Friday, March 14, 2014

A Little About... Tari Prinster

In April, I will be sharing my passion for working with people with cancer, and training others who want to use yoga as a tool to help those on the cancer journey. When I stepped on this path, I struggled to find information to help me develop my yoga classes, so I began collecting information. Years later, I'm calling on my experts to help me explain what we've discovered along the way.

Even though she is based in New York, I have been fortunate to study with Tari Prinster on two different occasions, and was so happy to discover someone else who believes that yoga for people with cancer is specific and that it can include more movement-based yoga. I found myself nodding my head almost the entire way through the first weekend training that I did with her!

Since then, I've taken her Level 1 training, and we've discussed how we can support each other and people with cancer from coast to coast. In April, Tari will be joining my training and offering two different lectures out of her own training that really blew me away when I experienced them. Here is more about Tari:

Tari Prinster became a yoga teacher after her diagnosis of cancer. Since then she has used yoga as a powerful tool to manage the daily challenges of cancer treatments, as well as the side effects and lifelong vulnerabilities they create. She developed a unique, carefully constructed system of yoga poses and sequences based on the specific needs of cancer survivors. Tari’s book, Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors, published by Healing Arts Press, will be in book stores Fall 2014.

In 2003, Tari began teaching yoga class for cancer survivors at OM Yoga Center in New York City, and offering workshops and retreats. With that grew the need and interest in a yoga teacher certification utilizing her researched methodology. She has since trained over 450 yoga teachers from all over the world to meet the physiological and psychological needs of this special population.  y4c©, Yoga 4 Cancer classes are designed to address the needs of cancer survivors and patients, provide safe healing yoga, and the important opportunity to bond with others ‘touched by cancer’.

Tari launched The Retreat Project, a non-profit, funding annual retreats for low-income and under-served populations endeavoring to encourage and cultivate access to the transformative power of yoga.

Tari is a regular presenter at industry conferences like Yoga Journal Conference, Yoga Service Council, Texas Yoga Conference, and International Alliance of Yoga Therapist Conferences.  She has had numerous articles published in MindBodyGreen, Organic Spa Magazine, YogaCity, and Yoganomymous. And in October, 2012, Yoga Journal published a feature story on Tari’s work.

Tari’s work with cancer survivors gained her a featured role in the full length movie YogaWoman along with industry celebrities like Shiva Rea and Sean Corne that has been shown across the US and many international markets. Tari has been a leader in her work:

  • Founder of yoga4cancer, LLC (y4c)
  • Founder and President of The Retreat Project (501c3) whose mission is to help underserved and low income women with yoga and other modalities.
  • Director of Women’s Cancer Survivor Program, OM Yoga, NYC (2005-2012)
  • Yoga Ambassador, Foundation for Living Beauty
  • Board Member and Yoga Program Director for The Libby Ross Foundation
  • Advisory Board Member, YogaBear
Welcome, Tari! We are so honored to have you share your knowledge. If you want to know more about this training, click HERE.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Shadow Student

A brash regular student in my Yoga Basics class stepped off her mat, crossed the room, and loudly told another student how to align her leg properly in a pose.

A breast cancer survivor who was healing a double mastectomy came to my Gentle Yoga class and proceeded to do other, more active practices throughout my class; when I asked her what was going on, she told me, "gentle yoga is too gentle for me."

As we concluded our Wellness Yoga class, I asked the students to sit up and notice how they felt, and one student sat up and immediately hunched over her smartphone until the last echo of "om" was done.

I call these students "shadow students", a term I learned early in my yoga teaching career from my mentors. Shadow students are those people who rattle me for one reason or another. I usually teach with so much clarity and equanimity that when I get thrown off-center, I need to know why. Typically, it's because

these people embody some aspect of myself that I am not comfortable with: my shadow self.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Prugh
In the first example, the student took it upon herself to "teach" someone else in my class. This displays a rejection of her own experience, showing that she would rather focus on someone else than on herself.

Yep, guilty of that one.

In the second example, the student explained that since she could do more, she felt she should do more - more than what the class was wiling to do and more than what I was offering. She also continued to move in final relaxation pose, until I explained to her that this was the time to be still and allow her body to integrate what she's done. In her case - as I could see by the look in her eyes, she wasn't ready to trust the process. Like a cartoon, I could see the thought bubble forming over her head: how am I going to get back to "normal" if I don't push myself? 

Ah, been there, too... Thought that, too... Rejected the process, too...

In the last example, the student who reached for her phone was really reaching for some other reality. Acceptance of her situation eluded her. She refused to be in that room, on that mat, in her body for one more moment. And why be there, when - at the tip of your fingers - you can be nearly anywhere your wifi can take you? Technology is a seductive trap that outwardly shows us what the inward thoughts are: I am uncomfortable in this moment, so I will follow my drunken monkey mind down some path that is far more pleasurable. We all have these thoughts, and some of us develop skills to bring ourselves back to the present moment, no matter how uncomfortable. In the early years of my practice, I was fortunate enough to not have seductive technology trap me, but my mind still pulled me away.

Correct that: my mind still pulls me away.

These folks bring me to a mirror, a picture of myself that I don't care for, like the snapshot that catches me in mid-grimace. I hear myself saying, "if only student X wasn't in the room, then everyone would be able to relax a little more." Really, what I'm saying is, "if only I were different..." (Please note: I'm not talking about the completely disruptive situations that need to be dealt with in the moment; if I'm really clear, those situations rarely arise, actually.)

So, how can I deal with my shadow self? In my early years, I'll admit that I didn't handle these situations with much skill. Here's what I've learned:

Empathy is key. No one steps into a yoga class wanting to be "that guy", the one who takes a phone call in the middle of restorative yoga, and yet, it happens.

Boundaries are key. If you don't know what the rules are, then education is important.

Check myself. It's really about my reaction, and if I don't love those shadow parts of myself, then I may not meet these students with what they need: patience and friendliness.

I was assisting a yoga workshop recently for my teacher. We had gathered into the middle of the room to look at slides and then were sent back to our mats. I noticed one student wasn't practicing, just sitting on the floor. When I asked her why, she pointed to her mat, which was currently being occupied by another workshop participant; this student had mistakenly stepped onto the wrong mat. Instead of making a fuss, or even mentioning it to the person, she chose to sit and wait for the right moment. It came. Someone was embarrassed, but wasn't publicly shamed, which might have been the case with another, less grounded student.

We all have shadows. It is important to learn what our shadows are, and make friends with them as best we can, so that we can all live together with more grace and skill.

I bow to all my teachers.

Monday, March 3, 2014

A Little About... Rochelle Brannan, PT

In April, I will be sharing my passion for working with people with cancer, and training others who want to use yoga as a tool to help those on the cancer journey. When I stepped on this path, I struggled to find information to help me develop my yoga classes, so I began collecting information. Years later, I'm calling on my experts to help me explain what we've discovered along the way.

One of the long-term side effects of cancer treatment is lymphedema, a swelling of the body due to scar tissue and lymph node removal. There isn't a lot known about lymphedema, other than it's inconvenient, uncomfortable, embarrassing, debilitating at times and life-threatening at other times. It's mostly associated with breast cancer, but there are risk factors that affect everyone. In the past, it was believed that we need to immobilize the affected area... now we know that isn't the right approach and that lymph needs to circulate in order to maintain health. 

A question I am often asked is, 

"If I have cancer in my lymphatic system, should I be working to move the lymph, or will that spread my cancer?" 

I posed this question to our expert, and this is her response:

My personal view on this question is that manual lymphatic drainage (MLD) does not move cancer cells. Cancer cells invade slowly (sometimes quickly too); the cancer cells devour healthy organ cells before traveling onward to continue healthy tissue destruction. Moving lymph fluid is a slow and gentle process, like breathing. To my knowledge, breathing is not linked to causing cancer metastasis. What scientific evidence concludes is that  "...increased lymphatic flow from MLD is not associated with cancer cell metastasis," (Klose 2013).

Rochelle Brannan is a physical therapist (PT) who specializes in working with lymphedema. She will be a guest lecturer in my training program, discussing the ways that we can prevent swelling and promote circulation. Here's a little more about her:
An active member of Oncology, Orthopedic and Policy specialty sections of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Ms. Brannan received her Bachelor of Science from UNC-Greensboro and a Master of Physical Therapy degree from University of Kansas City Medical Center. Presently, Ms. Brannan is preparing to take the Lymphology Association of Northern American (LANA) exam this spring.

With over twelve years of full time clinical practice, primarily in outpatient orthopedics, Ms. Brannan integrates her orthopedic and lymphatic knowledge to produce successful functional outcomes for each patient. Ms. Brannan believes

"It is essential for all breast cancer survivors to receive greater education, instruction and referral resources for decreasing post-operative complications from oncology treatments."

Welcome, Rochelle! We are all looking forward to hearing how we can support our immune systems and prevent lymphedema. If you want to know more about this training, click HERE.