Yoga Helped Me Heal!

At age 50, Tari Prinster was looking for a way to address menopausal symptoms, so she signed up for a yoga class. “I didn’t want to look or feel like an old woman,” she admits. Little did she know that just five years later, she’d have her own yoga studio—and be turning to the practice to help her get through treatment for Stage IIb breast cancer.

Just two weeks after her lumpectomy incision healed, she resumed her daily yoga sessions. And she kept at it through eight months of chemo…and then radiation. “Yoga helped me keep my immune system strong. It also gave me emotional support and spiritual comfort.”

It didn’t take long for Tari to realize…other people need this, too! So she created Yoga4Cancer (y4c.com), where she offers classes geared to cancer patients and survivors. Yoga does more than just help ease the side effects of chemo, says Tari: “The strongest benefit of yoga is empowerment: the ability to do something self-affirming. It’s part of a self-prescribed action plan for a healthy future.”

Here are poses from her book, Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors (due in Nov. 2014). Alert: Clear all exercise with your health team first.

Beat stress & fatigue
Restorative fish: This pose activates the parasympathetic nervous system—the calming nerve response that counteracts the “fight or flight” reaction and promotes a relaxed body and mind.

1. Grab two blocks. Place one at the top of the mat, and the other about 12 inches down. Set two folded blankets at the side of the mat.

2. Sit in the middle of the mat with the blocks behind you. Bend your knees, placing feet flat on the floor. Using your arms, lower your upper body onto the blocks: Rest the bottom tips of your shoulder blades on the lower block (do not rest your waist, back of neck or upper shoulders on
this block). Support your head with the higher block.

3. Extend your legs. Place your arms on the blankets and close your eyes, resting for at least 5 minutes.
Lower back hurts? Bend your knees and place a bolster or rolled-up blanket under them.
Head uncomfortable? Put a blanket or towel over the block.   

Boost flexibility & bone mass
Downward dog with chair: Along with stretching your whole body, this move provides resistance, which can build bone strength and help counteract bone loss due to chemo and other treatments.

To start: Stand facing the chair, feet hip-width apart. Place hands shoulder-width apart on the chair. Walk your feet away from the chair and bend forward at the hips. Keep your head straight so your ears are between your upper arms.

Step 1. Inhale: Bend knees and elbows slightly. Lift your chest and look toward the back of the chair.

Step 2. Exhale: Straighten your arms and legs and return your head and neck to the start position. Press your palms into the chair and root your feet into the floor. Feel your lower belly engage, lifting toward your spine. Repeat 5 times, bending and straightening legs and arms with your breath.

Tight hips or legs? Keep your knees slightly bent throughout the sequence. 

In treatment? These yoga tips are for you!
1. Bring your own gear. “You’re more susceptible to infection during chemo,” says Tari. So bring your own mats, blocks and blankets. 

2. Tell the teacher if you have a chemo port. ”If the teacher is making adjustments, [his or her touch] could be painful,” says Tari. “Your teacher needs to be aware.”

3. Work with a yoga teacher who is trained to work with cancer patients. He or she will understand your needs and challenges.

Published April 2014

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