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Tips on how to start practicing yoga & its benefits - by Tierney Landgon

Tierney, a breast cancer survivor, is practicing yoga

Tierney Landgon was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018. As a super active person, she had to learn how to slow down, hear her body and cope with her cancer journey.

The benefits of yoga

I didn’t know these benefits when I started yoga as a dance student. I just knew I enjoyed it and I felt good afterward. I am now able to connect much of my healing to the lifestyle changes I have made since becoming a yoga teacher. I didn’t know the benefits of yoga when I incorporated it into my life with cancer. I knew I needed positive energy. I knew I needed to get away from toxicity and “dis-ease.” So, I followed my intuition and that is where yoga came in to save my life.

According to John Hopkins Medicine there are 9 benefits of yoga:

  1. Improvement in strength, flexibility, and balance

  2. Aids in relieving back pain

  3. Eases arthritis symptoms

  4. Benefits heart health

  5. Relaxes your body to help you sleep better

  6. Can bring more energy and brighter moods.

  7. Minimizes the body’s stress response.

  8. Connects you to a community of support

  9. Promotes self-care that is effective.

According to an article reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD many poses in yoga have strong health-beneficial connections. I will give examples of 2 poses that are quite different from each other.

Child’s Pose has been known to help:

  • Relieve back pain by relaxing the back muscles

  • Increase blood flow to your head and neck

  • Stimulate digestion and relieve constipation and

  • Calm the nervous system

Inversions from a simple down dog to a head or handstand have been known to help:

  • Cleanse the lymphatic system

  • Alleviate back pain

  • Minimize muscle spasms

  • Give relief to compressed disks

  • Ease sciatica pain

These are only 2 asanas that are often used in yoga, and they offer a host of benefits.

According to the American Osteopathic Association, it is believed that practicing disciplines of yoga can help a person manage their stress and minimize the negative effects that stress can have on the body and mind. Yoga helps us become more mindful and aware of the messages our bodies send. Yoga has been known to be effective in developing coping skills and having a more positive outlook on life. Regular yoga practice can create mental clarity and calmness, increases body awareness, relieve chronic stress patterns, and sharpens your ability to concentrate.

I can say for myself that my daily practice of yoga is what keeps my mental health in a healthy state and allows me to be aware of my emotions when my mental health does struggle.

How to start your yoga practice as a cancer patient

The word yoga according to Yoga Journal, means “to yolk, or be in union.” When you practice yoga, you are connecting your breath to your body’s movement. We forget how integral our breath is for our health and for the quality of our life. The ability to focus on breath and connect it to movement I feel is where the physical benefits of yoga meet the mental health benefits of healing.

I have conversations with people who have been told by physicians, counselors, and other medical professionals to “try yoga.” They try yoga maybe one time, attending a random class that may or not meet them where they are. This leaves them feeling defeated and then having negative thoughts toward the physical practice of yoga. This is not the way to get people to experience the positive benefits of yoga.

My advice to people is to start with YIN or RESTORATIVE Yoga. In my town, we even have GOAT Yoga, which is a fun way to be introduced to yoga. Something slow and steady, where you begin to learn how to be still in your body and focus on the abilities of the mind. Yoga is not a one size fits all activity, but I do believe that yoga is for everyone.

I believe as a mental health professional, that by incorporating breathwork, guided meditations, and yoga asanas we can help people have an improved mental state. I am a part of an organization that focuses on yoga for cancer patients. Through the certification of the Christina Phipps Foundation, I am able to deliver a personal yoga practice specific to the person who is actively fighting cancer. The practice of yoga will look different for each cancer patient. The healing benefits and positive energy a daily practice of yoga can bring, positive changes to one's life, regardless of life’s circumstances.

I didn’t know that yoga was going to be my lifesaver when I started.

The acts of breathwork, meditation, and asanas (poses) have become integral in my journey to fight cancer with IV chemo, double mastectomy, and reconstruction. One day at a time as I went through the hardest battle of my life, I began to see where yoga was saving me from a mindset of devastation and defeat. Yoga was my light in my darkest time. Yoga was able to take scary situations like a CT scan where you lay hooked up to a noisy machine in a cold yellow room and turn it into a confidence-boosting event.

I came into my cancer journey a small, scared, angry, shell of a human. I came out on the other side strong, brave, and free from cancer. It has not been easy, and life after cancer continues to throw a host of unpleasant surprises into one’s life. I believe that because I now have a lifestyle rooted in yoga principles and practices alongside Faith in a Power Greater Than myself, gives me a light inside that shines brighter than ever before. It’s neat to reflect on life events and see how some things that seem so random and make no sense can be the thread that has created the cape I wear proudly today.

There are still many days when the memories of my trauma leave me frozen. I have a hard time going back to the Cancer Center for checkups. I can be easily triggered by the smallest encounter on those days. The good news is that I am a cancer survivor today. The checkups are fewer and shorter, and I have so far continued to have clear scans. So, after the shock has worn off and the trigger is gone, I have a safe space called my yoga room to go into and do all the healing that my body, mind, and soul ask of me.

I will thank cancer for helping me find my healing toolbox. I thank Yoga for being the light in my toolbox and bringing me back to nature! Thank you, Yoga!


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