In the past, I’ve written about how yoga has helped me deal with rheumatoid arthritis and its nasty effects, but it wasn’t RA that first brought the therapeutic qualities of yoga to my attention. Before the words ‘rheumatoid arthritis’ were ever a part of my vocabulary, I watched how yoga aided my mother’s recovery from her first bout with breast cancer nearly eight years ago.
My mother was a fan of yoga and went to classes frequently before her diagnosis. After her two lumpectomies and radiation therapy, her mobility was greatly reduced and her body changed. Yoga played a big part in bolstering her strength and helping her feel like her body was vital and capable once again. When I finished my yoga teacher training a few years later, I knew that I wanted to explore how yoga could play a role in the management and recovery of serious illnesses like breast cancer. Unfortunately, I wasn’t really sure how to go about it.
Enter Tari Prinster. Through a partnership with the Libby Ross Foundation and Om Yoga Center in New York where I trained and practiced, Tari was pioneering a program to expand her Yoga for Breast Cancer classes by teaching other yoga teachers how yoga could be applied to meet and support the needs of women dealing with breast cancer. I immediately signed up for the teacher training course and thus began my own journey using yoga as a tool for health.
Tari was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage two breast cancer in 2000 and underwent a total of four surgeries, plus chemo and radiation. She went from being a freshman in ‘Cancer Graduate School,’ as she calls it, to earning a Master’s Degree in a matter of months. Tari was no stranger to yoga, having begun classes five years earlier when she hit 50 for, according to her, ‘all the wrong reasons- vanity took over.’
But after her surgeries, with the range of motion in her upper body greatly reduced and her first chemo appointment staring her down, she realized there was more to yoga than meets the eye. While she had initially been drawn to yoga in an effort to look better, her journey with cancer brought a new understanding of how yoga could also make her feel better.
Before her first chemo session, Tari said she felt terrified and alone- something most of us with a serious illness can probably relate to, even if it isn’t cancer. She began to think she needed some help, and while her family and friends were there for her, it somehow didn’t quite cut it. She needed something else that she could do to help herself. Feeling panicked and stressed, she started using some very basic pranayama, or breathing exercises. After the first chemo session was over, she realized she wouldn’t be blown away by the chemo; her yoga practice could help her manage and control her anxiety through breathing techniques and meditation. This, she says, is when she really discovered how yoga worked.