Recovering From Breast Cancer: A Gentle Sequence
One of the most common side effects of undergoing treatment for cancer is fatigue. Treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy can sap your energy. Similarly, the emotional upheaval of being diagnosed with cancer and receiving treatment can be draining. Patients often struggle with feelings of anxiety, anger, fear and depression. Tailoring your yoga practice to accommodate your energy level is a form of self-care during this challenging time.
The following sequence is designed to support you at any stage of your breast cancer journey. This gentle four-pose sequence can easily be done laying on the floor or in bed. Feel free to do only one or two poses when feeling exhausted. And, remember to listen to your body– move slowly and mindfully, offering yourself compassion and kindness.
This movement brings awareness to your spine, stretching both your lower and upper back as well as your hips, neck and shoulders.
Bring the soles of your feet flat to the bed or floor, hip distance (or slightly wider) apart. Arms can rest at your sides. On an exhale, let your knees drop to the right. They don’t have to come to rest on the floor or bed. Work within your comfortable range of motion. Inhale both knees to center and exhale them to the left. Continue moving the knees from side to side, like windshield wipers, for 4-6 more breaths.
Next, bring your forearms over your chest, holding opposite elbows. As you did with your knees, exhale your arms to one side, allowing your head to turn towards the opposite shoulder. On an inhale, bring your head and arms to center. Then exhale to the other side. Repeat 4-6 repetitions, keeping the movement small if your chest muscles are tight. To finish, relax your arms by your sides and take 1-2 breaths here.
This pose is very calming and helps to gently stretch and ease tension in the pelvis, hips and lower back. It also helps to stimulate the digestive system, especially when you have gas or bloating.
Begin by gently lifting your bent right knee towards your chest and holding it with both hands. On an exhale, bend your elbows, drawing the knee towards your torso. As you inhale, allow the knee to float away from your torso until your elbows straighten. Repeat 3-4 times. Place your foot back on the floor or bed and take 2-3 breaths, noticing any sensations in your hips, pelvis and low back, before repeating on the left.
Seated Side Bend
This simple seated side bend lengthens the abdominal a muscles while also improving spine flexibility. It also stretches the intercostal muscles, found between your ribs. Lengthening these muscles aids with posture, neck and shoulder tension as well as increases full range of motion in your ribs.
Come to a seated position either on the side of the bed or in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Alternatively, you can sit cross-legged on the floor. If your knees are higher than your hips, sit on a folded blanket or cushion.
Place your left palm flat on the bed and in line with the left hip. If seated in a chair, use your left hand to hold the left side of your chair. Bend your right elbow, as if you were waving hello to a friend.
On an inhale, reach your right arm up, arching gently to the left. Alternatively, if you have a limited range of motion due to an incision or scar tissue, instead place your right fingertips either behind your head or on your right shoulder. Lift your elbow, moving only as high as you are able. As you exhale, return to center.
Repeat this 3-4 times. On your last repetition, stay in the stretch for several breaths. Try to keep the chest open, drawing your right shoulder back if it starts to round forward. Exhale to center, releasing both arms. Pause and notice any sensations in the right side of your torso and right shoulder before switching sides.
When stressed, we tend to hold tension in our spine. Cat-cow is a lovely way to bring flexibility into your spine and torso, increasing spine mobility as well as spinal fluid circulation. It also strengthens your lower back and decreases hip pain.
From a seated position, place your hands on your thighs. On an inhale, lift your chest, arching your back slightly. As you exhale, gently round your back, allowing your chin to move towards your chest. Repeat for 3-4 more rounds.
To complete your practice, rest your hands lightly at your heart center. Take a moment of gratitude for those who support you and for your own courage and resilience.
You may wish to also use one of the gentle, restorative pranayama practices from my last post.
Treatments for breast cancer can sap your physical strength, so be kind to yourself. Use this short sequence as part of your self-care routine as often as you feel able, acknowledging that some days you won’t feel like moving at all. That’s ok. Be patient and hang in there– better days are coming. Be well!