Pink Lotus Yoga

Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors by Lauren Cahn in New York City

Yoga and Meditation Empower Cancer Patients

More than nine years have passed since I first felt a lump in my breast, had it biopsied, made the decision to have both of my breasts removed and reconstructed, and went through with the all-day surgery. Every year since then, I have taken some time during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to write about my experiences and offer what I hope to be insights to the breast cancer patients out there, along with their family and friends.

This year, this week, in fact, the realization hit me that I have nothing that I want to say other than that a long time has passed, and I have already said about as much as I think I have to say on the topic, and now I would like to move on with optimism and hope for a healthy and happy future.

In that spirit, I offer you today, the wise words of a guest poster, Gillian McKee, who kindly offered to provide the following insightful information to my readers:

Yoga and meditation are helpful as complementary therapies in the treatment of cancer for some patients. It is becoming more and more common for major cancer centers to offer yoga and meditation classes in addition to the mainstream treatments of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

A person diagnosed with cancer is usually overcome with fear and anxiety. Imagine, for example, how it must feel to learn that you have mesothelioma, an incurable cancer related to asbestos exposure. With a mesothelioma life expectancy of between four and eighteen months, it is not surprising that victims of the disease are often frightened and panic-stricken. Furthermore, the treatments used to fight the cancer have highly unpleasant side-effects, including pain, nausea, fatigue, and muscle weakness.

Yoga can decrease production of the stress hormone, cortisol, reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, lessen depression and anxiety, help overcome sleep problems, and stabilize one’s mood. The postures, or asanas, help ease tension and are thought to release blockage of energy in the body. With the release of tension, energy flows through the body, giving patients a feeling of strength and well-being as body, mind, and spirit come into balance. Patients with mesothelioma in particular benefit from yoga’s focus on breathing, which complements the respiratory therapy that they require.

Meditation, which is an integral part of the practice of yoga, has been shown to be as effective as opiates in reducing pain. In a study conducted at Wake Forest University, researchers taught patients to use meditation to focus their attention on a something pleasant, instead of on their pain. After training for only a few days, the subjects reported a 57% reduction in pain. This is essentially the same degree of pain reduction produced by taking morphine.

The American Cancer Society stresses that yoga cannot be considered a cure for cancer of any kind. However, it can improve the quality of life for many patients, giving them a sense of control over their bodies, reducing tension and stress, relieving pain, preventing muscle atrophy, and helping them cope with sometimes daunting treatments and their side effects. The NIH continues to stand by yoga as a complementary therapy by promoting and practicing an annual Yoga Week. Since 2008, this event has partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to support increased medical research for complementary and alternative care.

Jillian S. McKee on Twitter: @canceralliance

Pink Lotus Yoga is Gearing Up for Another Round of Classes

As before, classes are being held at the Arch Healing Center in Midtown Manhattan. Please email me at lscnyc425 at hot mail dot com if you would like to purchase a 2-class card ($25) or a 4-class card ($45) and to find out when classes are being held (what day, what time).

Looking forward to another great session!



Next Class at The Arch - different day and time

is Thursday March 30 at 7:30 p.m. (due to some scheduling constraints, namely my older son's 9th birthday on Tuesday).

See you there!


Next Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors Session Begins March 21

Hope to see you there.

This month, classes will begin at 6:15 p.m. and end at 7:45 p.m.

The Arch is located at 66 West 39th Street. Look for the "New York Bartending School" Banner, with a big picture of a martini on it...:)



First Class at the Arch!!, January 31, 2006

A Success! How wonderful and freeing to have a nice space to call our own, with wonderful accoustics and the ability to play our own music and talk freely...

Looking forward to next time!



Cultivating a Garden where a Battlefield was...

What Yoga Can Do For Breast Cancer Survivors, by Lauren Cahn

The moment you're diagnosed with breast cancer, you become a warrior. Sometimes you're right on the front line, facing surgery or chemo or seemingly endless days of radiation. Sometimes you're in the "bunker", meeting with doctors, assembling opinions, planning your strategy. Most often, you're living the day-to-day in the aftermath of battle, occupying your body with a sense of watchfulness, the way a military occupies a newly conquered nation, hoping to create a sense of order out of anarchy, and never quite sure when or if there might be another outbreak of war.

The thing is, however brave and honorable it may be, being a warrior takes up tremendous energy. Regarding our bodies as something to conquer and hold at bay disconnects us from our bodies and detracts from our ability to experience the "divine" in ourselves. We begin to regard our bodies with distrust, fear and dread. So how does one deal with the diagnosis, treatment and survival of breast cancer while at the same time not waging war against oneself? In a word: yoga.

The word “yoga” is a Sanskrit term, often translated as “union” or "connection". In my own experience as a breast cancer patient and breast cancer survivor, yoga was the means by which I began the process of re-connecting with my body, a body that had profoundly failed my mind's expectations through illness and the effects of the treatments for that illness. Yoga was the means by which I began to turn the blackened, burnt out battlefields of my fight against cancer into fertile ground for an emerging sense of self.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was a 36 year old mother of two who had trained for and run three marathons, figure-skated and biked avidly and had always practiced yoga as an adjunct to long hours of strenuous endurance training. My diagnosis was shocking and humbling. It struck me as a breach of some sort of pact I had made with my exercise and to eat right in exchange for remaining healthy. Feeling shaken, anxious and depressed, I had little energy to exercise. Then, after my double mastectomy, I was ordered NOT to exercise for six weeks. By the time I was medically released to begin exercising again, I was too exhausted and ill from chemo to go on the long runs of my past. Skating created soreness in my chest and ribcage (the result of the muscle-manipulation involved in my mastectomies). And the physical therapist I had met with in the hospital had warned me of my beloved long-distance bike rides, claiming (incorrectly) that the gripping action of my hands on the handlebars would set the stage for lymphedema (a chronic, debilitating and disfiguring blockage and buildup of lymph fluid in an area of the body adjacent to the site of lymph node removal; for women who have had their lymph nodes removed in connection with breast surgery, the possibility of developing lymphedema is a lifelong concern).

I had no idea what exercise would feel good or "work" for me anymore. As I tried to figure it out, weeks and then months went by with my taking no physical exercise at all. From a combination of lack of exercise, the side effects of chemo and the aftermath of my mastectomies, my body was gradually weakening and stiffening, particularly in the area of my shoulders and chest. And the weakness and stiffness made it that much harder for me to motivate myself to get moving again.

As weeks and then months went by, my clothing began to grow tight, and for the first time in my life, my doctor suggested that I peel off a few pounds. Since I was at a standstill with regard to exercise, I decided to focus on my eating habits instead. Unfortunately, chemo had put me into menopause, and my metabolism had slowed down considerably. Thus, it seemed that no matter how little I ate, I was still not losing weight. I knew that adding some muscle to my body would help fire up the "engine", but I was at a loss as to where to begin, or how.

Then one Saturday afternoon, midway through my six months of chemo treatments, I was surfing the net and came across a "Hot Yoga" website. I recalled that my sister-in-law often practiced hot yoga and raved about how good it made her feel. I searched for a hot yoga class in my area, found one, and before I could talk myself out of it, I went that very day. I dressed in heavy sweatpants and a long-sleeved t-shirt, only to discover that everyone else was wearing short shorts and tank tops. The temperature in the heated room climbed well above 110 degrees, and after every few poses, I would roll up a sleeve or a pant-leg.

There was a mirror at the front of the room, and we, the students, were instructed to keep our own bodies as our focal point, which was excruciatingly difficult for me because I was horrified by the sight of my body in the mirror. And then there was the problem of my wig. It was just too hot to keep it on, despite how embarrassed I was at the prospect of removing it partway through the class (which I ended up doing). Nevertheless, I stayed in the room and I kept at it. Why? Because despite my displeasure with looking in the mirror during class, and despite my difficulties with my wig and my clothing, yoga felt incredibly good to me. In one 90-minute session, I was already hooked. I promised myself that I would attend class three times per week. As it turned out, three times per week never seemed to be enough to me: on many days that I had intended as "off" days from my yoga practice, I craved the practice and made my way to class anyway.

Within several months, I branched out to non-hot vinyasa yoga classes, classes that involved the linking of breath to movement and the connection of individual poses to one another through a series of specified movements. I learned to stand on my head, to balance on my forearms and even to balance on my hands. I learned to support my body weight between my hands and my feet while in a full backbend. It was heady and exciting, this forging of a new connection to my body: one of respect and love, rather than fear, anger and hatred.

Essentially, what I was doing in practicing yoga was beginning to reacquaint myself with my body the way a child gets to know his or her body, exploring the way it can move and stretch, the way it can curl up in on itself or open fully. I found that placing my body into certain postures made me feel powerful, joyful and even beautiful, even when I was bald, bloated and fatigued. I also found that certain postures made me burst into tears. Others made me feel angry and aggressive. I learned to deal with the emotions as they came up, and I learned to use the same techniques outside of the studio as well. In real life situations. Like waiting for a doctor to talk to me. Or having blood drawn from painfully collapsed veins.

Through yoga, I no longer regarded my body as alien, as something I had somehow become "trapped" in, against my will. And through connecting with my body, I began to see the connections in many things, in all things: between past and present, between actions and consequences, between arrogance and humility. And through those connections I am now able to see the connection between myself and all living beings, between all living beings and the space in which we dwell, and finally, the connection between all living beings and the divine force that we accept as more powerful than us even as we find ourselves unable to fully comprehend it.

I would never have wished to have been diagnosed with breast cancer. And given the choice, I would never go back and do it all over again. However, through the practice of yoga I have come to make peace with the fact that what I wish and what I want really have little, if anything, to do with what actually happens, and that what actually happens can become something beautiful even if it started out as something dark and frightening. To fight cancer is brave and noble. But to declare marshal law over one's body indefinitely is a heavy burden.

Through the practice of yoga, I have learned that it is possible to recognize the point at which the troops may be disbanded and the rebuilding can begin. Through the practice of yoga, I have learned that it is possible to grow a beautiful garden in what was at one time a battlefield.

Lauren also writes about yoga, breast cancer and life in general on her blog: Yoga Chickie