Live Well: Need a yoga jump start?

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I’m fresh off a second yoga teacher training in Boulder.

Trainings, as many a teacher will agree, can be magical and inspiring. This one felt especially transformative. It was Yoga for Cancer Survivors, a six-day intensive and year-long internship created and led by longtime teacher Laura Kupperman. She was already teaching yoga when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. Her then intense practice needed to change, and she has translated what she learned from that experience into her own Yoga for Cancer Survivors classes and teacher training.

The culmination of the intensive was teaching cancer survivors in the Boulder community. Brave souls both in the midst of treatment and post-treatment showed up on a Monday at the Yoga Workshop near Pearl Street. Their experience with yoga was all over the map. Some were regulars in Kupperman’s weekly classes, and some had done yoga a couple of decades ago.

Our group of seven consisted mostly of breast cancer survivors, though we had one older man who also had Parkinson’s disease. He mostly sat in a chair through the 75-minute class. We did mudras (like yoga postures for the hands), a gentle asana practice incorporating lots of props, including the wall, and a guided meditation.

Teaching to this group was a step outside my yoga box. They were a different population of students than I normally guide through class. Usually, my students show up looking for a powerful vinyasa flow, one that includes a generous amount of movement and gets their heart rates up.

I had to slow the yoga down and adjust my mindset. The training helped me to consider more about each individual in class, where they were in their treatment and what might help them.

Clearly, I think yoga can help somebody dealing with a cancer diagnosis. There are many who agree, and a handful of them came in from around the Boulder area to lecture and give presentations. Dr. Winfield Hartley, a popular and well-known Boulder plastic surgeon and breast reconstructionist, gave a guest lecture early one morning. He highly recommended a fairly quick return to movement in general, and yoga in particular.

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Modified postures and movements can help breast cancer patients get back range of motion in the upper body and open up the chest area after surgeries. If too much time passes without moving the body again, it will be that much harder to get back to where you once were. Yoga also rebuilds strength and reduces stress, among other benefits.

Other guest lecturers included a lymphedema specialist, an acupuncturist, stem-cell researcher and Richard Freeman himself, the founder of the Yoga Workshop, who eloquently mused on the impermanence of you, me and all of life. Freeman is a long-time and well-known Ashtanga teacher in the tradition of Pattabhi Jois.

There were 15 of us in the training, including a medical student in Denver who intends to bring yoga into play with his eventual patients and their treatments. Three other students were also breast cancer survivors. One 53-year old yoga studio owner talked a little about her diagnosis, which was many years ago. She talked about being grateful for already having a yoga practice in place when the news came. It was a refuge from the frightening and stressful cancer talk, treatment and recovery. Her practice certainly changed during that time, like Kupperman’s, but it was there for her.

That struck me, and gave me a new appreciation for my own yoga refuge and reminded me how important it is to create your own practice. I’m all for a home practice, even outside of attending class. Consider it as part of your self-care. Part of the training intensive was arriving at 7 a.m. for six days in a row, and doing our own hour-long practice. Surrounded on all sides by silent yogis, either moving or quietly meditating, is something I still miss.

I am fairly certain cancer will touch every single one of us to some degree in our lifetime, and even if it doesn’t, there might be other heartbreaking, unexpected news that arrives unannounced at your doorstep or somebody else’s. It would be nice to have your own refuge, and that doesn’t have to mean just yoga postures. It can mean a guided meditation, a soothing hand mudra or yoga nidra, also called yogi sleep.

My next step in this internship is to teach to cancer survivors. If you’re interested or know somebody who fits the bill, please contact me.

Jennifer Mulson teaches at CorePower Yoga in Colorado Springs. Friend her on Facebook at: Read more Live Well columns at