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My Journey through Cancer with Yoga

27 Sep 2021

A blog by Yoga Therapist Jackie Hayfield.

On Thursday 21st June 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was reassured that it was treatable, and I should stay positive, but I didn’t feel very positive about the prospect of negotiating my way through 6 rounds of chemotherapy and biological drugs, followed by surgery, and radiotherapy. I was one of those who avoided medication where possible, and did all I could to stay healthy naturally. I felt that I’d failed!

Whilst deep down I knew I didn’t have an option but to go through the treatment, I couldn’t get my head around all the possible side effects. I was scared, overwhelmed and felt completely disempowered.

I started attending yoga classes in my early 20’s to help me through a particularly stressful time in my life, and a few years later went on to train as a teacher. I’ve been teaching yoga now for over 20 years, but was always drawn to the more therapeutic benefits. So in 2014 I embarked on an intensive two year training, and qualified as a yoga therapist in 2016.

As a Yoga Therapist, I knew that I didn’t have to feel like this. There was a huge opportunity here to see if the yoga tools I had been suggesting to my clients, could really help me too. I was about to become my very own yoga lab rat!

I got to work straight away. I figured the best way to buffer the side effects was to be in the best possible health, and to really look after myself. I had a couple of weeks before my first treatment, so straight away I turned my healthy diet into a super healthy diet; upping my five a day to nine a day. I designed myself a yoga practice which included yoga postures and sequences to build strength, breathing practices to increase my energy and help reduce anxiety, and took time out to ground and rest. I read everything I could on cancer, the treatments, and things I could do and what to avoid. Having been told that exercise could help me with some of the side effects and maintain my heart health, I also started to walk every day.

By the time I arrived for that first appointment, I felt in the best of health. Once I was hooked up to the drip, I used my breathing practices when I became overwhelmed with fear, and welcomed the drugs into my body with gratitude and I visualised them making me better. I took a ‘treat’ bag with me with snacks and my favourite reads.

As my journey continued, I experimented with ‘bed yoga’ when hospitalised; practised Yoga Nidra to give me rest when steroids kept me awake; used gentle movement to ease my stiff and painful joints, used breathing practices and meditation to help balance my emotions, and most importantly – I was kind to myself and rested when I needed to.

Yoga is often portrayed as just being a series of yoga postures, but yoga is much much more than this. At the heart of yoga is a philosophical framework to help us negotiate life’s ups and downs. It provides many tools and techniques to help bring us into balance; spiritually, mentally, emotionally, energetically, and physically. It recognises that we are all individuals, with our own unique life experiences and tendencies, and that one size doesn’t fit all.

Yoga can be practiced by anyone, and can be particularly helpful when life is most challenging. Yoga really helped me in so many ways on my cancer journey, and continues to do so.

Jackie is currently running Yoga sessions for Wigwam – join every Monday 10-11am at: https://www.wigwam.org.uk/yoga-sessions