March 30, 2009

Yoga for Cancer Survivors: embracing the natural cycle of life and death

Reading through “The Dhammarpada”, a book about Buddha’s teachings, the chapters content is Twins, Mindfulness, Mind, Flowers, The Fool, The Wise, The Arahant, Thousands, Evil, The Rod, Old Age, Self, The World, The Buddha, Happiness, The Pleasant, Anger, Blemishes, The Righteous, The Way, Miscellany, State of Woe, The Elephant, raving, The Bhikkhu, The Noble One…but nothing about Death; then I remember dying is one of the 3 awakening states in the Buddhist tradition, and if you come to think about it, the whole Buddhist legacy is a beautiful preparation for our understanding to death.

We do everything possible to not die, generally. Entire marketing campaigns that profit from to the masses consumerism are based on staying younger, healthier, alive. Natural plants and Chemistry are mixed together and are promoted in a way that makes Death looks like the last thing you desire (even though Death is the only thing certainly unavoidable) . Disciplines are practiced for centuries to maintain the body healthy, therefore the mind gets clear and makes room to contemplate the spirit. Because we are still trying to understand who we are and why we are here. It seems humanity has a common desire, almost everybody I know wants to transcend. Transcend.

How can we not talk about Death when Dying is what we all do, as humans, one day. Like flowers, like other animals, like everything but the sun as we know it. We die.

It seems to me, we talk about Death when we have to talk about Death, and that is when somebody we know or care for, or love, dies. Then suddenly you are faced with a conversation that arises from the very moment, as the moment happens. You connect with others in ways that only each other allow to in a moment of such realty. The loss of a love one opens up the hearts, because Death reminds us that ours is still beating.

The survivors, we live today, tomorrow and the day after, trying to assimilate how to live life without the gift and blessing of our beloved death. It is even hard to say the word.  So we look into sacredness and spirituality and what we practice to stay connected to reality, as it is.

We then remember to live as if this was the last one day you we are living – it might be, for that matter- and it is quite refreshing, like water.

To write about death I was inspired by a yoga program dedicated to Cancer survivors. I watch a video at http://www.yogaforcancersurvivors.com/ IT is about bringing yoga to people that are surviving Cancer. Cancer is painful, the pain the body goes through is unbearable by the mind itself. The mind must distract from the pain in order to not feel it, or in such eastern sun warrior acceptance of it, one keeps inspiring others. Suddenly realization of the next level of existence as natural existence is clear; we are born, we grow, we reproduce and we die. This the cycle of life and death. You learn it in biology 101.

For centuries people go through it, have gone through it, and will keep going through it. I love that story about Buddha and the mother that was in trance and denial about her son’s death, she wanted him to bring him back to life. Gotama the Buddha, understanding her confused state of mind and being compassionate told her he would help her and sent her to bring a grain of rice from a family in town, but he asked her to bring a grain of rice from a home where nobody had died. The woman, after visiting the whole village, came back with the realization of Death and found peace and acceptance in her own experience. Here, something beautiful happens for all of us.

My friend Charlie Gardenhire shared so much light and understanding about the equality of Life and Death; he lived with Cancer the last years of his life. Always healing, until his body was ready to rest. A couple of days before dying he transfer to us his clarity about life and Death saying: “It didn’t matter, because I could see they were both the same’. He told us about living with gratitude in heart, every day and moment of life. He was a cancer survivor until he wasn’t anymore. He extended his life on Earth enough to make others lives better before departing this last March. With the Sun in the last degrees of Piscis, the degrees of Death, right before the equinox of Spring, when the Sun enters Aries and starts the cycle of life, he left us saying : “I love you”.

We are all survivors, because we are alive. Charlie said: “it is not about expecting a miracle, but expecting what is best”, and he meditated and practiced natural healing and awareness through meditation to understand his process closely and connect to the reality of it, without fear. He died with such clarity and excited about surrendering to nature.


Yoga for Cancer Survivors Dr. Nicole Culos-Reed is an Associate Professor in Health and Exercise Psychology in the Faculty of Kinesiology, and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Oncology in the Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary. Dr. Culos-Reed also holds a Research Associate appointment with the Department of Psychosocial Resources, Tom Baker Cancer Centre.

Susi Hately Aldous, BSc. Kin and Yoga Instructor has a passion to give her gift of yoga to the community in pain, people injured, Cancer survivors. Susi’s says: “They survived, but then “What?” How does somebody goes from that survival place to that thriving place!” May your path helping others be bright and healing.

“Yoga brings physical improvements, confidence. It’s a wonderful tool for those who live to cope with their cancer experiences.”

One of their practitioners says: “Just do what you can and you will feel the benefits. You will sleep better. You’ll learn to feel the body awareness and sense of feeling good about being strong.” They offer their yoga program to help Cancer Survivor “understand what your body is going through, what it is asking for…”

People are saying: “The stretches help me …I feel there is more circulation going on.” “The gains that are made and the place that people go to, is incredible.” “You can feel what is doing for you NOW, because not everybody is healed.” Through this Yoga Program for Cancer Survivors, Dr. Culos-Reed and Susi Hately help people with cancer survive through the journey.

That is until Death comes and lets the body rest in peace.

Love, yeye

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