Yoga for Cancer

Taking off the Mask: By Sarah Burwick, about how the power of yoga can heal cancer.

I arrived at radiation early with a little time to spare. I go up to the 9th floor to the healing gardens room for the cancer patients. The room is surprisingly comforting for being in a hospital. I walk in praying no one else is there. The walls are glass and I can see out over the Charles River. It's October and there's a chill in the air, but the sun is shining creating a green house effect in the garden. I pull two chairs together, prop a couple of pillows behind my back, turn up my soft tunes on my ipod, lie back and pull the hat over my head. I cry, happy for the release. I so need this right now.

child's pose

Today I don't feel strong at all. Today I don't want to go down in the basement and put on my radiation mask that makes me look like the chain saw massacre. I don't want to get into the radiation machine that is three stories high to radiate my brain. Today I just want to cry. I turn the volume up higher and lay my phone next to me so I know how much time I have left. I have to pull myself together in 5 minutes before I head down so I can put a smile back on and give the radiation team my progress report. They will ask me how my teaching is going and if I feel tired. I will say teaching is good and I feel fine. No changes. I don't know what mask I am dreading more; the 'radiation mask' or my smile.

The tears are subsiding now and I begin to feel light and peaceful. I am able to get up and do what I need to do. I put the chairs back to their original spot and glance back at the water one last time. The sun is shimmering on the surface and it looks like a sea full of diamonds. Down in the basement I lie on the table, get strapped in, mask goes on and locks down. I can feel the heat from my face get trapped inside and I start to sweat. They play the CD I brought with me, leave the room, table slides into the machine and I am gone. I am no longer on the table. I am no longer in a hospital. My meditation sets in and I am in nirvana. There are clouds all around and a huge smile on my face but this time it's real. There isn't a lot around me, there is no story. It's just peace. It's just sensation. There's no worry, nothing to do, nothing to think about, no heaviness, no decisions to be made. The 20 minute session ends in what feels like 5 minutes. When the table slides out, I don't want to get up. I have never experienced as deep a meditation as I do on this table.

Nine months later I am in Baron's class at the front of the room. Not sure if I should be there. The exit is in the back and I can feel the fear rising inside me. I have no concept of time and don't know if I will last to the end of class. I am at my edge about to tip over. I want to go back to that place where there are no worries or decisions to be made. I glance at my water. It's warm or even hot. Why didn't I bring coconut water today? Water is just not going to cut it today. Shit, I knew this would happen. Now we are lying on our backs and I think about getting up to go to the bathroom so I can run my head under cold water but I am afraid. Afraid I will pass out or worse have a seizure on someone else's mat. Even though I haven't had a seizure in a year and a half the threat is always there to haunt me. My conscious mind begins the debate, stay or get up. Glance back at my water, drink or be still. My subconscious mind has already made up its mind. I close my eyes and breathe, too exhausted to move. Finally my conscious mind catches on and I realize I am ok where I am. My body knew what to do all along. My mind needed the lesson of patience.

Baron reminds us that this is not our class. It's THE class. He teaches that when things start bubbling to the surface like pain and fear it's not the practice, the asana, the heat, or the teacher. It is you. This reminds me that my head is getting in the way. I open my eyes and come back to my practice. Not mad I fell away but proud I was able to come back. I come into each posture from then on with full awareness so that I can enjoy it while it lasts and release it in order to move one. Just like on the radiation table. Crying helped me clear away my fear and worry. It allowed me to experience the situation in a whole new way. If I had stayed frighten the whole time it would have felt like hours in that machine and not minutes. I can change my experience if I change my mind. This is my power.

As the class ends in savasana my lips and the skin around my lips start to tingle, like I have been kissed by the divine. The tingles now run down my arms to my fingertips. I can't feel the floor underneath me anymore. If I let go of everything in my life, my material positions, relationships, everything; would I still know who I am and how much I am worth? I am getting further away from the room now. I have left everything behind. Yes, I know who I am. I am a girl who doesn't have to live with brain cancer. I am a girl who gets to live.


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