Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cancer and the uplift of down dog

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was not only stunned but also a little hurt. I was stronger and healthier than any of my friends. I ate vegetables and exercised daily. O.K., I drank more alcohol than the single glass a day a woman is allotted, and smoked till I was 30—but still. I had done my part. Why had my body betrayed me by harboring an enemy like cancer?

I felt like a cuckolded wife. But unlike a woman whose husband has cheated on her, I couldn't just throw the bum out. So the process of recovery required not just surgery, radiation and chemotherapy but also help in coming to terms with a body I no longer trusted. I needed a really good therapist.

I did find a really good therapist—she hypnotized me too, and I'll give you her name if you need her—but in large measure, yoga was my therapist. Breathing into my terror; scanning through every muscle, organ and limb; stretching, twisting, squeezing, releasing—I examined my body from the inside out.

I grew stronger, more flexible than I had been before I got "sick." While I was in treatment, I did my first handstand, my first freestanding headstand, my first side crow. My body began to belong to me again. I realized that far from betraying me, it had done its best to resist the advances of the enemy. And it was doing its best now to fix the breach. We were a team—my body and me—and we were collaborating to regain our health.

The progress I made in my physical practice was psychologically comforting. It was proof that my body—and the rest of me—could change, could heal. I might feel hunched and weak and heavy and tired as I dragged myself to yoga class, but I would walk home upright, with a light step, strong and energetic.

Even a single pose, reiterated, revealed my body's remarkable malleability. My spine might feel stiff and unyielding in the first down dog of a sun salutation (a series of poses repeated several times as a yoga warmup), but by the fifth iteration, it would feel limber and alive. If my body could alter so radically in mere minutes, I realized I was capable of monumental change long-term.

Now instead of feeling betrayed by my body, I feel grateful for its wisdom as revealed to me through the practice of yoga. At the moment when I was most alone and in danger, yoga threw me a lifeline by showing me my own resilience.

Doesn't that make you want to at least try it?

2 comments:

Jacqueline said...

yes. yes it does. but MY problem is that i've TRIED it at least 10 times in over the same amount of years. i just need to stick with it because each time i do love it. it's just that since i'm not very limber i feel challenged, defeated, even. so i never return. i need to get over myself, don't i. sigh.

please keep writing about the yoga. it's inspiring to say the least. i really really GET what you're saying here. and it's exactly what i need - i'm sure my body is saying "i've been trying to tell ya that for years but you just haven't been listening". i haven't trusted my body since diagnosis #1 in 2001. i've only been suspiciously friendly with it. it's about time i get sincerely reacquainted.

thanks again for this.

Anonymous said...

THIS IS INSPIRING. THANK YOU.