This post will kick off our October blog. Because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve chosen to feature periodic posts this month that focus on yoga for cancer survivors, caregivers, and their families and friends. The author, Amy Putney Conn, teaches Yoga as an integral part of free community classes cancer patients and survivors. Her non-profit organization, A Quality Life Community, offers a complete healing and wellness program for cancer patients, caregivers and their loved ones, with Yoga practice at its core. Hugger Mugger will donate 1% of our net sales from now through December to A Quality Life Community.
by Amy Putney Conn
Upon meeting for our first class together, I ask the men and women gathered to find a mat, blanket, pillows, bolsters—whatever they can do to assist them in becoming comfortable. If a chair is needed, one is offered. The music is inviting, and I find that most people who come with a friend and/or a caregiver find comfort first, easing any anxiety through conversation.
Yoga is new to most cancer survivors and the studio is not a place they find familiar. Creating an inviting environment is essential and setting the initial tone auditorially is an important factor.
Once we’ve gathered, I begin the session with introductions, beginning with myself. I tend to do this with each session as we “check in” with each other. Along with their names, I ask the group to offer up some information about themselves and what brought them to participate in this class. I begin first. It is vital to establish ground rules to create a safe environment.
Information shared in our class is meant for the class only. This part of the class can be scary for a first-time participant. Often it is the first time that a student has said the word “cancer” aloud and in a public setting. Emotions that have been hovering just under the skin suddenly become exposed and can even surprise the person expressing them.
I begin the practice portion of the class with a breathing exploration. We’ve established our safe environment and now it is time to create our foundation. Introducing the mind-body connection through breath is a great beginning. Allowing all of the stirred-up emotions to become distributed throughout the body, exhaled and then replaced with fresh oxygen relieves stress and renews the body. Fire breath and Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing) assist in restoring, rebalancing the body and calming the mind.
Poses introduced to the class will focus on alignment, further establishing foundation and grounding. Teaching Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) and Table Pose (all fours) assist in finding the ground below us and sky above us. Movement with Cat/Cow Pose continues, with our focus on the breath while balancing between grounding through our hands and feet, followed by reaching our spines toward the sky. Down Dog takes this movement and balance one step farther as we reach our hips toward the sky maintaining our focus on breathing aligning our spines.
I end each practice with Savasana (Supine Relaxation Pose) and a head rub with essential oils. I ask each student to provide me with a palms-up signal if they would like a head massage and a palms-down signal if they would prefer not to be touched. I have found a heightened sensitivity with students who have lost their hair. Touching their heads can be a comforting sensation or quite the opposite. Survivors who are going through treatment have their bodies poked and prodded repeatedly. Touch is often associated with pain and discomfort. It is always important to ask before touching a student, especially if the student is new to the yoga world.
I speak with a heart theme throughout all poses taught and practiced—tying our breath-poses-movement with the heart. I speak with purpose through adjustments and instructions encouraging fear to dissipate and replacing it with a restorative calmness. Speaking from the heart recalibrates the group toward a proactive perspective, challenging the group to think, react and respond by moving forward rather than running away from their current state of being. In this practice, we are returning the group, including myself, to a more present state of being; living in the Now, in the present; reminding each other that this is our gift to ourselves. If FEAR represents: False Evidence Appearing Real then we counteract this fear with the gift of being present; Real Evidence Always Love: REAL
- Amy Putney Conn, teacher
- 3rd Saturday of every month beginning October 15th
- 4-6 pm
- Avenues Yoga, 68 K St., Salt Lake City, UT
Please come and tell your friends!