Words: Vicky Fox
Our bodies are incredible: constantly repairing themselves, and although we are largely unaware of it, maintaining health on a daily basis is proof that the body is at work all the time repairing. Sometimes, however, our bodies need some external help or medical intervention to help that process and for a period of time we become a person receiving medical treatment, or patient. Patients are often removed from decision making processes whilst experts decide what to do and how to fix. In these periods we can experience a sense of not being in control, periods of waiting and being in limbo, being frightened or feeling confused by language and medical terms that can even feel intimidating. Scans and tests can be noisy, stressful and scary and the waiting leads to “scanxiety”, a term people in the cancer community use to describe the nervousness around the time of tests. Things are happening to you, and you might not feel empowered or sense that you are a co-crafter of your wellbeing and although we might need the expertise of medical professionals, the only person who truly knows what it is like to be you, is you. You are the expert of you, unique and wonderful you.
Time to repair looks at how we can support the body, give it assistance to go about doing what it does best, trying to bring our bodies back into balance and repair themselves. Even if medical treatment is ongoing we can assist our bodies not just by moving and strengthening them but also by resting and restoring. There is huge power in being a human being rather than a human doing, a challenging concept if you were brought up thinking ‘more is more’ rather than ‘less is more’. You, as the CEO of you, can take an active role in helping your body to repair and integrate yoga into part of your long-term health care plan to find tools that help you take back some control and become the co-crafter of your wellbeing. Incorporating yoga into your life is a challenge that gives meaning and direction to life but also can give you time to tap into the more instinctive and intuitive layers of you, to see your body as an interconnected whole and repair the “whole” of your body, mind and spirit.
You, and only you, know what it feels like to be you and so you can decide what you might need on any given day to support you. Do you feel you need to energise your body, calm your mind, lubricate your joints or strengthen your bones? Do you have the energy for standing poses or would you prefer to be lying down or sitting in your chair? The great thing about yoga is it isn’t just a physical practice and therefore can be done by anyone at anytime, anywhere. You can explore how making different sounds as you exhale draw your attention inwards, lengthens your exhale and creates vibrations inside your body. You can try different mudras or hand gestures to help direct energy to areas of the body or to conserve energy within the body. You can try different breathing techniques to find one that might just give you an anchor into the present moment and help you to gain a feeling of being “here and now” rather than wishing you were somewhere else. We can use up a lot of energy when we worry, projecting fearfully into an imaginary future or wishing that our situation was different to how it is. This is valuable energy that we need when we are repairing or healing. Our breath is such a great tool to help us to be present, with whatever is in that present moment, the good, the bad and the mundane. Our breath is free of charge and we take it wherever we go and as long as we are alive we are breathing so we can use breath to create a sense of calm or cooling when we feel ‘heated’, upset or frustrated by our experiences.
Regularity is key to optimise the bodies potential to repair but when we are unwell we use up a lot more energy than when we are well. So, being mindful of how we use the precious time we have to put us in the best place to allow this healing to occur we need to start small, remember that little acorns grow into large oak trees. Little and often can help foster a feeling of taking back control in bite sized chunks that fit in with your day. Time is a factor that I regularly hear from my students that they don’t feel they have enough and therefore time is a key element of repairing. If we start with realistic goals of little and often, five minute practices of daily yoga, we can create a habit that with time grows into a regular practice. Time to repair our miraculous and magical bodies can start to feel less daunting, more practical and maybe more realistic.
As a yoga teacher specialising in teaching to anyone impacted by cancer I regularly see and hear from students how yoga has helped them recover from surgery or support them during their treatment for cancer. The empowering benefits of yoga are what I want to share with anyone that needs support right now. Take time right now to experience something that gives you a break from your mind and find some tools to help you stretch and strengthens your physical body. You don’t have to feel good to practice yoga but generally people feel better after.
Yoga is something you need to experience, as my teacher Leslie Howard says in your yoga laboratory for one you can see what a difference moving and breathing can make. In a small amount of time using the breath I think we can really change how we feel. Try this; from either a seated position or from standing, take a moment to pause (to be a human being), just check in with how you feel right now. Taking a mental snap shot of how you feel right now gives you the opportunity to notice anything that has changed or shifted after your short practice. Observe any physical sensations that might be drawing you out of the present moment. Observe your thoughts. Are you having hundreds of thoughts or just going round and round on a loop? The current thought you are having is under your control so observe it, without judging it as good or bad and bring your attention to your breathing. Just notice where your breath is going in your body. Where do you feel a pressure change as you breathe in and breathe out? Is the breath getting stuck anywhere? How far down your body can you feel breath?
Then taking a yoga belt/strap hold it about shoulder distance and pull out on the belt to engage your arms.
- Then taking a breath in raise your arms as you breathe out lower your arms back down.
- Inhale raise your arms and add on raising your heels exhale lower your heels and your arms (see pictures).
- Inhale raise heels and arms and count your breath in and exhale count your breath out. See if you can inhale for a count of three, two, one raising arms and heels and exhale for a count of three, two, one as you lower your heels and your arms. Slowing down the movement so that it fits your breath.
- You might explore breathing in for a count of four, three, two, one and exhaling for four, three, two, one.
Then pause and notice how you feel now. What are the effects of breathing and moving? Observe and know this feeling is something you can come back to anytime.
Victoria (Vicky) Fox, BSc is a Senior Yoga Teacher and Teacher Trainer (Yoga Alliance) and has been teaching yoga specifically to people diagnosed with cancer since 2013. She teaches at triyoga.co.uk yoga, daily encountering the need for help with cancer/treatment side effects, and runs training for fellow yoga teachers to do similar. She has worked for Leaders in Oncology Care, Bowel Cancer UK, Paul’s Cancer Support Centre, Future Dreams, Ovarian Cancer, Perci Health, Royal Marsden, Lymphoedema Network and also teaches one-toone. In addition, she teaches anatomy on various teacher training courses.
Vicky Fox Yoga (vickyfox-yoga.com)
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