By Guest Blogger: Ashley Armstrong
As she was reviewing my pathology report, my breast cancer surgeon gave me this blunt reassurance: “this won’t be what kills you.” Her candor brought some relief, but I still feared all the things I had to lose: my strength, my athleticism, my yoga practice.
I feared disabling pain and complications and I feared being too sick to be active. What I didn’t know at the time, though, was that the yoga practice I feared losing would be precisely the tool I needed to come back stronger than ever. And while I was staging that comeback, I learned something: that recovery and yoga alike are exercises in building trust.
Trust in the body
Cancer is an act of betrayal. The body you have relied on your entire life has turned on itself. As with any betrayal, it is a difficult process to rebuild the trust that has been broken. Cancer treatments cause dramatic — and traumatic —changes within the body. After all, a mastectomy is essentially an amputation. I had to re-learn how to do basic movements like getting out of bed, picking things up, and opening doors. Even lifting my arms above shoulder level took time and training. And yet my yoga practice was there for me throughout my rehabilitation, helping me to get back in touch with my body, overcome my self-doubt, and regain confidence, strength, and mobility.
Trust in the process
Yoga encourages us to cultivate the mindset of a beginner, to explore the feelings and nuances of poses, and to use the practice as a process of self-discovery. As we come to the mat with all kinds of expectations and preconceptions, this is often easier said than done. When you are recovering from a major surgery or illness, however, you are more like that beginner, discovering your weaknesses and limitations all over again. After everything you’ve been through, it becomes easier to forgive your body’s limitations and celebrate its progress and to leave space (opportunity!) for change.
My consistent, heavily modified practice gradually became less modified. Through the practice, I let go of habitual thought patterns that weren’t serving me and gained a sense of agency in my recovery. “I can’t move my arms", for example, became “I am working on moving my arms.” I surrendered to the things I couldn’t control and worked on the things that I could change.
With time and persistence, I have become strong again, but I try to hold on to that beginner’s mindset. I try to go with the flow and relax in the face of uncertainty. I would never say that cancer was a gift, but yoga definitely was.
About the Author
Ashley was just starting to feel like she had her life together when a breast cancer diagnosis turned her world upside down. Thanks to her yoga practice, she found the fortitude and resilience to come back stronger than ever before. Now, she aspires to inspire women with breast cancer to discover chronic wellness through intentional living and radical self-care. In addition to yoga, Ashley lives for running and underwater photography. You can find her on Instagram and Facebook or at her website.