More than 20-plus years of vinyasa, power yoga, gentle flows, and prenatal, laughter and breath yoga helped her maintain her flexibility—just as yoga had done for her mother. “My mother does yoga,” Anne said, “and is very flexible at 70.”
Flexibility is one of the top reasons many seek out yoga, along with balance, strength, weight loss and stress reduction.
But more than the flexibility, yoga helped provide Anne the strength and calm to navigate one of the toughest challenges of her life: cancer.
“Yoga helped me prepare for and recover from a bilateral mastectomy,” she said. “I was very diligent in my attendance prior to surgery and recovery to help with my anxiety and to boost the health of my body as much as possible, and it worked.”
She credits her consistent practice for helping her feel strong despite the surgery that left drains in her torso for six weeks.
“My strength from yoga (and Iron Hour and Pilates) helped me to be able to do very basic things that, had I not been so fit, would have made recovery tougher,” she said. “I was able to recover quickly and feel strong again very quickly.”
Physical strength wasn’t all Anne got from yoga. It gave her peace in times of stress, worry or pain.
“I used my yoga breathing to calm myself during doctor’s appointments,” Anne said, “and to quell the anxiety of having cancer with a young child or to deal with pain.”
Still, yoga provided more. Through yoga, Anne also found a compassionate yoga community that enveloped her in love and support before surgery, during recovery and after she returned to her practice.
“The yogis at the studio supported me throughout my breast cancer journey. When I worked so hard in classes working through my anxiety and cried at the end of class in full exhaustion, they let me do it, were comforting to me and let me get it out,” Anne said.
“They set intentions for their classes to send me good vibes while I was out recovering. They sent me pictures of classes in which I was a regular,” she continued. “They were encouraging when I returned and couldn’t quite do everything I was used to being able to do.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, according to the American Cancer Society, and there is a 1 in 8 chance that a woman will develop the disease. Not surprisingly, others in Anne’s support group knew what she was facing.
“Unfortunately, some of them had also had cancer, and they had important advice they shared,” she said. “They gave me a lot of fight, courage and strength, while also giving me genuine empathy because they actually understood.”
Anne has since resumed her practice with a passion, but it was getting back to her routine and getting back to her yoga community that fueled her.
“I had never had such a fire to get back to something,” she said. “I believed that the richly oxygenated blood would heal my surgical wounds faster and more thoroughly, and I wanted to prove to myself that I would fight for my health and that I could still be strong after a cancer diagnosis.”
Anne has been a part of the Sterling Hot Yoga Mobile community for more than three years, thanks to repeated invites from her friend Shellene McLean. A back injury forced an exercise hiatus, but when she resumed, she accepted her friend’s invitation and decided to try hot yoga “because it was a way to see her,” Anne said.
“I came back because y’all say to come back within 24 hours. I kept coming back because of the feeling afterwards,” she said. “It was very different from anything else I had done. It’s very hard, but it leaves me with a great feeling.”
That feeling differs from student to student, and sometimes it’s hard to describe. It can refer to the physical, mental, emotional or energetic self. But at the heart of it all is an acceptance of and peace with the present moment.
“Yoga teaches me humility, consistency and patience. And I’m constantly having to learn them again and again,” Anne said. “It teaches me that every class isn’t going to be the same, my balance isn’t going to be the same, nor is my flexibility. Consistency helps, but I have to continuously learn to be patient with the limits of my body.”
Like it did for Anne, yoga holds a wealth of benefits, but you’ll never know what those may be for you until you show up on your mat. “I would encourage others to try yoga to complement their other forms of exercise,” she said, “because in turn they will find so much more.”
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