By Tari Prinster
Why I Came To Yoga
I came to yoga for all the wrong reasons. On the milestone of my fiftieth birthday, May 1994, I was on my way to the gym when I noticed my reflection in the window of a car. In the reflection I saw my grandmother’s hunched shoulders and my mother’s curving spine. True, I was already seeing wrinkles, but I saw the silhouette of an old woman—me! That was when I realized I needed to do something more than jog and lift weights. As I passed through my reproductive years, hormonal shifts took place, no fault of mine. Correcting the curve of my spine was my job. Few things provide more motivation than vanity.
“You Have Cancer”
Then, the wind got knocked out of me at age fifty-three when I heard these words: “You have cancer—invasive ductal carcinoma.”
That took my breath away! The first reaction was a question: “How can this be happening to me?” Next came, “What went wrong?” The list became a constant stream of self-punishing questions. After all, our Western minds tend to blame our past behavior when seeking a causal effect. A better question, however, is “What should I do now?”
Hope Is Not A Plan. Yoga Is.
I went to my mat. My hope was that yoga could be a way to reclaim life during and after my cancer treatments, to get me back to normal. Hope, though, was not a good plan; yoga was.
My simple yoga practice helped me in ways I could not anticipate. The practice became my personal tool for survival. It started with a simple idea, “I need to move— every day on my way through treatments and to recovery.” I stopped using the gym treadmill, but I did not stop moving. I explored how and why yoga-based movement aids cancer recovery.
Movement of any kind means we are alive! Finding the right kind of movement for my personal situation was the challenge. With or without cancer, our bodies are made to move. Quality of life and healthy longevity depend upon daily movement.
Cancer As The Teacher
Cancer became the teacher of a motivated learner! I began to look inside this wonderful container—my body—and to see it from the inside out. If the body is a car, I had never bothered to look under the hood, or to ask how it worked or what made it break down. I did not look for an owner’s manual. Even as I gathered strength and energy after completing chemotherapy, my desire to return to what had been normal physical activities like the bike and the gym wavered. I felt something very different in my body.
What was this difference? I wanted to do more yoga because when I left my mat, not only did my body feel good, but so did my mind. Cancer taught my body and mind how to work together more closely. A new kind of body-mind wisdom had developed during those months of treatments—to feel, sense, question, and know my body in such different ways.
From Student To Teacher
All of this learning took place through cancer. My yoga practice led me to profound insights about my body and mind—especially, the complex way in which they interact. As I got stronger, I found some answers. I developed a greater understanding of the connections between yoga and cancer. It became obvious that sharing this body of knowledge and wisdom with other survivors was the next step.
So, in 2002, I decided to enroll in a yoga teacher training. Now, I lead a yoga for cancer program. It started with a simple idea: Yoga works! Today, I teach yoga classes to target all cancers in all stages. I lead retreats that focus on how yoga can serve as a tool to get back to normal, and I run accredited training workshops for certified yoga teachers. This emerged from my search for answers as I felt my own body heal and change. It was what I prescribed for myself, and what I now offer to others through my teaching.
Yoga for Cancer Survivors
My students can be patients undergoing treatments, or survivors finishing treatments—just last week, or ten years ago. They range in age, from 24 to 80, and present with all types of cancer: lung, pancreatic, brain and even eye cancers, and all stages.
Despite these differences, they all come with fear, doubts, and questions—about both cancer and yoga. Often, they come with a desire to know how and why yoga will help them become healthy and stay cancer-free. They come to yoga as people who want to feel whole and normal again, not just as cancer survivors. Along with cancer challenges, they present with life challenges too.
Where The Healing Happens
The size and number of y4c classes are growing, because the number of cancer survivors in the world continues to increase. The most enjoyable part of my work is when I witness the benefits of yoga through the bodies of my students, and I see their personal transformations. At the end of a class, when I see my students’ faces glowing and their bodies in a state of bliss, I know that something magical has happened. Yoga has guided all of us to this moment. I have provided a safe place, an opportunity for self-care and self-love. This is my favorite part because this is where the healing happens.