"Yoga releases the creative potential of Life... It does not just change the way we see things; it transforms the person who sees." —B.K.S. Iyengar
Pre-cancer, I had been working harder than had been good for me and it manifested in my body. I actually needed a break and boy, did I get one. My ‘break’ ie: Cancer Vacation was inspired by the mandatory prescription for rest and recovery post cancer and treatment.
After surgery number one, I basically spent the month of April convalescing at home with the excuse of spending time to solely care for myself. All of a sudden, nothing was more important and I had the space to relax, think, read, write, sleep heal and sit with myself, be with myself and experience and observe my reaction to being ill, immobile, less independent and reliant upon others. My friends, family, staff and yoga teachers got on board in support of my health. All became witnesses and cheerleaders of my process and progress along the way. I was gifted with more support, love and specialness than I had already knew and imagined was available to me. With all of that, throughout my cancer experience, I also learned that I am much stronger than I ever thought I was or could ever be. This is still a daily surprise.
While recovering, I craved more rest in order to address the imbalance of working too much without enough personal time, which had become true in my life. Even as a yoga teacher, there was much about my life and body that I took for granted and was not remotely aware of until I got that scary cancer diagnosis and then worked through recovery from the initial surgery that made me cancer free, then 2 more procedures after (in August and December), towards reconstruction. As my body was in stages of being rebuilt, the rebuilding of my yoga practice was, and still is quite humbling, but yoga is amazing. It kept me sane and put me in a good place prior to each surgery, helping me to rebound and heal quickly after.
I love that there are 8 limbs to yoga (Yamas, Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dyhana, Samadi), and through this cancer experience I have become incredibly intimate with the essence of that in my very real struggle and in my own resistance. I talk about my temperamental five year old self a lot, and for her surprisingly, the resting was not the toughest part, but working through my own crap with regards to the five elements of the Niyamas, (Saucha = Cleanliness, Santosa = Contentment, Tapas = Acceptance & Contentment, Svahyaya = Self Study, and Isvara Pranidhana = Worship & Self Surrender), was most profound.
I. Yamas = Abstinence / Moral; Behavior Towards Others: Though I won’t go into each here, The Yamas consist of the 5 characteristics of Ahimsa = Non-Violence, Satya = Truthfulness, Asteya = Not Stealing, Brahmacharya = Self Control, Aparigrah = Non-Greed/Hoarding.
As a creative and healer, interaction in service is with the public. We are to show up for others without malice or harm. Unfortunately, we give of ourselves often at the sake of our own well being and fall at the mercy of the needs of the those we serve. We are compelled to do more for others and at times neglect our own need for rest, recovery and support, which is not what is intended. When in its healthiest form, service and caring for others is the foundation of all humane gestures. And if out of balance, service can fall apart with the dis-ease of the care giver. So, when I am not balanced and am un-healthy, in various ways, I am in less of a position to offer health and proper care to others. Therefore in my role of caring for others, part of my deep cancer inspired lessons involved profoundly seek care of myself.
II. Niyamas = Observance / Moral, Behavior Towards Self: Ultimately, it comes down to us. It is important for each of us to take care of ourselves in a way that only we can for ourselves and the Niyamas consist of 5 attributes that outline how.
1- Saucha / Cleanliness of Mind, Positive Thoughts & Actions (Life & Community) Cleanliness in relation to good food and eating is surely part of this equation, as well as one that I struggle with and work on daily. Cleanliness also references clearing the mind of clutter, negative thinking and positive actions is something that a supportive family, good friends and being part of a community of people with like minds, which goes a long way in what they offer to any life. All have a place, and have been a great benefit to me along my journey.
2- Santosa / Contentment (Gratitude) True gratitude is understanding that all things are gifts for which we are to be grateful. Being ‘content’ and grateful as a constant, is a goal that is on going. Though incredibly grateful for the life that I’ve had pre- and post cancer, expressing that peace and true appreciation can be a struggle at times. Some days its just hard to rally and there are moments of ‘Why me?’ ; ‘What now?’ and ‘How can I even begin?’ These HUMAN responses are honest and real as they come and go. Both teach us about where and who we are. As not to get lost, I find it important to stay close to friends and family AND remaining active in moving my body reminding me that there is so much else happening outside as well as inside of me that requires attention.
3- Tapas / Acceptance & Contentment (with Self and Position) Acceptance allows us to progress. Once I accepted my diagnosis and the choices that were in front of me, I was able to decide which were best for me and move forward. Accepting full responsibility for the choices that I made was and still is an empowering step in my healing. I was, and am a part of the act of moving away from being sick and feeling helpless. I had to get on board. Showing up in that way began my participation in the fight. It gave me the benefit of goals and practical steps that provided momentum to move from where I was.
4- Svadhyaya / Self Study (Who are You Really?) Studying oneself and taking the time to really get to know yourself is very important. We often take who we are for granted because we've been raised to do, think or be 'something' that we are perpetually not ever reaching. Or, we position ourselves around people that we think we want to be near for one reason or another, only to find out that we've outgrown that group and views that we once held. Spending time on our own, asking questions, being still, trying different things and putting ourselves in new situations can open us up to fresh ideas, sensations and people that we never thought we would enjoy, or find benefit. It can also show us characteristics within ourselves that we may not have ever known.
5- Isvara Pranidhana / Worship & Self Surrender (Get Out of Your Own Way) Worship and Surrendering to what we are meant to do is difficult. I could have refused to accept my diagnosis and just stayed in bed. In fact, I asked the doctors, "What if I don't do anything?" That was an option, that I HAD to explore, even if it was unpopular and unsettling. I had to consider it and feel what refusal of all treatment felt like. And it felt like laying down and dying without a fight or a say. But I had a say and thankfully quite quickly, I opted to exercise my voice in the matter. And though I did go through with surgery, and was not a candidate for chemotherapy, I did ultimately consider and refuse the radiation that was said to have only 2% - 5% benefit for me. I really wanted my life back, (without the complications of cancer), but basically, I wanted to live and be better —on my terms. I learned that having something to live for, even if it is just an idea, can come in handy so you can get over your stuff, get out of your own way—AND, be humbled enough so you can go after what you want for yourself.
None of the things that I've mentioned above have been easy, nor have they been perfected or completed. As life is a work in progress, I am in the process of achieving and failing each of these attributes on a daily basis. The point is that they are constant and so are my efforts and attempts to move deeper towards them.
To read more of Teri Gandy-Richardson's work go to her website here.