Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Heavy Stretching

I knew I was supposed to have chemo this week, but I couldn't for the life of me remember what time it was scheduled for. So just after 8 a.m. on Monday I called my oncologist's office to find out, and it turns out I'd forgotten to make the appointment at all. Chemo brain strikes again.

Luckily, they were able to squeeze me in on the infusion schedule in the early afternoon, which also gave me time I wouldn't normally have in the morning to make it to a yoga class. Nothing like a little getting centered (or heavy stretching, as Chris calls it) before poison--ahem, chemo. THIS is what I do with my days, you guys.

And side note, I have a scan next Monday. As much as I'm trying not to be anxious, I'm still a little on edge this week. Pre-chemo steroids don't help. (They don't call it 'roid rage for nothin'.) But I didn't realize how on edge I was until yoga on Monday.

At the beginning of class, my teacher started talking about how yoga is a spiritual practice as much as a physical one, how we come to our mats to create space for good as we release what's no longer serving us--physically, emotionally, or spiritually. None of this is particularly new or earth-shattering, but then he began talking specifics. How feelings of fear or guilt or anger or jealousy can take root wherever there is an absence of love. "So," he said, "the way to drive those emotions out is to breathe in love." Easy for you to say, I thought. You don't have a PET scan next week.

I was irritated with the idea and found myself actually getting angry. What was I supposed to do? I thought. Send some love to my scarred, radiated chest that won't move the way I want it to? Feel love toward my never-ending appointments, scans, and follow-up visits? Love cancer? As I began to move through the postures, though, to stretch and strengthen my body, to marvel in what it could do, I realized my instructor was on to something. As I began to sweat, as my muscles burned in warrior pose, as the familiar calm began to seep in, I realized how frayed my nerves were and how much these scans still hijack me--yes, physically, emotionally, and spiritually--in the days leading up to them.

As much as the stubborn side of me didn't want to admit it, it does help to be more loving with myself. And wasn't that what I'd resolved to do this year, anyway?

I don't have quite as much flexibility in my right pectoral muscles as I do on my left side since I had four lymph nodes removed and five weeks of radiation. But slowly, muscle fiber by muscle fiber, the scar tissue is breaking up and poses I'd figured were out of reach for me are becoming available again. The pain is lessening (although there is still significant discomfort, but I have learned to tell the difference between the two) and my range of motion is improving.

It doesn't take away the fear or anxiety completely, but coming to terms with my body, appreciating it for its strength and--yes, sometimes even grace--helps me accept the scan next week, helps me find peace with where I am today, helps me forgive all that my body and I have been through the last two and a half years.

As we relaxed in shavasana at the end of class, my teacher reminded us to let go of fear, and I realized maybe it's not so easy for him, either. I don't know what struggles he's up against. We all have our burdens to bear. I don't know what anyone else is bringing to their mat. I only know that every time I come to mine I let go of a little more of what holds me back.

Yoga can't help me control what my scan will say next week. And I don't know if my chest muscles will ever open up enough for me to get into king pigeon pose.
[photo credit]
But yoga does remind me to find peace with my body--myself--either way.


  1. I hear you! You make great points about appreciating what your body has gone through -- made it through. This is also a good reminder about not knowing what other people are bringing to the mat. Along with appreciation, yoga helps with compassion. And yes, peace. TY for your post.

    1. Compassion--exactly! My dad used to tell me a story about a man on a subway whose several kids were being unruly. Other passengers were clearly annoyed, raising their eyebrows at him and giving him questioning looks. Eventually, the man said to no one in particular, "I'm sorry. My wife died today and I don't have the heart to yell at my kids right now." It always stuck with me. You just never know what anyone else is up against. Thanks for reading!

  2. dear Jen,

    what a great post! I am so happy for you that your were able to make what your instructor said work for you. it's a good reminder to us that when we open up to loving ourselves, feeling compassion for ourselves, it's what allows us to get outside of ourselves - our fears, our anger, our sense of loss and not always feeling emotionally secure - just like you did, wondering what your instructor might have brought to his own mat.

    I will be thinking of you as you approach your scan on Monday, sending loads of big hope for a good outcome.

    much love and light,

    Karen, xoxoxo

    1. Thanks for thinking of me! I will post scan results as soon as I've got them! xoxo