By Teri Richardson Gandy, y4c Teacher
A few weeks ago, a woman came to our yoga4cancer Community Class Brooklyn class for the first time. She was quite scared and overwhelmed. I helped to get her yoga mat and props all set up. The poor thing was so distraught that she hugged me three times before class even started to thank me for helping her, being there and teaching class. I promised her that I would take care of her and that if she got tired, that she was to stop and rest. During class, if she became unsure, or a little lost and looked at me for support, I’d smile and give her a little wink to assure her that she was doing just fine. If she were on her left side, while we were on our right, I’d go over to gently redirect her, offer support and the assurance that she was safe, and accomplishing the requirements class. Students are simply required to show up as they are, do what they can, and are encouraged to feel good and strong about that. She did great!
At the end of the class, she thanked me again and hugged me twice more. She also told me that she was heading in for her first chemotherapy treatment at the end of the week. She was quite scared and she wanted to know what to expect. Fortunately/Unfortunately, I did not have to do chemo during my cancer treatments, so I told her that I could not provide specific advice on what to expect —however, there were two of my Y4C regulars in the room who had recently finished their treatments. I immediately asked them to counsel our newbie and without a blink, the two of them hovered around her with protective measure and shared what they knew. (It was awesome to see the confidence transform the two of them before my eyes as they became empowered while sharing their experience in service of their new sister. Stunning!) After their conversation, our new student came to me again to thank me for everything. She had enjoyed class, felt better in her body, got some insight on what to expect for her upcoming treatment and found a ‘home’ to return to once she was feeling better post treatment. She hugged me again and went home just a bit lighter. As I was leaving for the day, my desk staff told me that our new student had been dropped off for class by her daughters who were on their way out of town after visiting their mother. Literally like a relay race, her family who came to care for her, passed her into our care as their leg was done for now. That gave me goose pimples.
Two weeks ago, I had another new student who has been a cancer survivor for many years. She came to class because the frozen shoulder she has developed as a result of treatment and not moving as much as she had once intended is making her miserable and scared. She hadn’t done yoga before, her energy was good and she was very attentive through out the entire class. We did a lot of work with range of motion doing arm circles and chest opening exercises that are good for addressing scar tissue and the tightness that happens as a result of breast surgery and radiation. Moving the arms in that way is also an aerobic action that heightens natural breath-work and lung function, which is also the point of yoga. Deep breathing stimulates the thoracic duct that promotes the movement of lymphatic fluid through the body AND supports the immune system.
I have another student who quite like me came to her first yoga4cancer class very annoyed at what she had just been through. She had a yoga practice prior to the mastectomy that she had. I could see her in class as she was agitated by some of the ‘easier’ poses and sequences, then humbled by her lack of range and strength in others. It was quite interesting for me to be on the other side of that. She’s been back to class enough that she’s ready to move into some regular basic yoga classes. The last time I saw her, not only did we discuss that, but she told me that she has an 18-month old at home. She’s been dealing with cancer, surgery and all the while a baby as well?? I felt so happy and honored to tell her that she could take any of our Basic classes. Those are the classes I took when I was strong enough to move from the Y4C classes that I was attending. I also got to tell her that we have a Parent/Baby yoga class that is taught at a mixed level class with two teachers in the room to manage the babies so that the parents can practice!
Free Y4C classes for cancer patients, (and their caregivers, husbands and daughters so far), in any stage helps to reconnect survivors to their own bodies and lives is so important. This promotes self-care, self-healing and an element that medical support CANNOT do alone. This too is a bit of a relay race, where at a certain point, the handing over of the health care baton is necessary, most helpful and strategic. I’m incredibly humbled to be able to share my experience, my yoga practice and to be able to foster that in others. Not only can I offer Y4C, but can provide some vision and safety in their anticipation or desire for the next steps. We’re building a community of survivors who are becoming encouraged, empowered, healthy and stronger in their bodies because they are being supported in their need to be themselves in their fight against cancer. That is amazing!