Seventeen years ago, I thought yoga was for "other people", just like I thought cancer was for "other people". That was, before I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at twenty-six. At that time I was far too busy working my way up the corporate ladder, shopping and socializing to recognize the importance of yoga. It wasn't until my third cancer diagnosis at 31 years old, when I lost my hair and my breast, that I started to wonder about my life and my lifestyle. It was also around this time that I started practicing yoga and began to ask myself some important questions. These same questions I ask you: "What do you love?", "What makes your heart sing?" and "What is your soul longing to reveal to you about yourself?" To my great surprise, yoga helped to reveal some of these answers to me and helped me learn to love and accept myself and my body in the process.
There are many definitions of yoga. The most common meaning is union of body, mind and spirit. It is also defined as the movement from one state to a higher state and the ability to focus on what is right in front of you, the action of uninterrupted attention. All definitions have one thing in common - change. It is common to start a yoga practice because we want to change something in our lives. We want to get healthier, have less stress and feel better, and through a consistent yoga practice we can change these things.
Studies have shown that practicing yoga reduces the levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which in turn helps to boost the immune system, and ease symptoms related to anxiety, depression, insomnia and fatigue. Psycho-Oncology published a study that showed practicing yoga reduced depression in the study group by half! One of the most beneficial reasons for all women, especially women affected by breast cancer to practice yoga, is that it helps to strengthen the lymphatic system, which is of vital importance for breast health and cancer prevention. The lymphatic system is the network that keeps tissue clean by moving toxins away from cells, and lymph fluid depends on our breath and body movement to keep it flowing. Yoga is excellent at encouraging healthy lymph flow, as it incorporates deep breathing and movement between postures that stretch the upper body and stimulate the lymph nodes.
The biggest effect I have found in practicing yoga over the years is that it has helped me to change the relationship I have with myself, to be gentler, kinder and more compassionate towards myself.
We know that yoga has many benefits physically, mentally and emotionally - so why doesn't everybody do it? Many people think that yoga is about touching one's toes and being flexible, but yoga is so much more than that. The physical postures are only one part of a vast system of knowledge that was developed to help us live a more balanced and harmonious life. Yoga is a way of life that combines ethical standards such as how we treat others, how we treat our environment and how we treat ourselves. The most popular aspects of yoga in the West are postures (asanas), breathing and meditation, that make up hatha yoga. Yoga has become very popular in the last few years with so many different types and styles being offered that it is important to do some research and find a style and a teacher that is right for you. There is an entry point for everyone!
The heart of yoga is learning how to understand our minds and our actions so we can discover and realize the magnificence of our own true nature. Yoga can be a journey of self discovery, self acceptance, and self love where we learn to let our breath lead the way instead of our thoughts, both on and off the yoga mat. Cancer and yoga changed my life, and life is much better now that my heart and breath are leading the way! I invite you to experience how yoga can benefit you; it's not just for "other people", it's for you! Namaste
Pasha Hogan 2010
Pasha Hogan is a certified yoga/meditation teacher in the tradition of T. Krishnamacharya and has been practicing, teaching and loving yoga for over ten years. She is a psychotherapist and the founder of Creative Recovery, a wellness program which empowers participants to live passionately, transforming life challenges into profound learning and healing experiences. To learn more about Pasha's work and for information on her DVD, Yoga: New Beginnings and meditation CD Softening the Gaze, please visit www.pashahogan.com, where they are also available for purchase.