Sometimes a single moment can change everything. You’re going along, living a life of seemingly mundane concerns—job, family, home maintenance, etc. Then one day everything changes: a car accident, a family tragedy, a cancer diagnosis. Suddenly you long for a life of the precious mundane. Instead of wishing for the extraordinary you believe is happening anywhere else but your own life, you realize the extraordinary gift of something as ordinary as your health.
Yoga teacher and PhD candidate Amy Putney Conn’s life changed radically six years ago, with her diagnosis of breast cancer. “The first stage of living with a cancer diagnosis is raw emotion,” she says. Her memory of the day the surgeon broke the news is vivid. “One of the few times I cried was when my surgeon told me,” she says. “My daughter was asleep in my husband’s lap. He didn’t want to move and wake her, so all he could do was reach over and gently touch my foot.”
Amy went through chemo and radiation, and came out the other side, but in the process, she recognized the profound effect her Yoga practice had on her healing. “The breath was the carrier of wellness for me,” she says. “By actively moving the breath in and out, I was able to circulate the toxins in me and help them move out of my body.”
Amy’s experience with the healing power of Yoga inspired her to begin teaching Yoga for cancer survivors and their support people. She began co-teaching a six-week class she called “Quality of Life” with a friend, Dawn Brockett, who had used Yoga to heal from an eating disorder. “That first time we were really shooting from the hip,” she says. While Yoga practice was the cornerstone of the class, Amy and Dawn covered different elements of wellness including diet and essential oils. Twenty-two people signed up, and all of them attended the entire six weeks.
Support for the regular weekly classes was so strong they decided to hold a retreat, to allow members of their community to go deeper. They partnered with the non-profit organization, Women Beyond Cancer for their first retreat. By the third year, they were able to hold their retreat at Sundance Resort. Here, they hosted not only survivors, but their families as well. They raised $11,000 in donations and were able to sponsor 26 survivors and family members to attend their retreat free of charge.
“I’ve always wanted my classes and retreats to be free,” says Amy. “When I saw what Women Beyond Cancer, as a non-profit, could provide I was inspired to take the next step and turn what I was doing into a non-profit.” She calls her organization A Quality Life Community (QLC).
A Quality Life Community offers a comprehensive wellness program for cancer survivors, caregivers and their families. The cornerstone of the program is Yoga. When I first visited their website, I was confused that cancer “patients” were not listed as beneficiaries of their services. Amy says, “We don’t want to use the words ‘patient’ or ‘victim.’ If you’re alive and living with cancer, you’re a survivor.”
Yoga practice is the centerpiece of A Quality Life Community’s program. In the mid-’90s, I taught Yoga for cancer survivors for two years at the Cancer Wellness House in Salt Lake City. While I’d encountered cancer survivors occasionally in my public classes, I quickly realized that teaching a class full of people with radically different conditions and needs was a real creative exercise. Rather than emphasizing their newfound limitations, I chose to fashion my classes to include only poses everyone could practice with ease. So the classes varied radically from week to week depending on who attended. Amy says this is precisely the philosophy of A Quality Life’s classes—to empower cancer survivors to acknowledge what is still working for them. In addition to traditional asana, QLC’s classes include restorative practice and meditation to help smooth out the inevitable physical and emotional waves of living with cancer, whether as a survivor, caregiver or loved one.
Amy’s plans for QLC include continuing to provide classes and retreats for cancer survivors, caregivers and friends and family; training Yoga teachers to work with this population; and providing a sanctuary for survivors and their support people while they go through treatment. Amy remembers meeting a couple from Idaho who had to travel to Salt Lake City for treatment. “They were staying in a hotel,” she said. “Treatment can impose so much on families, especially if they have to travel out of town for treatments. In retrospect, I had it pretty easy—living in Salt Lake City where my treatments were only a few miles away.” One of Amy’s original Quality of Life students, a doctor, decided to convert the bottom floor of her home to a space for out-of-town families to stay while receiving treatment.
All of Amy’s students from her original Quality of Life class are still active in her community—all except two who have passed. Amy’s contagious passion for Yoga and healing creates cohesion and inspiration among her students and colleagues. The organization’s growth has been inspiring to watch. Its evolution will be equally so.
Hugger Mugger Yoga Products is honored to donate one percent of our net sales to QLC from October through December. QLC is our first recipient of this program, which we plan to continue throughout the year.