hard stuff

Esther Myers DVD for breast cancer

Today Jill and Dana and I watched and followed Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, from Esther Myers Yoga.  We don’t normally do this in our Friday yoga practice; in fact we have never done it.  But I have had two separate private restorative lessons with women dealing with breast cancer, one past the therapy and one in the throes of it, and I am thinking about some sort of class for breast cancer survivors.

One of the women I did a lesson with sent me the link to Esther Myers Yoga.  Esther had a background in Iyengar yoga, and then worked with Vanda Scaravelli, whose approach was slightly different.  Her mother and sister had breast cancer, and she was convinced she would not get it, but she did, and it ultimately led to her death. Read her story.

I loved this DVD and plan to buy a lending copy.  Esther leads the participants through a gentle sequence that starts and ends with relaxation.  Her style is kind and personal, and she says things I’d never thought of.  At one point she’s talking about grounding down through your feet, and she talks about receiving the diagnosis of cancer, how you feel as though the rug has been pulled out from under  you. I haven’t had this experience and would never have thought of it that way but it made perfect sense.

Although the DVD is aimed specifically at breast cancer survivors, I thought of a couple of friends dealing with other forms of cancer who could definitely benefit from it.

For the three of us today, it was a perfect gentle practice.


Addendum: I offered this DVD to a friend who has had breast cancer. I talked about how good the DVD was and how much I liked Esther. My friend said, “Is she still alive?”

“No,” I said.

“Did she die of breast cancer?”

“Yes,” I said.

“No, thank you. I can’t watch it,” she said. This made sense to me.

hard stuff, kindness, self-talk

Self-instruction through photos

Yikes! I asked my husband to take some photos of me doing yoga, and it was very instructive. I know perfectly well how stiff I am, but I don’t really ever get to see it. I just want to reach right into these photos and push on my body to get it into better alignment!

(Sorry about the dog. I was trying to get photos of us both doing Adho Mukha Svanasana – downward facing dog.)

Straighten your arms.  Lift your sitting bones.  Drop your heels.  Your stance is too narrow.
Straighten your arms. Lift your sitting bones. Drop your heels. Your stance is too narrow.

No effortless effort here! Arms are not straight.  Hip is too high.  Feet aren't stacked.  Cripe.
No effortless effort here! Arms are not straight. Hip is too high. Feet aren't stacked. Cripe.

Ooh, that left hip is too high and tipping forward.  I need a straight line from heel to fingertips, and I don't see it.  Can't I go a little lower?  And that outer edge of my back foot needs to go to the floor.
Ooh, that left hip is too high and tipping forward. I need a straight line from heel to fingertips, and I don't see it. Can't I go a little lower? And that outer edge of my back foot needs to go to the floor.

The last thing I should say in this post is that I could be a little kinder to myself.  If I were teaching I’d never speak to a student this way.  That’s a pretty big piece of self-instruction right there.

hard stuff, mulling things over

Benchmarks

Lately I’ve been very pleased to see how much better I am.  This time last year I was really a mess.  I couldn’t bend my joints very well, all my yoga was pretty much just lying down, and I was exhausted.  No gardening.  I avoided the stairs.  Anything that put weight on my joints was out of the question. My hands were too swollen to wear my rings.

In the last few weeks I can see that I’m just about back to normal.  I can sit on a low block in Virasana (hero), which is where I was before I got Lyme disease.  I can straighten my arms over my head, and I can do Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog) again. I might even be able to try Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand).  

I had no idea it would take this long to recover, and sometimes I thought I would never recover – that I would be disabled for the rest of my life.  I am deeply and enormously grateful.

hard stuff, poses

Addressing a difficult pose

I was rooting around in my old posts for this blog and found one I saved as a draft in January and then forgot to post.  So here it is.

At the end of class yesterday a couple of other people doing YoMo and I talked about how it’s going.  (This was just what I hoped would happen – that people would share their experiences of home practice.)  

One person bemoaned her inability to do Virasana.  This morning I was thinking specifically about Virasana, and then more globally about how to work on a pose that is particularly challenging.  I think that following a Practice for Study approach might be helpful.  That’s where you start with an attempt at the target pose (and in the case of poses that are especially hard, you start very propped), and then do a pose that contains some component of the target pose, and then the target pose again, and then another related pose, and then the target pose again, and so on.  For Virasana, Parighasana (gate latch) might help because you’re on a knee but upright, and so that would work on the front of the shin and ankle.  Vajrasana (thunderbolt, ow, ow, but good) is another possibility.  (Sorry, no thumbnail pic for that one.  It’s where you kneel with your feet together and sit down on your heels, trying to keep your ankles together. ) Utkatasana (chair) and Malasana (garland) are other ones that might be good to help with Virasana.

Another approach, which could also be done simultaneously with Practice for Study, is to try the target pose every single day, with as much propping as necessary.  In the case of Virasana, it could be that you’d put lots of padding under your legs, with less under the feet so that they can drop down.  So maybe kneel on three folded blankets, with your feet not on the blankets.  Then put rolled-up washcloths behind your knees, or maybe a rolled-up sticky mat.  You could be sitting up almost straight, with a pile of blankets or a couple of blocks, or even a footstool or other piece of home furniture, under your sitting bones.  (When I came back to class, at the beginning of having Lyme disease, I couldn’t sit lower than on six folded blankets.  Very demoralizing.)  You might even have to lean forwards a bit, with your arms on a chair.  And then after all that propping, try sitting for only, say, three breaths.

Then as you can and very slowly over time, remove props and add time in the pose.  One breath more.  Then two.  Then one less blanket. And so on.

When I work on my most difficult pose, Upavistha Konasana (seated wide angle bend), I also do Prasarita Padottanasana (wide-legged forward bend) and Viparita Karani (legs up the wall) with legs open wide, because they use the same leg position, and gravity is my friend in both of them.  I do others that work on my adductors and my hip flexors too, of course. 

Virasana
Virasana

Parighasana
Parighasana

Utkatasana
Utkatasana

Prasarita Padottanasana
Prasarita Padottanasana

Viparita Karani
Viparita Karani