One of the most helpful forms of stress relief for me throughout chemotherapy was taking up yoga. I was fortunate enough that the hospital where I was treated, Mass General, offered a free weekly yoga class for breast cancer patients only. It was a special low impact yoga and the instructor was a breast cancer survivor herself.
My mom and I went almost every week throughout the 14 weeks of my treatment. I got special permission for my mom to be able to take the class with me. It was her first exposure to yoga, and I was very new to yoga as well. It was a very therapeutic experience for us both.
There were usually no more than five other patients taking the class, so the room was very quiet and peaceful. There was soft music, and a special emphasis on stretching the upper part of the body, taking particular care with the under arm muscles. I sometimes still do stretches that I learned during that class when I feel tightness under my arm.
It felt very comforting to be in a room with other breast cancer patients, and to have an instructor who had been through treatment herself. There was a little bit of sharing about what we were going through – enough to make it comfortable and communicate what we should focus on that week, but not enough that it felt intrusive. Some weeks that hour-long yoga class was the most comfortable I felt. I remember it being so warm and inviting in that room. It is a memory that calms me to this day.
At the same time, my sister also arranged for me to do yoga with her at her gym. She shared my story with the manager at her gym and he agreed to let me come once a week for free. We went a few times at the beginning of my treatment, and while this class was a bit more challenging, it was nice to feel supported by my sister and again the quiet peaceful environment helped to calm my nerves.
I continued to practice yoga for about a year and a half after my treatment ended and then I somehow got out of the habit. I think I still associate yoga with my illness on some level. I hope to return to practicing soon. Yoga is wonderful for mind, body and spirit. It was a truly invaluable part of my treatment.