YogaMOOC – Yoga and body awareness after breast cancer surgery

Yesterday I tried to do the full yoga class that launched week 1 of yoga MOOC. I wish that the video began with a statement about being kind to your body while you attempt this practice, but also not feeling like you need to do it all. Fortunately, I have some experience with yoga, so I knew not to push myself too much. I managed 20 minutes, but then had to stop. My upper body (shoulders) could not handle that much strain.

One area that I am highly aware of is what my body feels like when I am laying on my stomach on the mat. After my breast cancer surgery (double mastectomy with flap reconstruction), I do not have any sensation in my stomach or my chest. I become especially aware of this when I do yoga postures that involve laying on my stomach on the mat.

It has been almost 3 years since my surgery – and yet that part of my body is still foreign. In my everyday movements, I’m mostly unaware of the numbness. It has become ‘normal’ for me. I am comfortable with my body and I don’t think about it as much anymore – but yoga brings that back. I cannot do those postures without the reminder that I cannot feel. Afterwards, I find myself rubbing my belly – proprioception – I use my hands as a way to remind my mind of those parts of my body that I do not feel. Since my hands do have sensation, they help with that awareness.

Although I only managed 20 minutes, I did find that afterwards my mind was much more settled. There was a calm that came with it. My body ached, but my mind felt a sense of calm and relaxation. I think that may have been because I followed the breathing – there was an awareness and focus on the practice that I was able to sustain for 20 minutes.

I also doubted myself. I felt like this type of yoga was too advanced for what my body could do. Post surgery I took some restorative yoga classes – these classes were focused on slow movements, stretching, and meditation. We spent a good 10-15 minutes in a position of relaxation and meditation at the end of the class. It felt good.

Although I feel challenged, I’m also rather proud of how much I can physically do. I remember the first time I tried post surgery and I couldn’t get myself up off the floor without the help of a chair. And then I couldn’t do most of a sun salutation because my stomach muscles were so weak – holding the plank/push-up position was impossible. Now I can do most of the positions, but I don’t necessarily have the strength to hold them that long.

I would have loved to seen in the video of the class, some students struggling – some students doing modified poses – some sign that what I should do when I couldn’t do the pose – when I found myself skipping segments, I didn’t know if I should be standing, sitting, or doing child’s pose. That caused my mind to lose focus on the practice because I was worried about not knowing what to do – and then spending the energy trying to figure out what I should do. I stopped because I felt like I had enough – it was time for me to move on. But I was also left with that sense of peace and calm, and that is what I want to reclaim – not just the physical parts but the mindfulness parts.

That’s where I got to after day 1 – today I’m watching more of the videos that talk about the theory of yoga, and I might attempt a mat practice or two — or I might go to the gym and sweat a little – cause that too helps my body and mind.

  • Becky

One Comment

  • so I noticed that the videos AFTER the full yoga practice address all the points you’re making – so maybe they should have re-ordered the videos!!! So you FIRST are told how not to hurt or overexert yourself (as they said in the email) – but they also need to consider that someone might JUST watch the yoga practice video and as such, there should be disclaimers within it or some hints while doing it about how not to overdo, etc.

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