A few weeks ago, we came across Breast Cancer Yoga led by New York-based breast cancer survivor and certified TriYoga teacher Diana Ross. This sort of yoga is a growing trend that has many benefits to both the mental and physical recovery of the survivor. We explored more about this form of recovery yoga through this interview with Diana:
1. How long have you been practicing and teaching Breast Cancer Yoga? Tell us more about why and how you started this program in New York.
Breast Cancer Yoga was founded in 2009. As a practicing Certified TriYoga teacher of 17 years, it was a natural progression to teach to students that had injuries and illnesses. One illness that seemed to present itself more often then not was breast cancer. Teaching Breast Cancer Yoga felt like the right thing to do, in that my sister, two sister-in-laws, cousin and myself all had breast cancer in common.
2. How does this specific type of yoga differ from other yoga practices?
Breast Cancer Yoga is specific as it targets primarily the entire breast region, including arms and shoulders. Other poses are incorporated to round out the practice but it primarily focuses on circulation and stimulation of lymph, increased ROM and breast health. There are many specific back bends, chest openers and flowing arm movements whereby other disciplines have a wide varied blend of poses. Not all being targeted for breast repair.
3. What are the main benefits for breast cancer survivors practicing it? What are some reactions you’ve received from the women in your classes or workshops?
There are so many benefits to these flowing sequences of poses for breast cancer recovery. Benefits such as increased blood flow and lymph drainage when twisting, arm extension that stimulate healthy blood flow to axillae, increased circulation which promotes healing and lessens fibrosis tissue, repairs post-surgical adhesions and scar tissue, strengthens and stretches weakened muscles, releases muscles of the chest allowing circulation to flow freely to the heart and lungs, breaks up muscle tension and stress so an inner calm surfaces. All theses benefits are only part of a total reach.
The breath too plays a large part in developing relaxation and building immune function. Breast Cancer Yoga works with the breath and movement of the pose.
The womens’ reactions give me the enthusiasm to continue because they keep coming back and they keep getting better and better both with a healthy recovering body and a happy attitude. I will also say that there have been many tears of joy, or expressions of tension release and many many laughs in class.
This yoga is a restorative therapy so eyes are typically closed and the focus is to go inward.
There is not doubt that the first thing you commit to is “yourself”
4. Are there types of poses that benefit breast cancer survivors more than others? Please give us an example of such a pose and how it helps.
Yes, there are specific yoga poses that isolate the pectoral muscles or lymph nodes, such as the classic arm extended pose below that has a nice twist to it. It can be slowed down and modified.
Just looking at it makes you feel a sense of “freedom” to the breast area.
5. Are the classes and/or workshops you lead directed only towards breast cancer survivors? Can restorative yoga flow also benefit patients still undergoing treatment?
Breast Cancer Yoga is Restorative Yoga Flow, except that BCY focuses a lot on the circulation of blood and lymph. It helps restore strength and promotes relaxation in action (meaning flowing movements coupled with an awareness on the breath) create an inner quiet and calm to heal.
When I teach at an event or workshop, there are students in recovery, passed recovery, just diagnosed and others that are working through lung cancer, chronic lung disorders and friends that are there to support family and friends.
6. With yoga as a healing practice for cancer patients on the rise recently, what makes your program stand out from others? Are there special considerations one should take before signing up for such a class?
I, too, have noticed an increase in specialized yoga’s for a wide variety of illnesses and injuries. I can only speak for my yoga and I say that because in reviewing others, some do stay focused and others just present a bunch of poses without any true direction. Breast Cancer Yoga truly focuses on recovery and on breast health.
There are a ton of flowing arm movements, chest openers and gentle backbends. Then as the student progresses, we add in arm strengtheners and core poses.
As far jumping in to any yoga class; not all yoga’s are the same. Thank God. My first comment as far as considerations of which class would be a good fit would be to find out about the teachers credentials. Nowadays the teachers need to be registered with the Yoga Alliance and should have training under their belt in this area, or lots of anatomy. The more hours teaching the better. For example I am an E-RYT 500 (Experienced Yoga Teacher) – the highest category – and I have taught over 28,000 hours, traveled to India several times and continue to enroll in medical and therapeutic workshops.
7. You lead weekly classes at The Restorative Yoga House in Northport, New York but have you given similar classes or workshops elsewhere? If not, do you have any future plans to do so in other parts of the world?
I do this as a calling, and I love it too. Workshops and events seem to work out the best for me. I have done BCY workshops at YOUCANTHRIVE in NYC, Sisters Network, HBCAC, the Huntington Hospital for survivors and so on. We have some more upcoming breast cancer coalition groups this fall so I will be posting them.
I do not have plans to travel outside the country.
8. On your website you also have a section about Alkaline Water, Herbal Teas, Aromatherapy, Massage Oil and Recipe Books. How do they tie into your Breast Cancer Yoga program and is it necessary to adopt a holistic lifestyle for post-cancer treatment recovery?
I feel strongly that good health takes a total body and mind approach. We talk about the three necessary pranas in yoga, i.e., air, water and food. Alkaline water provides negative ions that drive out or neutralize free radicals and remove toxins. “A have to have.” Water now days are so polluted and chemicals are added freely frequently. Plus we really need to remove all the chemicals that our bodies have been introduced to via chemo. Herbal teas are soothing and nourishing. Great certified organic foods are a must to help support our body by way of good nourishment, strong immune function and increased energy. We are working on a healthy, exciting and tasty cookbook.
The worse thing about going through treatments is how it make you feel, so getting physically right is paramount. As for aromatherapy for recovery; nothings seems nicer than the smell of lavender or peppermint. It shifts your state of mind, repairs an upset tummy and reduces stress.
We are not just our mind, or just our body; we are a grand total of all things divine. We need to make sure that we take the best possible care during recovery and there after so that we can shine for ourself and for others.
Thank you for letting me share my experience, strength and hope.