The life challenges that cancer brings sometimes seriously impairs your energy levels and ability to move around. With new circumstances you have to find new ways to increase wellbeing even though your physical ability has decreased. Is it possible to do yoga if it is not physically possible?
This is the fifth blog post in a series on living with cancer that I'll be writing the coming months. The introduction and links to the first blog posts, can be found in the first one; To live with, after and next to cancer.
Focus on wellbeing
Maybe you are fresh out of surgery. Or you are weakened from both the illness and the treatments and have become bedridden or in need of a wheelchair. Perhaps cancer and/or surgeries have caused you to lose bodily functions or body parts.
Yoga is by many viewed as a physical practice. When someone says “I do yoga” or “I’m going to yoga today” they usually mean doing poses in sequences on a yoga mat. So, what if that is not an option? Is yoga not for you if you can’t go to yoga class?
My boyfriend had a very rare type of cancer. The original tumor was on the urine bladder but there were several metastases in his spine already when he was diagnosed. During his illness he had three major surgeries – two to his back to stabilize the spine and reduce the metastases, and one in the abdominal to remove the original tumor. All the surgeries temporarily restricted him, forcing him to stay still and reducing his movement options. Eventually though, the tumor in the spine grew too big and he became paralyzed from the chest down. At the same time both the advancing cancer and the chemo made him weak and tired.
My boyfriend’s story is of course unique and only his, but it is not unusual. For so many diagnosed with cancer the impact on the body is very noticeable, leaving us to adjust to new circumstances and conditions all the time – temporarily or permanently.
Yoga didn’t become a part of my boyfriend’s life until he was paralyzed. Being a dedicated runner, he liked to run long and far. He never engaged in “yoga on a mat” before being paralyzed and wasn’t able to after. But he did find yoga helpful when he adjusted to his new circumstances living with cancer.
A little + often = a lot
Yoga offers a wonderful way to reconnect with yourself when you are going through hardship. Small movements and short exercises will improve body awareness; put focus on your vital breath; help you become aware of thoughts and emotions; and find relaxation – all of which increase both physical and mental wellbeing.
Though, it is a daily practice. Wellbeing is not a fixed state that we can accomplish, like a goal that we can “check off” and we’re done. It is a constant, ongoing way of showing up for ourselves – again and again.
To not be overwhelmed by “daily practice”, have this in mind: A little + often = a lot. We sometimes think that we have to do much and put in a lot of effort for something to have an effect. We think that if we can’t yoga for 60 minutes it’s not worth it. Forget about that.
Know that those two minutes you close your eyes and listen to your breath makes a difference.
Know that that gentle twist lying in bed makes a difference.
Know that sitting up and circle your arms a few times makes a difference.
Know that gently rubbing and massaging your feet makes a difference.
Know that taking a pause and paying attention to the constant stream of thoughts makes a difference.
Know that those seconds and minutes together equals a lot.
When cancer restricts and limits, we must try to change focus from what we no longer can do, to what we actually can do. Even if you struggle with your physical abilities there are still many ways for you to practice yoga and self-care. Doing yoga doesn’t require a yoga mat or being able to move around on it. Nor does it have to be a certain amount of time or specific postures. You can still do yoga, lying in a hospital bed recovering after surgery.
Take “A little + often = a lot” to your heart. Let those words guide you as you do what you can, with the energy level and movement ability you have right now.
Yoga, breathing and relaxation exercises online
Below you'll find some recommended videos to practice at home. Most of the videos are 5-10 minutes long. Some exercises and techniques can be done in lying in bed, even if they are shown standing or sitting in the videos.
After surgeries breath exercises are important. The anesthesia hampers the breath, and chest and abdominal surgery can make breathing painful. Always follow the guidelines from doctors and physical therapists, but you can keep strengthening your breathing with following exercises:
Sometimes there are no room, possibility, or energy for moving your body. Try this mini yoga using your fingers and hands. The Swedish and English version are slightly different, but both exercises help you land in your body and increase concentration and moment to moment awareness:
Relax and reconnect
Don’t be fooled that these videos are called Kids yoga. They are great – both for kids struggling with cancer, and for adults. Take part of Angelicas 5 super tricks for relaxation – short, simple, accessible to do anywhere!
Use these yoga stories to say Hi! to your body and connect to each body part.
This is a wonderful way to connect with your feet and the ground. Neuropathy is a common side effect and this gentle way of focusing on your feet can be helpful:
These easy movements can be done anywhere. Stay in bed, get on the floor, or find a chair, and move your body for a while.
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War on cancer
The physical challenge is huge for a cancer patient. The mental and emotional challenge is at least as great. War On Cancer is a social media-app, a social network and community, where everyone affected by cancer have the opportunity to share their cancer experience and get in contact with others who actually understand. War On Cancer's mission is to put focus on, and radically improve, the mental health of everyone affected by cancer. The first step is the digital social network that creates belonging and community in a time of isolation and uncertainty. You are reminded that you are never alone. We'll fight cancer together.
Share your story, it will make a difference.
- Accessible yoga for everyone, by Sam Rudra.
- Full complete breathe technique, by Ulrica Norberg.
- Exploring the breath - Part 1, by Eleonora Ramsby Herrera.