Monday, January 24, 2011

Cancer Recovery, Yoga Style

Guest Post by Amy Annis,
In August of 2009, I was diagnosed with invasive lobular breast cancer during my first regularly-scheduled mammogram. It was completely unexpected and pulled the rug out from under my world. As yoga teacher who had consistently valued and promoted good health, it was a severe blow to my emotional psyche. Part of the road to recovery included much more than the nine month process of chemo, radiation, and surgery. That was critical to my physical body of course. But after that last radiation treatment wrapped up I began the process of caring for my emotional well-being, which is where the true nature of yoga revealed itself to me.

I began teaching in 2003, understanding that it provided me the opportunity to maintain my love of the practice as well as speak to my four young children about the connection of a healthy mind and body. I adored teaching and attended trainings whenever I could fit them in to my very busy, yoga-mama world but would often feel guilty and restless when I was away from the kids.

Fast forward to the cancer diagnosis, and, admittedly, I didn't practice throughout most of the chemo....I too sick (headaches and nausea) and too weak. I'll never forget the first Downward Dog after the second surgery. My arms wobbled and the lack of mobility in my left shoulder from the mastectomy rendered a pretty imperfect asana. And yet, as the breathing instinctively returned, there was a feeling of relief of being on my mat, a familiar place, knowing that my recovery was ahead.

What I did next was uncharacteristic. Cancer forces you a raw glimpse of your mortality. The benefit: a renewed desire to live my life at a different level. I put aside my feelings of mama guilt (all mamma's have it) and enrolled in a teacher training program at The Yoga Center of Minneapolis understanding that the 2 1/2 hour commute and the year of Sundays spent away from my family was a major sacrifice, both in time and in finances. Thank God for my husband, who I know thought I was a little crazy, not to mention realized pretty quickly that after a long work week he would be pulling single Daddy duty all weekend. Looking back, I think he was probably just so grateful for my survival that I could have told him I was going to India for 3 months and still received a feeble OK.

So there I was attending trainings every week and yoga became my new medicine. I would imagine that all of that chemo and drug that I reluctantly pumped into my body would release with my breath. My mentor, Monique, gently but firmly (and that's not an oxymoron in her case) didn't give me too many breaks or excuses why I could not do an asana. But she warned me that the emotions may present themselves during the hip openers, and sure enough I spent a few Pigeons head down weeping on my mat.

School unwittingly became an extension of my therapy. I gained a deeper appreciation for the culture and history of yoga. More than the Sutras themselves, but how they applied to my life and my practice. I'll ever have the eloquence of some of the great teachers who guide us on the Yamas and the Niyamas, but I feel as though the understanding of them, as well as the insight of a mother and a survivor, that I can speak of them in real world words.

Oddly enough cancer was a gift. One that I never wish to receive again, mind you, but it nonetheless forced me forward on many levels. The benefits of my newly created yoga community inspired me to take some huge leaps of faith. I re-discovered my love of writing and speaking, there is a deeper appreciation for my family who won’t disintegrate in my absence, and it was the springboard to take my dreams to the next level and develop my yoga retreat business on the beautiful Madeline Island.

There is much mention lately in the news as to the benefits of yoga in cancer patients. In fact, cancer patients may want to read the book Cancer Fitness by Anna L. Schwartz; it is very good. But in my journey of recovery yoga was much more than a traditional exercise. It healed my heart.

Amy Annis has taught yoga while raising a small army understanding that her practice not only gave her balance in a hectic life but also spoke to her children about the connection of a healthy mind and body.  After a bout with crazy cancer in 2009, she decided to take her dreams to the next level and developed her yoga retreat concept on beautiful Madeline Island, WI.  She also found her writing voice and recently launched her own blog.  As a yoga mamma, wife, outdoor enthusiast, and dog lover she delights in life a little off balance.  Lately, she is very grateful for hair. You can find her on Twitter and Facebook.