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How Discovering Yoga During Cancer Treatment Helped Me Heal

By Wellness

Yoga heals the mind, body, and soul. My journey with yoga is a testament to that statement. At the age of 14, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. From the ages of 14 to 22, I underwent three brain surgeries, radiation, and chemotherapy. MRIs and scans were a regular part of my routine as I grew from a teenager to a college student.

My experience with yoga was off and on growing up. I had gone to some yoga classes at my local YMCA, and in college I took a yoga elective which consisted of yoga classes two times a week. To me, yoga was a time to relax, spend time with friends, and get in a workout. Only after I was labeled as a cancer survivor did I fully realize the positive effects that yoga has on the mind.

Starting Out

After being given the “cancer survivor” label, I unexpectedly found myself feeling empty. Now that I don’t have to think about my diagnosis and treatment 24/7, what do I do now? So much of my life had been taken up by cancer, so I wasn’t sure where to begin.

I have always wanted to use my story to benefit others in some way, but I was never sure what form that would take. I’ve tossed around ideas of creating bracelets, writing a book, starting a company, etc. One night, while lying in bed unable to sleep, I promised to myself that I was going to do some yoga in the morning. Little did I know, this promise to myself was going to launch into something much bigger.

I loved the sense of relaxation and freedom the practice provided me first thing in the morning. It was an excellent way to stretch and loosen my body after a night’s sleep, and focus my mind for the upcoming workday. Therefore, I started regularly practicing every morning, and sometimes in the evening as well. Yoga became an excellent way for me to start and end my days, and I loved every minute of it.

Benefits of Yoga for Cancer

I had heard that yoga was good for those battling diseases like cancer, but didn’t know the specifics. After I started regularly practicing, I researched the specific benefits offered to cancer patients and survivors. Less fatigue and stress, less pain, better sleep, mood benefits, lower chance of cancer recurrence, should I go on? Not to mention the numerous positive effects cancer has on the mind.

Becoming a yogi really started to help my mental health as I recovered from treatments and surgeries over the past 13 years. I never attended cancer support groups or went to therapy during that time. I was never very vocal about it on social media and just preferred people to view my life as “normal.” This was part of my coping mechanism to keep pushing forward and just view cancer as a small aspect of my life.

Yoga forced me to come face to face with everything that I have experienced and how it has affected me over the years. It allowed me to feel safe enough to be vulnerable with myself as I pushed through different sequences.  I was always focusing on the next thing during my years of treatments: school, surgeries, chemotherapy, college, etc. Yoga has a way of slowing you down and shifting your focus to what is going on in your head and heart.

The Cancer Yogi

During my treatments, I had never heard of yoga for cancer. This valuable therapy was unknown to so many cancer patients and survivors, which seemed crazy to me. I knew that I wanted to start putting myself out there and try to spread awareness by sharing my story and my journey into yoga, so I started my own website. I work in marketing so developing the site was largely enjoyable, but when it came time to post a blog, I was scared. What do I write about? I wrote my first post, “Why am I here?” and didn’t publish it for a couple months. I wanted to make sure that yoga was going to become a regular part of my life before I dove in headfirst. Then one day, I decided to dive in.

I vividly remember posting my first yoga picture on Instagram and how vulnerable I felt. Was my pose done correctly? Do I look like a yogi? It took awhile for me to silence those inner voices when I post on Instagram (still struggle with them some days!) but I know that I am spreading awareness and the only way to be truly impactful with my reach is to be completely raw and vulnerable. When people are going through traumatic experiences, they don’t need the sugar-coated version. They need you to be real with them and tell it like it is. I learned that being vulnerable was my biggest strength when I launched my platform.

My Yoga Teacher Training Journey

Once I was certain that my passion for yoga wasn’t fleeting, I continued to look for ways to expand my knowledge and deepen my understanding of the yogic lifestyle. I looked around at multiple different YTT’s, and found Yoga Renew. I liked that the training could fit in with my current full-time job. I also liked that it was going to be at a slow pace with no time limit; I could complete the course as I grew in my practice. I really didn’t want to rush my training; if this was going to be a lifestyle as I intended, I wanted to have time to fully absorb the information and wrap it into my practice.

I am currently finishing my 200hr YTT. I have the sequences and evaluations left, which I admit give me a little bit of anxiety. Therefore, I am so glad that I can do these at my own pace and take time to dedicate to them when I am ready and when my schedule allows. Yoga has offered me so much more than just knowledge; it has offered me mental healing from years of medical treatment in such a short time. I’m not positive what will be next in my journey, but I know that with my new passion for yoga and my impending YTT certification, the future is wide open.

 

3 Easy Breathing Practices to Reduce Anxiety

By Healing, Mindfulness, Pranayama, Wellness

The benefits of mindful breathing stem far beyond helping you hold a challenging yoga pose. The practice of pranayama – the Sanskrit word for yogic breathing exercises – can relieve stress, and reduce anxiety symptoms by allowing you to focus on the flow of your breath. While there are a number of different pranayama breathing techniques used to calm the mind and body, we’ve gathered three of the most commonly practiced and proven methods to help ease your anxious thoughts once and for all.

Simple Breathing Exercise

women doing breathing to Reduce AnxietyOftentimes, simply breathing is the solution to the symptoms that anxiety sufferers face. The racing thoughts, worries, lack of concentration, among other signs and symptoms, can all be better controlled by utilizing the breath. By paying attention to how you’re breathing, you can understand your breath while reducing any distractions or strains on the body.  The best part, these exercises can be done anywhere.

How to: Practice lying on your back in Savasana (Corpse pose) with your arms at your sides. Inhale slowly and deeply imagining the breath filling a particular area of your body before exhaling with your mouth closed. Keep repeating this motion three more times before focusing on the breath layering another part of your body. (Option to begin at your feet, then calves, thighs, hips, bringing attention to each muscle group up your body to the facial muscles). The more you concentrate, you may feel each area of your body becoming slightly warmer.

Abdominal Breathing

Abdominal (belly) breathing exercises enable you to visualize your breath traveling throughout your body, in turn relaxing your muscles and your mind. You can imagine positive feelings and energy filling up your body on the inhale while releasing any opposing thoughts or concerns on the exhale. Also known as diaphragmatic breathing, this type of exercise encourages exchanging oxygen, stimulating the relaxation response through the movement of the diaphragm.

How to: Try sitting in a comfortable seat, taking slow, deep breaths in and out through your nose. You can explore the movement of your breath by placing one hand on your low belly and the other on your heart. Feeling your belly rise with your ribcage expanding on every inhale and your belly relaxing back towards your spine on the exhale, you can continue to focus on the flow of your breath. This conscious movement of your breath elicits your body to relax and allows your mind to focus on your breath rather than other thoughts that may arise.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

women taking lesson in breathing to  Reduce AnxietyWhile recommended to practice in preparation for meditation, Alternate Nostril Breathing does wonders for your concentration in just a few rounds. Along with centering your body and mind, it’s an excellent technique for clearing your sinuses and improving your respiratory function. The practice has also been widely successful in reducing blood pressure and improving heart rate in recent studies.

How to: The technique is practiced just as it sounds: by alternating your breath flowing from each nostril one at a time. Begin by placing your right thumb gently on your right nostril and your right pinky and ring finger on your left nostril. Take an exhale, and then inhale fully and completely. Next, use your thumb to block your right nostril and exhale slowly to a count of four out of your left nostril. Then, inhale through your left nostril and switch sides by blocking it and exhaling out of your right. Continue this pattern, switching sides after each inhalation. Notice how your body and mind feel after repeating alternate nostril breaths eight to ten times. If you’re already noticing a difference in how you feel mentally and physically, consider incorporating it into your routine.

Practicing pranayama breathing can be a total game-changer in improving your everyday health, especially if you’re battling anxiety. By following these techniques, you’ll learn how to regulate your breath by alleviating stress, depression, and other symptoms that often accompany anxiety. It gives you command of the flow of your breath, allowing you to control your anxious thoughts. Yes, your breath helps guide you through a challenging yoga pose, but knowing that it has the potential to rid your anxious mind makes your breath that much more valuable.