A couple of months ago a lump was discovered in my breast that turned out to be breast cancer. After surgery I stayed home from the yoga studio and waited for the area, which included my left arm, to heal enough so that I could start yoga again. After several years of yoga, the atmosphere of a yoga session, the music, the dimmed lighting brightened by glowing candle flames, the scented oils and incense, and the voices of instructors presenting messages of hope and spiritual enlightenment, had developed into a very important part of my life. Facing up to my diagnosis and then stopping a yoga practice that had become a strong source of so many good things for me was like having a stream of goodness dry up just when it was needed the most.
I spent the first days depending totally upon others, leaning on my husband in particular. I also called and talked to everyone I knew, including anyone who had been through breast cancer or who had a family member who had gone through it. I emailed my personal network, read books on the subject, and went to websites that offered either hope or, as my husband calls them, “wolf tickets”—exaggerations of negative possibilities. Fear and disappointment made me feel like a victim, up to my neck in anger, sadness, and that age-old question, “Why me?” I appreciated the people who visited, who prayed for me, and who sent cards and emails, because that got me through that time. Yet the best I could do was to put on a face of cheerfulness in public to cover how vulnerable I felt.
Finally I decided at one point to get back to White Lotus Yoga studio, even if just for the consolation of the extras mentioned above, the environment made up of the people, sights, sounds, and smells that together spelled solace to me. My plan was just to sit or lie in a comfortable position, propped on a fat bolster and swaddled in a blanket, to soak in the vibrations. But as I lay there, the class went into Table position. It occurred to me that, even with the surgery, I could do Table, as long as I kept the weight mostly on my unaffected arm. Then I tried Warrior One along with the class, except I moved into it somewhat awkwardly from a standing position. When the class went into Downward Facing Dog, I substituted a posture that would stretch some of the same muscles and tendons, but without any pressure on the healing areas.
As I adapted the class to my situation, listening to my body as much as the teachers, I was surprising myself. Usually a people pleaser, I was shocked to discover I didn’t care what anyone thought of me. Most amazingly, it was because I trusted these people not to judge me. Suddenly a distinct thought rose inside me and might have even brought a visible smile to my face: “I am becoming my own hero!!!!!”
With any other treatments I have to go through, I will continue to give yoga a try—to show up at White Lotus studio, at least at the times my body says it’s OK. I’ve realized through experience that yoga has the ability to make me go from feeling bad and to feeling good. Even while I have to realistically turn my next steps over to doctors and my ultimate fate over to God, I have learned that yoga gives me some control where it counts most—in the area of my inner environment. If I keep up a modified practice of yoga and/or meditation, I can more easily face whatever comes in the next few months and in the future with a greater amount of grace and power.