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Helping Women With Cancer

Tari Prinster's biggest obstacle is finally being taken seriously. As the Director and Founder of Y4C (Yoga for Cancer) her aim is to take the stigma and myth out of cancer through medical knowledge, and help people heal the horrible side effects of treatment through the curative powers of yoga.

Tari became a yoga teacher after her own diagnosis of Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, a type of breast cancer, 12 years ago. Since then, she has used yoga as a powerful tool to manage the daily challenges of cancer treatments, as well as the side effects and lifelong vulnerabilities they create such as weight gain, neuropathy (damage to the nervous system that can affect nerve function), chemo-related long term bone thinning and the hardening of muscle tissue that can result from radiation.

She has developed a unique, carefully constructed system of yoga poses and sequences based on the specific needs of cancer survivors. With an ever expanding client base and class schedule, she is now ready to take on the challenge of merging eastern philosophy with western medicine.

But Prinster believes that in order to gain acceptance in the traditional medical community, there has to be consistency in what Y4C delivers. Teachers have to undergo their teacher training and come out with solid knowledge as well as compassion. Y4C for Women Cancer Survivors Teacher Training is open to 200 Hour level teachers (or above), it is a 45 hour CEU with Yoga Alliance.

There are a lot of factors that make teaching to this population different from a regular yoga class, and a lot of safety issues. Women who have undergone reconstructive surgery may have a limited range of motion in their arms or lack the strength to hold weight bearing poses such as downward facing dog; lymph removal may lead to an uncomfortable condition called lymphedema which can cause swelling, numbness and limited mobility. Other treatments such as chemo ports can cause discomfort or fear of displacing them during practice. Clients should be able to come to class and feel secure in the knowledge they are in good hand because their teachers have learned the proper techniques.

“Facts motivate,” said Tari, “and we want to find out how and why does something work? Why does this thing help and that one harm? What is it about pranayama that promotes healing? Because it is undeniable that it makes us feel better.”

There is also an emotional aspect to facing cancer. Even survivors who have come out the other side of a diagnosis are going to have a lot of heavy feelings and stress to deal with. Yoga is a great tool not only for getting exercise and keeping physically fit but also for managing the inevitable emotions that arise. Being a part of a community that can relate and offer advice and support can help ward off depression for those dealing with different stages of cancer.

Tari hopes that looking at facts and results will lead to a greater understanding of why this is; and lead to more acceptance. Studies done by The University of Texas show that cancer patients who practiced yoga had lower stress hormones, less fatigue and a higher quality of life.

One of the biggest goals of the blossoming Y4C program right now is to standardize teaching. Above all else, Y4C teachers must be knowledgeable about how to prevent injuries. There is a huge responsibility on the teacher to quickly know how to handle every possible scenario – such as modifying for students fresh from surgeries or simultaneously teaching to different levels of experience and mobility - while still making the student feel comfortable and safe.

Like physical therapists, Tari believes teachers should be trained and certified to meet set regulations. Also like physical therapists, there should be fair and steady compensation for these teachers- something that most yoga teachers can attest is hard to come by. Tari’s goal is to be able to take a Y4C class anywhere in the country or world at any time, and it is recognizably the same program going on in NY, CA, Canada, etc.

To accomplish this, there has to be recognition from the medical community. “There is research and evidence that yoga is a 'relaxation' tool for cancer patients, meaning that it improves their overall feeling of 'well being' and hopefulness. What is not researched are the benefits of yoga on the physical level. There has been little research on yoga as a benefit to any condition much less cancer. The research that has been done is focused on yoga as a 'relaxation' technique. The physiological benefits are only just beginning to be acknowledged.”

Studies at UCLA, U of Texas and Sage Medical Journals (among others) generally focus on the effect of yoga on the nervous system. Prinster hopes to build awareness and encourage more studies to be done that look at the actual effects of yoga on cancer patients and survivors more extensively.

A system of referrals and her website directory of Y4C trained teachers is available for those living outside of NYC. Prinster trained teachers are beginning to teach around the country. They are well trained and part of a working effort to team up with the medical community. As word and facts spread, this community will continue to get bigger and bigger.

To find out more about NYC Y4C classes, click here.

--Kate English

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