10 years ago I went for my annual mammogram. The results weren’t routine. A cyst showed up on the x-rays. Luckily it proved to be non-cancerous. But a decade later the ordeal of having needle and surgical biopsies was scary enough to still make me sensitive to keeping my breasts healthy.
At about that time I met Senior Iyengar teacher Bobby Clennell who was teaching Yoga for Pregnancy and Menstruation. Women’s stuff.
Bobby’s message of adapting an overall yoga practice to my own cycles of health and life made infinite sense. I have been studying with Bobby ever since and I have learned that a woman’s body is sacred and needs special care, especially the pelvic and chest areas which house the Svadhistana and Anahata chakras. These centers of love and life need to be tended, like a magic garden, through a lifelong and attentive yoga practice.
Bobby’s just come out with new book called Yoga for Breast Care and its message is important for all female yogis and their teachers that work with them. In the introduction she gets right to it:, “many women…have a love/hate relationship with their breasts.” She goes on to explain that ancient societies “rejoiced in the connection between breasts, fertility, and nourishment.” But that in the world we live in today “breasts have become fetishized, are objects of embarrassment or fear, and are exploited to serve marketing and sell products.”
This modern disembodiment of breasts has made it difficult for women to make to take into account the significant “stress and imbalances” that effect the breasts when caring for themselves. Not surprisingly given Bobby’s almost 40 year career as a yoga teacher she recommends a regular yoga practice.
Yoga for Breast Care discusses breast development, structure and problems. It also covers various asana or postures that are particularly beneficial to a woman’s overall breast health such as Half Moon Pose to increase circulation in the breasts, Camel Pose which relieves tension in the chest and Shoulderstand that keeps the endocrine and lymphatic systems healthy. It also discusses everyday breast care…the need for good nutrition, a clean environment and a reduction in overall stress.
Bobby’s own relationship with her breasts changed from researching and writing Yoga for Breast Careas well as from her teaching. “I discovered that a breast cyst I had between 20 and 30 years ago was a fibrodenoma. I don’t think the health practitioners ever told me the name of my cyst. It wasn’t exactly painful, but the sensations told me it was there,” she explains. In addition she notes, “the breast care class I teach for cancer survivors at the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York brought it home that breast problems can affect anyone.”
Throughout the book readers are reminded that a woman’s practice needs to be different from a man’s practice. “A woman’s body is made to have babies. A practice that takes into account the hormonal ups and downs that support her biology, whether associated with menstruation, pregnancy, the post partum phase, peri or post menopause, ensures that she won’t run out of steam somewhere along the way,” says Bobby. “Since stress impacts a woman’s hormone balance in a way that compromises her immune system, her practice has to be doubly focused on her cycles.”
The author credits her teacher Geeta Iyengar with influencing her work with women. “She informs and inspires,not just with my work with women, but my teaching generally.”
An accomplished illustrator, the book is easy to understand and follow. Lifelike graphics show the position of feet, hands and the utilization of props like blocks, straps and blankets. These supports are recommended for many of the postures and there are lots of sequences provided - like ones for keeping the immune system strong, PMS, cysts, and healthy breasts for nursing mothers.
She’s back in NYC this week after visiting Taipei and attending Geeta Iyengar’s 70th birthday intensive in Pune. “At first I was very sad to visit the Institute and find no Guruji. But none of the delegates, including myself, felt sad when it ended.” There were 1,500 attendees from 57 countries and it “felt like family.”
At 72, Bobby has never been more in demand. Next year she’s in Kuala Lumpur and then a European tour that includes Switzerland, Greece, Spain, Slovenia and her native United Kingdom. Then it’s off to Canada, Mexico and the Middle East.
Like Bobby herself, Yoga for Breast Care is a reminder that we can use yoga to sustain our health and energy. We should practice to know ourselves and trust our female intuition.