By Sharon McGuire
500 RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher with 500+ hours of yoga training)
My mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma six years ago. I remember that day in the hospital as if it were yesterday. My siblings, our dad and I sat in stunned silence as the doctor gave us the news. Shock, worry, anger and fear flooded my body with hormones that overwhelmed my emotions, and I couldn’t even begin to imagine what my mother was feeling.
A week later, I attended my first Yoga Nidra (sleep-based meditation) class. My spirit was overwhelmed with grief from the possibility of losing my mother as I lay down on my yoga mat to enter this practice. That class shifted the course of my life. Afterwards, I left with a deep sense of peace and relaxation I had never experienced.
I attended yoga classes for about a year when “it” happened. I didn’t understand much about yoga and the benefits. It was just a nice exercise class where I met some lovely ladies who would become life-long friends. After my experience with Yoga Nidra, I was determined to deepen my yoga practice and pass along what I learned to support my mom in her journey with cancer.
When trauma occurs, whether it’s physical such as an accident, or emotional such as being given a cancer diagnosis, it becomes “an undigested, undischarged energy event that continues to affect the body/mind complex at all levels, physical, mental, emotional and perceptual, after the event has actually passed,” (Kamani Desai, PhD, author of Yoga Nidra: The Art of Transformational Sleep). Our bodies move into a fight, flight or freeze response which hijacks the body systems and floods the body with stress hormones adversely affecting the immune system and lowering the body’s inflammation response.
Yoga/Yoga Nidra supports bringing the body systems back into balance by releasing calming substances such as GABA, serotonin, oxytocin, DHEA, endorphins and melatonin into the body accompanying the feelings of relaxation and well-being. This balance is important to support immune health, improve sleep and reduce worry, anxiety and depression. After practicing Yoga Nidra with my mother, she told me she was sleeping better and had improvements in her digestive system.
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The following restorative yoga poses and breath practices are an excellent way to begin exploring how yoga can support your journey with cancer. As with any yoga practice, hear my words, but listen to your body. If any of these instructions bring a source of pain, modify the instructions, or do not do the pose.
Lying down meditation supports the immune system and allows the body to release good hormones: Lying on the floor on your back you may want to support your knees with a pillow or rolled up blanket or towel. if laying on the floor is not comfortable, finding a comfortable seated position in a chair will work as well. Use blankets or pillows to support any part of the body that may need it. The goal is to be completely relaxed.Rest your hands gently on your abdomen or chest whatever feels the most comfortable. Closing your eyes or having a soft gaze so you are not focused on any one thing, begin to bring your attention to the breath. Notice how the chest and abdomen rise and fall with each inhale and exhale. Continue to notice any sensations that may arise in the body as you continue to focus on the breath.Without effort, slowly begin to lengthen your exhalation so it takes the breath longer to leave the body than it did to come in. Continue for a few breaths and then allow the breath to return to normal.
Seated spinal twist supports the digestive system: Sitting on the floor with the legs crossed or stretched out in front of you. Breathe deeply and feel your sit bones connected to the floor. Inhale, and as you exhale slowly twist the torso to the right, placing your left hand on the right knee and the right hand behind the back looking over the right shoulder. Hold the pose for three deep breaths, return to the center position and repeat on the left. Do 3-5 rounds on each side.
Reclined bound-angle pose helps to reduce stress and fatigue: Sitting on the floor, draw the bottoms of the feet together to create a diamond shape. The feet can be closer or further from the body depending on your comfort level. If the knees are resting up in the air, you can support them by using yoga blocks (if you have them) or by simply placing pillows or rolled up blankets or towels under the knees. Slowly begin to lie back using the support of your arms until your body reaches the floor. Rest your arms a comfortable distance from the body. Once in the pose, begin to breathe deeply, following the breath practice for the lying down meditation. Stay in the posture for at least five deep breaths or as long as your body feels comfortable.
Legs up the wall combats fatigue: Sitting with your left side next the wall. Turning to the left, slowly bring your legs up the wall as you lower your body to the floor. Scoot your buttocks next to the wall and allow the head and shoulders to rest on the floor. If you feel your legs are going to open too wide, you can place a strap, belt, or tied scarf above the knees so you can let the legs relax. You can also modify this posture by placing the legs on a chair with the knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Breathe deeply as in the first pose.
Sharon McGuire with the Brahman Priest at the
Krupalu Maharaj Ashram in Malav, Gurjurat, India in 2020.
Sharon McGuire, a Certified Advanced Yoga Nidra Facilitator,
teaches at YogaHeart Home,
208 Ridgewater Drive, Polson.
Contact info: (812) 345-0639, email@example.com.
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