3 Things I learned from Teaching Yoga to People with Cancer

Luckily, I do not have cancer and never have. I am simply a yoga teacher who has a great interest in the ways yoga, pranayama and especially meditation can help support someone with a disease like cancer. I’m sure like many of you, I’ve had students who happened to have cancer find their way into my gentle yoga classes. I wanted to have a broader knowledge base and provide them what they needed even though it was an open class not specifically designed for students with cancer. When I found the Yoga Bridge, Yoga for Cancer Teacher Training Program, I signed up. I wanted to learn not only the science behind how yoga can help support a student dealing with cancer but how I can practically guide them in a yoga class. There have been several studies lately regarding the benefits of yoga for not only students currently in treatment, but also survivors and caregivers.

Every day is different and that has to be honored.

As a teacher of students with cancer, I have to expect the unexpected. Each student is different from one class to the next depending on the treatments they have had that week. Chemotherapy and other treatments can be exhausting. Chemo brain is a real thing. Lymphedema, peripheral neuropathy and fatigue are just a few of the side effects cancer patients deal with and yoga teachers need to understand. I’ve learned to be much more sensitive to the pace, the modifications and some of the physical limitations for this group because they change from week to week.

Meditation is critical

With all the stress that comes from a cancer diagnosis, meditation helps to mitigate the anxiety, insomnia, pain, turned upside down schedule and the uncertainty that comes with this disease. Some scientific evidence shows that meditation can help to relieve the particular symptoms and improve quality of life for people with cancer. When I teach sometimes the meditation practice trumps the asana practice. In my classes, mindfulness is the meditation technique of choice.

Community support is vital

Often times in my classes, the students spend the first 10 minutes giving support to other students, updating on others who might be missing class that day and sharing information about upcoming cancer events that they often participate in together. It’s my role to let this play out as it needs to. If this cuts into the “practice” so be it. The community support is just as important, if not more important, than the formal yoga class.

I highly recommend the Yoga Bridge Teacher Training Program if you are interested in working with this population. It is life changing.

Yoga Bridge™ is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that offers free and low-cost yoga programs to all people affected by cancer. Students are part of a nurturing community where they find relief from fatigue, muscle weakness, and stress.

Yoga Bridge trains teachers and health professionals how to teach Yoga for Cancer. The next training is April 17-20, 2015. Contact yogabridge@hotmail.com
Website: http://www.yogabridge.org