When Jnani Chapman teaches yoga, she relies on some of the same promptsheard in yoga classes around the country. "Use your breath to releasethe clutter in your mind," she encourages in soothing tones. "As youinhale, acknowledge whatever's on your mind at the moment. As youexhale, breathe those thoughts out and away."
While Chapman's strategy is standard, the "clutter" plaguing herstudents is not. After class, a few of the women give voice to theirdistractions. "I think about dying all the time," says Beth softly.
The other students nod, unsurprised. "There are times when I feelgrateful to be alive and I have a good day. Then I find a lump on myneck and I plunge back into despair," says Mary. "I've spent a lot oftime veering between the gratefulness and despair."
Yoga, the women agree, serves as both respite and ballast, a safe andquiet place that allows them to relax, exhale.
Beth and Mary, both of whom have been battling cancer for years,are just two of the dozens of women who have taken advantage of the yoga classes taught by Chapman and sponsored by the Carol Frank Buck Breast Care Center and the Ida and Joseph Frank Cancer Resource Center of the University of California San Francisco (UCSF).
|At the country's most prestigious cancer centers, rolled-up sticky mats and yoga straps are a common sight.|
Chapman also teaches women receiving treatment for breast cancer for the Breast Cancer Complementary Support Program, a 12-week series collaboratively supported by UCSF, at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine, and the Institute of Health and Healing at California Pacific Medical Center.
The classes, offered several days a week free of charge, attract bothcurrent patients and alumni alike, says Chapman, who says she might have in one class a woman in remission for eight years and, in another, a patient whose metastatic cancer has spread to her bones and who iscoping with end-of-life issues.
Fortunately for cancer patients, Chapman's classes are not unique. At the country's most prestigious cancer centers--M.D. Anderson in Houstonand Sloan-Kettering in New York City, to name two--rolled-up stickymats and yoga straps are a common sight. Yoga is routinely prescribed by oncologists as a way for cancer patients to reduce stress and retain or regain movement and muscle tone.
Research studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine andCancer Journal support yoga's capacity to relieve the pain and insomniathat plague people with life-threatening illnesses. Even theconservative-minded American Cancer Society allows that yoga"contributes to overall physical fitness and it can help reduce the pain of some chronic illness," with the cautionary note that yoga "should not be expected to slow the growth or spread of a cancer."