Yoga Helps Breast-Cancer Patients Heal

How one Toronto-based yoga program helps women get through breast cancer’in part thanks to fundraiser Yoga in Motion

Yoga Helps Breast-Cancer Patients Heal

Source: Web exclusive, March 2010

For many women, the challenge of facing breast cancer doesn’t end with the treatment phase. Transitioning back into "regular" life while coping with the residual effects of treatment is a struggle, too. "So many women will cocoon themselves after the treatment," says Pat*, 54, a breast cancer survivor. "They don’t know what to do. You did the treatment and you’re kind of left."

Enter the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital, which offers a wide range of services to those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, including free yoga classes aimed at helping women heal. "My mission is to help these ladies to find a way of coping," says Kathy Felkai, who has been teaching the yoga classes at Mount Sinai since 2003.

How yoga helps breast cancer patients

Felkai’s program at the Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre is designed specifically for women who are undergoing or recovering from treatment. In addition to gentle yoga moves, the focus is on breathing, meditation techniques and body awareness, all skills that will help women get through the mental and physical challenges the disease has brought to their lives. "It’s really a way of coping," says Felkai, who came to yoga 12 years ago through an effort to treat her own fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue. "I find that once they find a way to cope, everything gets easier. Yoga can give them that."

Every class begins with a talking period, followed by guided relaxation and breathing exercises. Then Felkai leads the class through a series of yoga poses, making sure to offer modifications so that women of all levels can participate ‘ no yoga experience is required for the program. "It is my job to give them adaptations so all of them can benefit from the classes," says Felkai. And as is typical across all styles of yoga, the classes end with a few minutes of final relaxation.

Pat found immense benefit from the class. Now, 22 months after her initial diagnosis, she finds regular yoga an essential part of her healing process. "It’s great for managing stress, but it brings me back to the fact that I do have to take care of myself," she says. And it has helped her physically, as well. "I had a lot of residual pain and discomfort ‘ I still do," she says. "If I didn’t do the exercises and the yoga I’d be getting more frequent pain and discomfort. I feel the difference if a couple of days go by without activity."

Yoga in Motion

Yoga is now helping breast-cancer patients financially, too, through the fundraising event Yoga in Motion, which is celebrating its second year on April 25, 2010. The Toronto-based "fitness marathon" offers participants a full day of yoga (and this year, Zumba as well) in exchange for their fundraising efforts. Money raised is going to breast cancer research at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Felkai will be participating and collecting donations, to honour both the students she has worked with over the past seven years and Esther Meyers, the well-known Toronto yoga teacher who first taught the program at Mount Sinai and passed away from breast cancer in 2004. Pat is thankful for the event, too, especially as it promotes the discipline that has helped her through her recovery. "Yoga helps with the stress," she says. "It helps your spirit."

Want to participate in Yoga in Motion? Visit yogainmotion.ca or phone 416-586-8290 for more information or to donate.

* Last name omitted for privacy.

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