Acknowledging the importance of your own community and finding love and support for those who love and support you will be a healing practice on its own.  Dedicate your practice to all the “someones you love” (including yourself!!) this week and keep that loving Valentine’s spirit all year long.

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Teacher of the Month: Jennifer Brilliant

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In the honor of the launch of y4c in Brooklyn, we sat down with Jennifer Brillant to learn more about her practice, motivation & classes.  To learn more about her y4c classes, click here.

Q: What originally inspired you to be a yoga teacher?

A: Teaching yoga is a continuation of my love of working with the body. I was a professional dancer for many years, and eventually began to teach dance. Then I realized that teaching yoga would open up the possibilities of who I could teach because anyone can do yoga.

Q: What inspired you to teach yoga for cancer survivors?

A: The first motivation for getting involved with Y4C was losing my mother many years ago to breast cancer. Then recently another close family member was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has undergone treatment and is currently doing very well. Finally, knowing Tari and the amazing impact she has made on the lives of settled it for me.

Q: How do you bring your own teaching elements into the y4c classroom?

A: I think (and hope) that experience has made me sensitive to people in difficult situations. I bring my passion for yoga and a gentleness to balance it to the y4c class.

Q: Has y4c training/teaching impacted you in any unexpected ways?

A: When I signed up for the training, I was not intending to teach. I wanted the general knowledge to improve my teaching. But within the first hour, it was clear to me that teaching y4c classes was something that I must do. During the intro circle, I realized what a huge influence this work had on people and I wanted to be part of that.

Q: What is your favorite asana and why?

A: How can a mother choose between her children which is her favorite? I love Warrior 2. I like doing balance poses. Seated poses are great. And I must do shoulder opening.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I am honored to be working with Tari and 6 other amazing teachers on the Master Y4C Teacher Pilot Program. We are learning, writing, watching each other teach, offering/receiving feedback and talking about Y4C. I am committed to supporting the expansion of the work that Tari has created.

I am still working on my New Years resolutions: meditating and marketing.

I am also a Mom with a regular teaching schedule and enjoy singing once a week with the Brooklyn Community Chorus.

Jennifer Brilliant teaches a weekly y4c class at her studio, Jennifer Brilliant Yoga, in Park Slope, Brooklyn Thursdays at 5:45pm. Click here

The Sport of Yoga

(Originally posted by a y4c student at http://goodbetash.blogspot.com/2009/02/sport-of-yoga.html)

Where we value sports these days is a gray area in society I think we need to look at with more focus. Sports stars are seen as role models, heroes even. But are we giving them too much value? Don’t get me wrong; you’ll be hard pressed to find a bigger fan of sports than I. Competition, building your character, testing your mental and physical limits, learning to control your emotions, understanding being part of something larger than you are just scratch the surface of what sports can do. But what should we call something that goes farther than that, and still involves all the physical attributes of a “sport?”

I’ll be perfectly honest with you; I’ve never actually done yoga before. All I knew about yoga before I wrote this was what I had seen on TV. I never knew about the spiritual aspect of yoga, or what a community it can build. I was introduced to Tari Prinster, a local New York yoga instructor, and I quickly found out how much more yoga can be.

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Tari was diagnosed with breast cancer, and after several treatments and recoveries, she is alive and well. More than that, Tari found mental peace in her yoga. “I was doing yoga for all the ‘wrong’ reasons. It made me buff and strong. . . what happened after [my diagnosis] was a BIG surprise…there was a change. I began to understand the meditative aspects, the power of breath to calm my mind and the need to relax as part of a healing process…cancer gave me enlightenment to use yoga as more than exercise and toning.”

But this wasn’t where Tari drew the line. In 2002 she founded Yoga for Women Cancer Survivors at OM Yoga, a program specifically for women cancer survivors. Since 2002 her program has grown from 3-5 women a week to a full 24 classes a week. I asked Tari if she could talk about the before and after class experiences, asking about the community feeling. She said, “they feel safe. And they come for the experience of ‘well-being’ that a yoga class can give. There is nothing in their lives that give them the time and space to just BE. They feel stronger, normal and hopeful.” What started out as just exercise has become something personal, something communal, something giving.

So would we consider Tari a “sports star?” I think we can make the analogy that Tari is a head coach, teaching and inspiring, but she has gone farther than modern sport. When something takes the next step; when something takes that step beyond competition; when something takes that step into the realm of helping other people, it goes beyond sport. It goes beyond a combination of fitness and entertainment and it becomes larger. In a time where our athletic role models are only seen in the news for scandals, drugs, crime, contract hold outs, it is refreshing to hear about a woman like Tari. A woman who should be a hero to everyone, sports fan or not.

 

Pose of the Month: Bird’s Wings

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Lay flat on your back with your feet flexed (toes pointing to the ceiling) and your arms down by your side, palms facing up in a gesture of receiving. As you inhale, gently lift your arms straight up and over your head, reaching back behind you to rest on the floor if you have the mobility. Do not force it, this should feel like a pleasant stretch and not painful. As you inhale and lift your arms, simultaneously point your toes like a ballerina straight in front of you, so your body makes one long line. As you exhale, bring your feet back into a flexed position and your arms back down by your side. Repeat five times, making sure to link the movement with the breath.

By laying flat on your back, you give your nervous system a chance to slow down. Additionally, the movement created in your arms and legs provides a pump like effect moving lymph which is necessary for the immune system to do its job.

“Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralyzed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as bird wings.” -Rumi

The C Word: Community

Finding out you have cancer can be a devastating blow. Instantly, you have a whole new set of priorities, fears, questions. You may be feeling lonely or angry or completely overwhelmed.

We don’t want to worry our families and loved ones, we don’t understand all of the medical jargon our doctor is telling us… there are so many reasons why a room full
of women who are at different stages of the same journey can help us not only cope,
but then move forward. Experiencing the y4c community leads to finding comfort,
camaraderie and support from others; while gaining strength from the realization of all
the comfort and support you still have in yourself to offer.

In yoga, we practice svadhyaya, or self-study. Through cultivating the ability to quiet our
thoughts and introduce ourselves to our entire inner and outer bodies, we are able to
better manage our reactions to things outside of our control. This is an excellent tool for so many areas of life. But the more incidental benefit of a yoga class is the community, these people who can sympathize and offer advice. This community of support can be a welcome reprieve to bask in quiet understanding or shared challenges, and can be so rejuvenating amidst the often solitary experience of cancer.

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Every Step with Grace

Kelly Considine – a beautiful, talented, loving y4c teacher passed away this week after a courageous 7 year battle with cancer. She will be remembered by the countless students, friends and teachers she touched, loved and brought strength & laughter to. Her legacy is infinite. We love and miss her. We marvel in her beauty and courage.

” You can shed tears that she is gone, or you can smile because she has lived. You can close your eyes and pray that she’ll come back, or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left. Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her, or you can be full of the love you shared. You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday, or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday. You can remember her only that she is gone, or you can cherish her memory and let it live on. You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back. Or you can do what she’d want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.” -David Harkins

Please leave comments here for Kelly. Thoughts, prayers, and memories welcome.

UPDATE as of January 20, 2013:

In honor of Kelly and to root her strong legacy, we have established the Kelly Considine Scholarship Fund that will provide scholarships to both cancer survivors and yoga teachers that want to pursue a yogic path to health & wellbeing.  Your donation is vital. For more information and to donate, please see here.

Why We Do It: Lymphatic Massage

By now, we have all heard that practicing yoga can offer seemingly endless benefits to any population. When we start to break down exactly how and why yoga is so good for us, it is hard to make excuses against practicing. In “Why We Do It”, we explore some of the specific conditions of cancer patients and survivors, and explain how yoga may offer relief.

Our immune system is not one organ, but a complex system that traverses the entire body. One way our body defends itself against disease is through channels of lymph that travel like blood and serve to identify and attack foreign cells. This system does not have a pump like the heart to get it moving; it relies on breath, movement, muscle contractions, and gravity. So the more you move, the more your lymph moves, which is one reason why we believe yoga is so good for cancer patients, especially in the very important and vague post-cancer phase of “staying healthy.”. This manual moving of lymph is also beneficial for lymphedema, a common side effect of cancer surgeries. Our attentiveness to breath creates it’s own kind of pump and the intention to move every part of our body can help the lymph do it’s job, and help it drain where necessary.

Besides maintaining a regular asana practice, you can give yourself a lymph massage to help stimulate lymphatic movement and drainage. This is both beneficial from a medical point of view and also a relaxing way to show yourself a little kindness. Start by raising one arm up in the air, then gently squeeze and move down towards the shoulder and in towards the peck with the other hand; do the same thing on your legs, moving slowly from toe to knee to pelvis. Tapping your fingers across your chest and down the sides of your body is another gentle way to release lymph.

A Dream for the Future

“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 final 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.”- Tari Prinster