The Three Big C’s – Christmas, Cancer & Change

Posted by Barbara Ives on Friday, April 5, 2013 Under: Cancer and Yoga

Apologies, it has been a while since my last post. To summarise some weeks leading up to Christmas my husband was diagnosed with Cancer. This news came as a complete shock to us and it was some weeks before we were given the full diagnosis. This news completely rocked our world and seemed to preoccupy our thoughts and emotions constantly for some weeks, fear gripping at our hearts – we did our best to think positively and to get on with life as normal. At the same time I heard that a friend who had been struggling with cancer for some years finally lost her battle.

The timing was quite profound because I had organised the ‘Norfolk Yoga Group’s’, December yoga event and the charity we were supporting was ‘Starthrowers’ they do a wonderful job of supporting people living with cancer. Standing up in front of a room full of people that day was a challenge for me and how I stopped myself from bursting into tears I do not know. It’s amazing how we can find strength when we most need it.

The word cancer as with many serious illnesses or dis-ease as I have heard some describe illness, makes one think about the imminent reality of our own ‘impermanence’ and appreciate just how precious ‘life’ is. Despite man’s search for longevity and a healthy lifestyle we are all vulnerable, nothing is permanent.

When you stop and think for a moment – we are immersed in ‘impermanence’ in every moment, but when we are confronted by it, when it threatens our worlds, we are often fearful and even angry when this impermanence threatens our existence.  The third C is ‘Change’ which happens all around us even on a daily basis although we may not always notice the small changes. Many people feel uncomfortable with change, and long for their ‘comfort zone’, predictability and consistency and reassurance that comes from things remaining the same or permanent.  We can find ourselves shocked and fearful when people are ill or die, even though death is the most predictable part of life.

I have read that, “without awareness of our ‘impermanence’, we can fall into one of two patterns: denial or depression. Although we cannot escape the impermanence of life and the fact that we are going to die, we desperately deny these truths; we cling to our youth or surround ourselves with material comforts. We colour our hair, have cosmetic surgery, and touch our toes. Or, if denial isn’t a good fit with our personality, we may unconsciously turn away from the truth by feeling depressed or withdrawn from life.” (An extract from, Yoga Journal).

I am sure that these words may resonate with many of you – there must be few people that have not been touched in some way by ‘cancer’.

You may wonder why I am writing about cancer and what it has to do with yoga. While I was fortunate enough to have wonderful supportive friends and family – yoga was a lifeline, like a long lost best friend reaching out to me in my hour of need. Yoga helped me immensely, my faith in yoga and meditation helped and supported me and helped me find the strength and resilience to overcome the fear and face what lay ahead.  Yoga is about ‘transformation’ and living in the ‘here and now’.

For those of you that come to my classes, have worked with me or know me well you will know that I am a passionate ‘yogi’ and I am particularly interested in the philosophy of yoga. Reading ‘The Yoga Sutra’s of Patanjali’, the very first verse states, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” which translates as, “Now is an exposition on yoga.” The power of this verse can be lost on readers who interpret the words as “an introduction of little value.”  That first word is key. The verse is intended to highlight the importance of the study of yoga right now. It encourages us to focus on what is happening to the body, mind, breath, and emotions in the very moment or the ‘now’ as we often prefer to call it.

‘Now’ is a word that is powerful and appropriate enough by itself to be used as a life study, our ability to respond to ‘now’, to live in the ‘now’, and to enjoy each precious moment without clinging to it or pushing it away.

By taking time each day to meditate, to have that quiet time and retreat, we are able to face the very nature of change within our own minds. When we see the fluidity of change rising and falling away in the form of thoughts, sensations, emotions, dreams, we begin to become aware that in each of life’s situations impermanence exists. Practicing meditation regularly becomes not only a practical, stress reducing tool, but a tool to support us in the sea of constant change and impermanence that we are immersed in on a daily basis. Never under estimate the power of yoga.

I leave you with this wonderful quote, “Those who are healed become instruments of healing”, Swami Sivananda Radha.

If you are interested in reading other yogis inspiring life stories and how they have managed their illness/cancer I recommend the following books, both are very moving and inspirational.

A Visible Wound, Julie Friedeberger

The Way of the Happy Woman, Sara Avant Stover.

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