Yoga for Cancer Videos -- Practice at Home!

During treatment, it can be hard to find the time and energy to leave the house and attend a yoga class. I happy to share these yoga videos that I made in collaboration with weSPARK Cancer Support Center. Our hope is that you can practice these gentle yoga sets in the comfort of your own home. 

Click here to watch! 

Simple Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which provides for a wonderful opportunity to review practices that can help breast cancer patients and survivors. Please pass this info on to anyone who needs it! 

Yoga is a tool that helps relax and calm a person’s mind and body. It can be helpful to cancer patients and survivors in innumerable ways. Those who are currently undergoing treatment are familiar with many of the unpleasant side effects of radiation and chemotherapy, which can range from nausea to fatigue to insomnia. With its vast array of physical postures, breathing and meditation techniques, yoga can soften some of these difficult symptoms. Additionally, gentle yoga has been shown to slow down the sympathetic nervous system, which helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.

Post treatment, many women may be dealing with limited mobility due to scar tissue and other factors. Simple yoga stretches can help one regain strength, flexibility and stamina.

Try these simple yoga postures and breathing techniques at home:

To open the chest and release tension in the back:

Start on all fours, with the wrists directly underneath the shoulders, and the knees hip-distance apart. Inhale and release the heart and belly towards the floor. Let the head follow with the spine as you draw your gaze upwards. Exhale and round the back up towards the ceiling, drawing the belly into the spine and the chin towards the chest. Continue 1-3 minutes.

Spinal Flexes:
Sit cross-legged on the floor, or in a chair. Inhale as you lift the heart forwards and gently draw the shoulders back. Widen across your collarbone and chest. Exhale, release and round your back, slightly tilting your pelvis underneath you. Continue 1-3 minutes.

To calm the nerves:

Anti-anxiety breathing:
Inhale through the nose. Exhale through a rounded mouth. Inhale through a rounded mouth (as though you are sipping through a straw). Exhale through the nose. Continue this cycle for 3 minutes.

Alternate Nostril Breathing:
1.     Draw your right hand up, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
2.     Block off your right nostril with your right thumb and inhale through your left nostril.
3.     Block off your left nostril with your little finger and exhale through the right nostril.
4.     Keeping the left nostril closed, inhale through the right nostril.
5.     Block off the right nostril and exhale through the left nostril.
Continue this cycle for 3 minutes.

To re-energize and recharge:

Right nostril breathing:
Block off your left nostril with your left thumb. Breathe long and deep through your right nostril. Continue 1-3 minutes.

Heart center meditation:
Sit on the floor or in a chair. Cross your hands over your heart center. Breathe long and deep, visualizing a bright white or golden ball of light at your heart center. Visualize this light filling up your entire body, spreading light to any part that needs healing. Imagine that this light can burn up any old fatigue, illness or negativity, and replace it with light.

To relieve insomnia:
Vipariti Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose):
Lie on your side next to the wall with your knees towards your chest, as though you are in the fetal position. Bring your buttocks close to the wall and walk your legs up the wall. Rest on your back with your legs up against the wall. Release your hands by your sides, with the palms up. Rest for 3-5 minutes.

Resources for cancer patients:

The Roy and Patricia Disney Family Cancer Center 

WeSpark Cancer Support Center:

The Wellness Community

Tower Cancer Research Foundation

Yoga for Cancer Patients

Why Yoga?

As a yoga instructor and yoga therapist, I have long been strong believer and proponent of the healing aspects of yoga. Whether it be a new lightness in expression, transformed posture, or a newfound physical strength, time and time again I have watched yoga transform my students.  However, it has been the experience of teaching yoga at WeSpark Cancer Support Center that has solidified my faith in yoga’s incredible ability to heal, uplift and transform.

There is no question that facing down a cancer diagnosis and its ensuing treatment is one of life’s greatest challenges. Most everyone at We Spark is familiar with the staggering variety of physical, mental and even spiritual ailments and imbalances that can accompany cancer. Though yoga may not be a cure for this, its holistic approach to health can help to soften the edges of the disease and its treatment, providing one with a greater sense of physical and mental well being.
The philosophy and practice of yoga is holistic -- in that it takes into account the health of the entire person - body, mind and spirit. Yoga treats a person as a whole, rather than a collection of problems and ailments. Indeed, Yoga takes the view that we are essentially whole and perfect, even if we are having an experience of disease or pain. Yogis believe that underneath all of our pain and suffering, there is a radiant light of health, wholeness and truth. Like the sun, it is always shining – even if it is sometimes covered by the clouds.

On a physical level, yoga incorporates stretching, bending, twisting and balancing movements. These postures help to stretch and strengthen the body and increase stamina, flexibility and circulation. A skilled yoga therapist is well versed in anatomy and physiology and will understand which postures can help a student. Utilizing that base of knowledge along with a healthy dose of intuition, a yoga therapist can design a simple series of postures and breathing techniques specific to their students’ needs.

Yoga provides a tool-kit for all kinds of situations. Someone who is recovering from a mastectomy may need gentle heart openers, or to simply lie supported on a bolster to open the heart, break up scar tissue and increase lung capacity. Meanwhile, someone who is struggling from chemotherapy fatigue might benefit from energizing right nostril breathing or a mild inversion.  A person with digestive troubles may benefit from a simple knee-to-chest stretch.  However, some students may need to simply lie down and rest, feeling nurtured and cared for by their yoga instructor. The psycho-physiological value in feeling relaxed and cared for cannot be underestimated. As the physician Francis Peabody once remarked, “The secret of the care of the patient is in caring for the patient”. 

These days, the detrimental effects of stress on the nervous system and immune system are well known. It is evident that we all must practice self-care and self-love. In many ways, yoga can be an antidote the continual stress and strain that occurs while experiencing cancer. Yoga’s holistic approach engages the practitioner on a physical, emotional and spiritual level and helps to facilitate deep rest and relaxation, providing opportunities for greater health and healing.