Module #3 Feedback

Our goal in Assignment #3.1 was to find yoga solutions to specific side effects, while testing your understanding of the inherent science and yoga principles behind the poses you chose. Further, the task was to apply your experience, training and thinking to the specific conditions. Underlying your choices are the intended benefits and awareness of any potential risks. Wow, that is a lot to ask! Having read everyone’s submissions, it is exciting to see excellent, sensitive and healing suggestions.

Many of you provided similar poses to address constipation (rarely discussed but widely common). The benefits of twisting poses are well supported by the physics of compression and the ‘squeeze and soak’ method, two great examples of yoga principle and physiology applied to this cancer treatment side effect.

For weight gain, most suggestions were based on the principle of movement inherent in the modified sun salutation, progressing to careful yet more demanding poses.

There is no question that Legs up the Wall Pose assists movement of lymph using gravity, and it has a positive effect on lower extremity lyphedema.

The suggestions for depression and hot flashes were broader by comparison and may lead to future discussion. For example, using forward bends for hot flashes and down dog for depression are suggestions not uncommon to other yoga lineages.  However, I am not in agreement to either as applied to these conditions faced by cancer survivors. Weighing the risks and benefits of a pose is always a challenge for a yoga teacher.

Many applied pranayama techniques to both of these conditions. This I encourage. Suggestions included the use of Sitali pranayama-a cooling breath exercise- which is a great choice.  However, I strongly caution the use of Kapalabhati as generally beneficial to cancer patients. One objective of the Kapalabhati technique is to create heat, which it does even when practiced non-vigorously. Perhaps this is not the best way to manage hot flashes! Kapalabhati must be used with care. The sharp contractions of abdominal muscles can create pain if there are lesions in abdominal organs. In my opinion, this technique holds more risks than benefits.

Likewise, Kumbhaka Kriyas (breath retention) can cause discomfort and psychological associations to clinical examinations and testing procedures. Certainly in healthy individuals who have strong unobstructed core muscles, these are wonderful techniques. We will discuss this and more regarding the use or pranayama techniques in the next module, as well as during our weekend intensive together.

I was delighted by the numerous suggestions of active poses and sequences as a way to manage depression.

For feet neuropathy, I feel a need at this point in our training to give more explanation to the physiology of this condition in cancer patients and survivors so your future choices reflect this information. For neuropathy, many suggested poses or sequences that would aid in creating blood circulation. Indeed this benefit is important to someone with neuropathy, whether in their hands or feet. Bringing more blood to the feet or hands will not cause any damage. If they are cold, it will in fact warm them. But it is important to understand that neuropathy is not caused by lost blood flow. It is a neurological disorder meaning that nerves are under or over stimulated. A survivor with neuropathy would likely be experiencing heightened sensation, or a loss of feeling in their feet or hands. With the loss of, or increased sensation in the feet, what concerns would a survivor likely have? Perhaps their sense of balance would be challenged and pain management would certainly be an issue. So what poses would cultivate and guide a cancer survivor to develop awareness and ultimately confidence in their balance? You know the answer!
As yoga teachers, our goal is to provide yoga tools that allow students to enjoy all the benefits of a yoga practice. In terms of pain management for feet neuropathy, how would you think about modifying standing poses, for example?

We are fortunate to have so many yoga poses to explore. There are many more than a few that are effective in providing relief to all these common side effects. Fortunately, the basic yoga principles that govern the movement of our bodies, breath and mind are few. The challenge is to understand why, how and when the benefits of any pose you choose can best be used and experienced by a cancer survivor experiencing these side effects.

Assignment #3.3 was another exercise in finding yoga poetry and challenging our concepts of a familiar yoga word- vinyasa. Having read these 150 word essays, I was pleased to see that everyone used it as an opportunity to think differently about vinyasa. Everyone found their way beyond a yogic breath combined with yogic movement to a deeper understanding of life and ultimately cancer. Beautiful connections were made – all worthy of saving. I am honored to share these inspired examples from past students:

 “At first, a cancer diagnosis and following treatment freezes you in; you are stuck and you are not moving. You become very determined, but you only see limited possibilities and directions. Vinyasa is a dance lead by breath, a choreography that can be modified to our needs and helps us to transform. We move in a playful and safe flow. We not only change our position but also our perception; we become soft, warm, flexible and open. We prepare our body and mind for more challenging poses and situations”. – Helen

“A cancer diagnosis and treatment, like vinyasa, requires change.  Finding the best way to flow with the changes, instead of struggling against them, is the challenge.  Navigating cancer treatment is like learning to swim in a river of uncertainty.  There are ups and downs, twists and turns and choices to be made.  Taking the time to breathe, discovering the next step, and then easing into it with mindful awareness is calming and liberating.  In vinyasa, and along the path of our personal life journey, there is no room for perfection.  Yet we move, we feel, we pause, we listen, and we learn as we confidently put one foot in front of the other and transition from one phase to the next”. – Maria

Onward to module 4!