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Marcia in her yoga studio

Marcia’s five yoga poses to support you through treatment

After her breast cancer diagnosis, Marcia began to practice yoga. She felt empowered and in charge of her recovery and wellbeing. Now a qualified yoga teacher, she shares five poses to support you through your treatment.

I couldn’t believe I had cancer

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998. For some time, I had been aware of a pea-sized lump in my right breast but, being only 32 years old, I didn’t think it was anything to worry about so I ignored it for several months.  I happened to casually mention it to my husband who insisted that I get it checked out.

My GP referred me to a breast specialist, and I went along on my own, still not concerned enough to bring my husband.  During that appointment, I underwent an ultrasound and a fine needle aspiration.

A couple of days later we went back for the results.  I was told that I needed surgery to remove the lump, as there was a cancerous tumour. I remember feeling numb. I couldn’t quite believe it. My first thoughts were for my two young boys and would I ever see them grow up.

I needed time to rest and regain strength

I felt like I was being carried along in a whirlwind, just going through the motions of what needed to be done. 

A few days after, we were back in the consultant’s room and he gave us the news that he didn’t get a clear enough margin, so I’d need more of my breast tissue removed. This was when he raised the option of having a mastectomy. I remember recoiling in horror, feeling like I was the only 32-year-old women going through this.

I had a mastectomy and reconstruction using an expandable implant

Breast Cancer Now were a huge support to me

Gradually, life returned to normal. From a physical aspect, I was functioning. The wounds had healed, and I had a shape that resembled a breast. However, I didn’t feel fully back to my normal self.  

Breast Cancer Now were a huge support to me before and after my treatment. A few months after my recovery, I phoned the Helpline to ask how I could support other young women going through breast cancer because I knew how isolating it could be.

I’m now 22 years on from my diagnosis and support women with a similar diagnosis to me as a Someone Like Me volunteer. I’ve worked on the Helpline, delivered breast awareness talks and helped organise and participate in their flagship fashion show.

Yoga empowered me and my recovery

Another great source of support to me was yoga. I had a vague awareness of yoga at the time and knew that it could rebalance the body and calm the mind, so I decided to try a class at my local gym. Those 90 minutes on my mat were my lifeline in the months following my treatment. 

Yoga rehabilitated me. It made my whole body strong. It stretched the tight areas around the scar tissue and mobilised my right arm and shoulder. It focused and calmed my mind.

Most importantly, I felt empowered that I was taking charge of my own recovery and wellbeing.

Yoga can help alleviate some of the side effects of treatment

I'm now a qualified yoga teacher with specialist training in teaching yoga to people with cancer. 

I am offering online yoga classes specifically for anyone with a diagnosis of breast cancer. Being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment can cause anxiety and leave you feeling imbalanced both physically and mentally. It’s important to look after your emotional wellbeing and yoga is a great way to take some time focus on yourself.

Marcia’s five yoga poses to support you through treatment

Please check with a medical professional before you practise yoga and remember to listen to your body throughout. If something doesn’t feel right in your body, ease off. 

1) Knee to Chest Flow (Apanasana Flow)

Marcia demonstrating the knee to chest flow yoga pose

Benefits:

  • Stimulates lymphatic system
  • Connects breath to movement
  • Releases hips and lower back
  • Stimulates digestion

How to:

  1. Lie on your back in a straight line, drawing chin slightly towards chest, legs extended
  2. Inhale and take your arms over your head (or as far as is comfortable for you)
  3. Exhale and hug right knee to chest
  4. Inhale and take your arms overhead and release right leg long
  5. Exhale and hug left knee to chest
  6. Inhale and take your arms overhead 

Repeat for 10 rounds, alternating between sides and synchronise breath with movement. 

2) Cat/Cow

Marcia demonstrating the cat yoga pose
Marcia demonstrating the cow yoga pose

Benefits:

  • Builds strength and flexibility in shoulders
  • Mobilises the spine
  • Improves circulation
  • Connects breath to movement
  • Builds awareness of whole body

How to:

  1. Start in Table Top (all fours) position on a yoga mat (or place a blanket under knees for padding)
  2. Place the shoulders over the wrists and hips over knees (spine neutral)
  3. Spread the fingers wide, root down through the palms and press down through the shins so you’re resisting gravity
  4. Initiate the movement from the tailbone: inhale lift the tailbone and arch the back into Cow
  5. Exhale and curl the tailbone under, rounding the spine into Cat and broaden into your shoulder blades

Repeat 10 times, synchronising breath with movement, keeping a slow, fluid, mindful flow.

3) Extended Child Pose (with brick or book)

 

Marcia demonstrating the extended child pose

Benefits:

  • Stretches shoulders and armpits
  • Releases spine
  • Opens hips

How to:

Start in Table Top, with a neutral spine, and place a yoga brick or book in front of your right hand. 

  1. Place the hand on top
  2. Inhale, lift tailbone and lengthen chest
  3. Exhale, curl tailbone and take sitting bones to heels, take an inhale in Child
  4. Exhale, curl tailbone, rounding the spine to Table Top
  5. Inhale, lift tailbone, lengthen chest forward
  6. Repeat 5 times on right side, then repeat 5 times on left side. 

Practise slowly with awareness, particularly if you are feeling any tightness or resistance due to scar tissue. 

4) Tree Pose (use a wall if needed)

 

Marcia demonstrating the tree yoga pose

Benefits:

  • Builds leg strength
  • Strengthens feet and calves
  • Opens hips
  • Develops balance
  • Focuses and calms the mind

How to:

  1. Stand on a hard floor (non-carpeted) in Mountain Pose and use a wall for support if you need to. 
  2. Find a gaze point and fix your gaze.
  3. Come onto the ball of your right foot and turn out your right leg, keeping your pelvis facing forward
  4. Option 1: Keep the foot on the floor.
  5. Option 2: Raise the foot to the inner calf.
  6. Option 3: Raise the foot to the inner thigh. Press the lifted foot into the leg and the standing leg into the foot.
  7. Work with the option that’s right for you.
  8. Root down through the standing foot, and draw the energy up through the leg, spine and crown of the head.
  9. Take the palms to the heart in Prayer position.
  10. Lengthen tailbone and lightly engage the abdomen.

Breathe for 5 full breaths and don’t worry if you wobble – it’s all part of the process! Repeat on left side.

5) Legs Up Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)

Marcia demonstrating the legs up wall pose

Benefits:

  • Combats fatigue
  • Restores energy
  • Improves circulation in legs

How to:

This pose can be tricky to get into, but worth it when you get there. 

  1. Sit on a blanket sideways to the wall and carefully swing your legs around and up the wall so that your lower back is resting on the blanket. 
  2. If you have tight hamstrings you may want to take your buttocks further away from the wall, or slightly bend the knees.
  3. Have another blanket close by to place under your head.  Rest the arms down by your side, palms up, and close the eyes, softening the face muscles and using each exhalation to let go.
  4.  Stay here for 5-10 minutes, or until you feel ready to come down. 
  5. To come out of the pose, bend the knees, roll to one side and come up sideways with the head coming up last of all.

Marcia has launched ‘Yoga for Breast Cancer’ online classes. No previous experience of yoga is necessary. Find out more on her website or Instagram @yogaforbreastcancer.

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