Yoga for Cancer: Feeling The Fear

Feeling the Fear: By Sarah Burwick, about her journey kayaking and how she faces her challenges and feelings of fear.

Getting on the plane last week I had no expectations. I have learned that when I am going into a new situation it is best to view it with fresh eyes and an open mind. I started planning this trip at the end of my radiation sessions in November. Searching the web I found a kayaking camp in Colorado. I thought this type of trip would be perfect. I have never been to Colorado and I have never been kayaking. This would be my opportunity to step outside my comfort zone and practice my yoga off the mat.

On the drive to the resort looking out the windows at the landscape, a sense of excitement and nervousness set in. Seeing the tall red rocks, trees, and wide open highways was like a breath of fresh air from my usual Boston scenery. When I arrived at the lodge I met the 15 other campers I would be spending the rest of the week with. All of us seemed so different that first night.


My first day on the water in a kayak was exceptionally scary. The water was freezing and the wet top was too snug around my head to pull it over. My head was still sensitive from radiation. Once I was out on the pond and hooked into the kayak I had to learn how to flip myself over. While under the water, I had to unhook myself from the boat and push myself out while water was shooting up my nose and I struggle to hold my breath. I did it reluctantly 3 times. I marched out of the water, tore of my wet clothes and laid in the sun. I was done. Being under water was too much like having a seizure and I was reluctant to relive those moments on my vacation. I went up to my room that night and cried debating whether or not I should take the next flight home.

The next day I woke up still paralyzed with fear about the water. A short yoga practice by my bedside helped me understand that my fear was limiting me. This realization made me mad, creating just the right amount of motivation to change my mind. I love the water. Something inside me knew this trip would enlighten me I just needed to get back to my yoga mind. In the water that day I looked around at all the other campers. Their faces looked bright with anticipation for the day. I wasn't quite there yet and I couldn't use my cancer as an excuse this time. All 15 campers had cancer! I was surrounded by the most incredibly strong people and I was one of them. This fear of mine had to subside soon or the trip would be ruined.

When I entered into the first rapid of the day my viravidrasana (warrior) came alive. I leaned forward and paddled, keeping my hips loose I repeated over and over in my head "just keep paddling". I clenched my teeth and stroked hard and through the rapids I went still paddling hard at the end. A rush came over me but I still didn't trust it. I realized at that moment that I was going to show up and suck at this or I was going to show up and shine either way I was going to show up for myself.

Each night all 15 campers would get together and talk about the day. I have never laughed so hard in my life. At the same time I was hearing these amazing cancer stories about other people with brain tumors, a young mother newly diagnosed, people who got cancer way too young and had multiple surgeries coupled with radiation and chemo. It was the best conversation I have ever had. For the first time when I told my story the response was not "you're the strongest person I know" or "you are so brave". For me going through cancer is not brave. It is something I had to do. I didn"t choose it, it chose me. I spend a lot of time holding my breath and crossing my fingers praying that I would get through this. Here at the camp everyone shared their own experience. No one said the words strong or brave. It was understood that we all have an unspeakable power within us.

By the last day I had broken through my wall of fear. I don"t know at what point it happened. Maybe it was the power of the pack, the rush after getting through the rapids, or maybe it was when I finally stopped paddling in the middle of the river looked up from the water surveying what was right in front of me, calmness and peace. On the last rapid I delved into it with no trace of fear, fleeting images from my past flashed in front of me leading up to this moment in my life. If none of it happened I wouldn't be here to experience this sweet moment.

When everything in my life feels upside down I go there, literally. I flip myself over and see my world from a different perspective. Once I am settled in the posture I am able to see that nothing has changed, everything exists as it should, I just have to find it again. This calms my mind and I am able to come back to the world and show up whole heartedly. This week I didn't have to go upside down to get a different perspective. This week the only way around my fear was straight through it. When the plane took off towards home at the end of the week I looked down at the river below thanking it for its lessons and for making me even stronger than I was before.


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