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.