Dorothy is a tall, attractive Polish woman who is fifty-four years old. She had a double mastectomy when she was fifty-two, which was then followed by eight months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She tests positive for BRAC 1, the breast cancer gene. Her mother died of breast cancer at age forty-seven. Dorothy expressed concern to me before a recent yoga class about a new pain she was experiencing in her shoulder blades. As if whispering a secret, she asked me if it could be cancer. I was not surprised by her question, but asked her if she felt any pain when two years earlier she detected her breast cancer. “No,” she said, “Only a lump. . . . ”
It is not easy to listen to the body. We get so many aches and pains before, during, and after cancer. Most are not caused by cancer, but that is the fear. As survivors we are hyper-alert to new body sensations and naturally, we worry. The nervous system is a tricky alarm system sending signals that are sometimes confusing, false, or, as was the case with Dorothy, misunderstood.
Until advanced stages, most cancers do not cause pain. Rather, the treatment and their side effects can cause pain, not the cancer itself. Acknowledging this fact and then applying curiosity mixed with practical information help us manage our pain as well as our fears. In my conversations with Dorothy later on, she realized that the pain she was feeling, although real, was not due to cancer. Rather, it was a strained back muscle! During class, we did many poses and patterned movements that gave her relief and insights into how she was using her shoulder and arm.
But a yoga practice can reduce pain. Studies have concluded that yoga can help reduce pain for both non-cancer and cancer populations.14 Simple breathing exercises can ‘quiet the mind’ and provide respite from the sensations of pain. Restorative poses – included in the active y4c method – enables the body to relax, heal and improves sleep. Additionally, the y4c methodology modifies traditional yoga poses so that individuals can practice with less pain and ease. There are ways to help you manage body sensations and to modify poses according to your body’s needs and the changing circumstances of your recovery on a daily basis.
An example of a pose that can be pain relieving but requires modification for SOME survivors is Childs Pose. Read here for an explanation of how to modify this pose to enable the end benefit of relaxation and relief from pain, anxiety and stress.
Read the other Yoga Benefits here.