According to BreastCancer.org, “About 1 in 8 women in the United States (12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.”
Breast Cancer Today
Breast cancer is particularly close to my own heart, so to speak, as everyone in my maternal lineage had a battle of one kind or another with breast cancer, and I myself am on a list of very highly susceptible. Given that my family were all born and raised in China, with a traditional Chinese diet, this is a highly unusual statistic. The rate of breast cancer in traditional China was low to non- existent in my great grandmother’s day, and for her to have had an issue was considered very rare. In China even today, breast cancer incidence is 6.43 per 100,000 people annually , ranking 183 in the world (April 2011), compared to the US where breast cancer death rates are higher than those for any other cancer, and breast cancer incidence of 300.2 per 100,000 people annually, ranks it at number 7 in the world.
Over the years, I have had friends and family diagnosed, fight, survive and lose the battle with breast cancer, and it has coloured my life, yoga teaching and my own view of health and well being. With a personal cloud of breast cancer on the horizon, (as I enter my “Crone” years after menopause) and watch my body change and shift with the illumination of aging, I am increasingly interested in finding ways to work with yoga and aging.
I spend a lot of time searching for ways that my contribution to yoga could help women living with and recovering from mastectomies, lumpectomies, radiation and chemotherapy. And the way that we view this journey of living with illness and lowered energy, range of motion and vitality. Can it be a positive experience for ourselves to live life fully, and live every moment fully and completely?
Several years ago, I dedicated a pose to Breast Cancer and lovingly call it “Pink Dog”, and I have been told it gives an amazing release to the hard to reach lymph area under the arm and around the breast. There are three versions adapted to different mobility; one in full dog twist, against the wall for some arm mobility limitations, and on a chair for limited mobility. Yoga Journal has a video of the full Downward Dog twist in my Restorative sequence called “Comfort and Joy”, and you can watch it here. It’s a great way to bring in some calm and comfort into any yoga practice!
Recent studies indicate that yoga can yield significant health benefits and improve quality of life for breast cancer survivors. Yoga is part of a complementary holistic approach to breast health and breast cancer recovery, and in studies of women with breast cancer, yoga has reduced fatigue and improved quality of sleep, physical vitality, and the overall quality of life. Reuters
Yoga and Cancer
Yoga programmes for cancer survivors have been led by researchers in universities and teaching hospitals around the world for over 10 years, and there are 50+ studies available on PubMed today that have examined the physical and psychological benefits of a gentle form of yoga. One new study has found yoga might help restore some lost vitality. New studies are begun every year and there will be more and more holistic and integrated views towards a cure.
The medical community has agreed that practicing gentle and restorative yoga can encourage and improve sleep and enhance the overall quality of life. In many of the clinical trials run by teaching hospitals, research centers and clinical trials have shown women experiencing lower levels of pain and fatigue, and higher levels of invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation.
A restorative practice (with poses that are fully propped to each individual) allows the main movements and openings of each pose, and subtle adjustments of the body itself, to assist in blood flow. As breath expands and opens in the chest, it increases oxygen exchange and rids the lungs of stale air. The physical benefits of conscious breathing alone can increase circulation and lymphatic drainage, while the additional mental and emotional benefits can decrease anxiety, fear, and depression. A trained and experienced yoga teacher can prepare gentle yoga poses to care for people with lymphedema and risk of fracture in bone metastasis.
As the parasympathetic “rest and digest” functions are activated, responses of the sympathetic nervous system are regulated and the flood of stress hormones that create “fight or flight” states of panic and fear are diminished so the body can truly and deeply relax. A body at rest is also a body that can heal itself, so this rest is not the same as sleep, but a place for the body to absorb its own healing.
Yoga Bloom THANK PINK Eggs
Since I often teach Restorative and Therapeutic yoga and train teachers to work with props and poses to find ways to help and heal people of all ages, shapes, sizes and cultures, I am more and more obsessed with my props. Ive even made videos to just describe what types of bolsters there are or How to Fold a Blanket for my students and teacher trainees 😉
In honour of my prop love, Jason Scholder of Three Minute Egg and I have partnered in a Yoga Bloom THANK PINK Egg dedicated to Breast Cancer. Here’s a preview of the new Pink Egg!
10% of all Yoga Bloom Pink Egg sales will go directly toward breast cancer awareness and education. Three Minute Egg, Inc. has developed an “Egg Donor” program making it easy for people to make Three Minute Eggs available to yoga teachers, studios and practitioners to use in classes on Yoga for Breast Cancer. So when you are looking to add props to your studio or home practice, please consider buying a Pink Yoga Bloom Egg and helping in our work towards a cure. Think Pink and we can THANK PINK!
I have created a few short sequences for breast cancer survivors that utilise the unique nature of the Eggs and will be previewing some of them at Yoga Journal Conference in San Francisco in January 2012. We will also be working with Pink Eggs throughout Yoga Bloom Advanced Yoga Trainings in the year ahead.
Look for info and video sequences from Three Minute Egg and Yoga Bloom!
If you want to help us distribute or buy some of your own Pink Eggs, please contact Three Minute Egg here. And use my promotional code 3MEAcw6 for Eggs!
We have all experienced in our yoga practice, the increased awareness of our bodies and minds as we explore this beautiful thing we call yoga, and my hope is that as we practice yoga with awareness, we begin to feel better and are able to become sensitive to everything and everyone around us. As this awareness expands and deepens both inside and outside our body, we consciously begin to overcome obstacles of fear, pain, anxiety.
The practice of yoga then becomes “Big Yoga,” and our true nature is revealed through sensitivity and awareness; we intuitively discover how to overcome obstacles on this life journey, whether we are dealing with illness, stress, anxiety or fear. Becoming more connected to ourselves is how we can become more connected to our families and friends, and in turn connect to this great, beautiful world of ours.
Peace is possible.
And peace comes from within us.