August 2013

Yoga, Cancer, and Peace

While undergoing active treatment for breast cancer, I did yoga like a drug. For me, yoga worked better than the anti-anxiety prescription I got from my doctor, better than the marijuana-laced olive oil I got from a generous neighbor.

Yoga is not what you think. Forget power flow. Forget sweating and bending and balancing and contorting. Yoga is breath. Yoga is being fully alive in your body. Yoga is being brave enough to pull your rattling, smoking, fuming body over, lift by  the hood, and not judge what you see. Yoga is the kindest, deepest reality check you can imagine.

During treatment, I did restorative yoga and gentle flows. Practices spent entirely on the floor.  After active treatment, I moved to Boston and discovered Yin yoga, another gentle practice of long holds and deep breaths. With yoga and the help of a gifted physical therapist, I  regained full range of motion in my radiated arm and shoulder.

This morning I stumbled across a beautiful essay in the New York Times,  by my friend Susan Gubar, called Living With Cancer: Patient Yoga. The sentence that struck me most was the second to last. “With relief, I realized the yoga was teaching me to be patient with my frailties.” Amen sister.

Today, my yoga practice looks nothing like it did before my breast cancer diagnosis. It is soft, not hard. It is resilient, not fleeting. I am no longer the teacher. I am content to be the student. Yoga is my way of meeting my body where it is, not judge it for where it isn’t. I use the practice to come home to myself. Thanks for reminding me Susan, and, to repeat the mantra here:

May we dwell in the heart,
May we be free from suffering,
May we be healed wherever healing is called for,
May we be at peace.