Four Things We Can All Learn from Cancer Patients and Survivors
April 1, 2017
I began teaching yoga for cancer a year ago. I had a good background in understanding the physical limitations my students might be experiencing. I soon discovered the elements to a successful class went far beyond what is happening on the mat. Patients and survivors are facing struggles of body, mind and spirit. Based on this experience I believe there are four key elements to steady practice that can benefit us all. They are trusting our body's wisdom, the importance of self care, developing a healthy relationship with fear and community as healing. I'll be discussing honoring the body in this article. Look for the other three components in my weekly blog for the month of April.
The importance of trusting our body's wisdom.
We all battle our bodies on some level, measuring our worth by external appearance, how we conform to our particular standard of beauty. How many of us have an internal dialogue that is a list of criticisms of our body’s appearance? We are too heavy or thin, our hair is too curly or straight, our nose is too big…the list goes on and on.
Our body’s smooth functioning is taken for granted, and we assume limited responsibility for our well being. Sugar makes us moody and tired. We say “I’ll stop tomorrow” as we bite into a cookie. We’re over scheduled and need to rest yet we book more appointments. We know we need to exercise as we slide into bed and stream another show.
We need a new context of understanding our bodies. One that recognizes that the beauty of our bodies is in their function, not their appearance. Our bodies support everything we want to experience in life. They allow us to fulfill our purpose and dreams, to enjoy the beauty of nature, music and art, to share deep love and passion.
People with cancer are forced into relating to their body’s function. Most cancer treatment is uncomfortable at best, brutal at worst. Many of my students complain of weakness, generalized malaise, limited mobility, nausea and dizziness. The body they once knew is compromised and altered in ability and, sometimes, in form. They struggle to find new self definition within their body's current capabilities.
How do they do it? They do it when they find pleasure in the body. Finding the pleasure in movement gives them the opportunity to reestablish a positive relationship with their bodies. Mindful movement allows them to discover their edges; places of physical comfort, ease and grace. Learning their parameters allows them to reclaim their bodies and a feeling of control. Finding ease with their breath allows them to lay claim to an inner calm and presence needed both during and after treatment. My students report that even if they drag themselves to class they leave feeling reinvigorated with less pain and a greater range of motion. They claim a greater sense of ease and joy.
We all need to find a new relationship with our bodies; seeing them as an incredible vehicle that connects us to our truest selves and each other. Understanding pleasure as a birthright allows us to shift our perception of our body from object to subject. A subject we listen to for its wisdom. Our bodies hold deep knowing of whether something is good or bad for us, they never lie. This honest feedback born of our experience of pleasure and pain can then be used to chart the course of what's best for us. Trusting this wisdom is one of the greatest gifts of being human.