October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and we are spotlighting two of our yoga teachers. Carrie (Team Hartford) is a Breast Cancer Survivor who uses yoga as part of her healing journey. Michelle (Team Willimantic) works at the Hale YMCA where she partners with the LiveStrong Foundation to lead yoga classes for cancer survivors.
- Third year with Yoga In Our City
- Substitute for Team Hartford
How were you first drawn to yoga?
I was in my late twenties and came across an ad in my local paper advertising a yoga class. At that time, I was looking for a way to get in shape and noticed how quickly after starting yoga it began to change. My first yoga teacher was very encouraging and I use some of his teaching techniques in the classes that I lead today.
What was instrumental in your journey of strength & healing during Breast Cancer Recovery?
Holding my mat down during child’s pose like it was nobody’s business (and still is) a necessity in my healing journey The discovery of Yoga Nidra has also helped me improve my ability to properly rest my mind and body. At the top of my list is also my loved ones and of course the medical staff that have cared for me along the way.
How did your yoga practice change when you received treatment?
Treatment was a necessity to save my life but it tore me down. Walking on a yoga mat hurt my feet at one point. I listened to my body more while practicing, and focused on doing what I can including just being present. I was still able to enjoy the energy and relaxation brought by Savasana during treatment, like I did prior and now.
How would you describe the yoga of a healing journey?
I looked at my yoga classes during treatment as therapeutic for me emotionally, mentally, and physically. My yoga family held space for me where we practiced without talking about my illness which gave me great peace. After treatment, I continued my practice and earned my 200-hour Teacher Training Certification which has given me the opportunity to pass on the gift of yoga and healing to others.
What advice would you give people who are considering trying a yoga class?
Try everything and anything until you discover what works for you. Find what nurtures your body physically an emotionally as self-care is essential to navigate you through life. If you take time to just hold your at down and breathe, you are dong yoga!
- First year with Yoga In Our City
- Leads class at Lauter Park, Willimantic
What started your yoga journey?
I got sick in my twenties to the point where I had difficult walking and visited the hospital daily for IV treatments. At the time, my grandmother invited me to her chair yoga class where I slowly followed in tow. With time, I felt graceful, in control, and strong. Everything I thought I lost with my illness, I found within myself and my breath that day.
Can you shine a light on your role leading yoga classes for cancer survivors?
I work at the Hale YMCA which offers a no cost, 3-month health and wellness program for cancer survivors through the LiveStrong Foundation. As the program’s yoga teacher, I get to introduce multiple forms of yoga, meditation and mindful practices to support survivors through their healing journey.
How have you seen yoga positively impact your students’ healing journey?
Yoga teaches you that you are enough. Your weakness, your illness, it does not define you. Yoga helps students feel empowered within their own being to be a fighter, to think positive and to choose joy.
What yoga modifications are most helpful?
My most common modifications are forward fold or table top during downward dog, only offering chaturanga flows as an “add on” and giving multiple options for arm positioning in standing postures. My true favorite modification is to teach vinyasa in the YMCA’s warm water pool, where students feel support, balance and comfort in a whole new way.
Why are those in remission drawn to yoga?
Remission comes with a lot of anxiety for cancer survivors, since many times it involves reducing doctor check-ins to periodically. The feeling of having to wait months to hear that you are still cancer free can make many feel powerless. Yoga helps bring the power back. Yoga reminds you that whatever life sends you, you are equip to handle.
What holds the greatest support for continued healing and connection in the breast cancer survivor community?
Each other. As I have witnessed no one can connect to a cancer survivor like a fellow warrior. The open honesty without guilt and shared traumas and fears creates a camaraderie and bond that family and friends who have not gone through the experience, may struggle to offer.