Breath­ing in health

Yoga class ben­e­fits those af­fected by can­cer

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - Her Fit­ness - By Lorien E. Dahl

I n a 19th cen­tury Hot Springs build­ing, the an­cient prac­tice of yoga is of­fer­ing a deep, fresh breath to peo­ple who may have had the wind knocked out of them af­ter re­ceiv­ing a di­ag­no­sis of can­cer.

In­struc­tor Karen Wat­son Reeves, who cre­ated the class af­ter be­ing con­tacted by Our Prom­ise Can­cer Re­sources Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor Stacey Webb Pierce, said she’s al­ways had a pas­sion for help­ing peo­ple who have can­cer.

For the first few ses­sions, the class took place at Ge­n­e­sis Can­cer Cen­ter. Soon, the two women de­cided it would be best to move lo­ca­tions, so par­tic­i­pants could be in a calm­ing, non­med­i­cal set­ting with no dis­trac­tions. Reeves said of yoga ther­apy, “Part of the whole thing is the re­lax­ation and let­ting the mind stop the ‘What if? What if?’”

It hap­pened that she was al­ready rent­ing space for other classes in a lo­ca­tion per­fectly suited for that de­sired tran­quil­lity — The Yoga Place at Whit­ting­ton Place, 301 Whit­ting­ton Ave.

The open, airy room there is filled by glow­ing sun­light, fil­tered by re­splen­dent stained glass win­dows. And a warmth is cre­ated with its dark wooden floors.

Reeves said, “It’s an old church build­ing. A lot of spir­i­tual stuff has taken place here. … It’s just a beau­ti­ful space and feels right.”

The class is funded by Our Prom­ise, mak­ing it free for can­cer pa­tients, sur­vivors and their care­giv- ers to at­tend.

A sur­vivor of breast can­cer, par­tic­i­pant Ginger Wil­less and her care­giver hus­band, Mel, have been com­ing for about three years. She had just fin­ished six chemo­ther­apy and 33 ra­di­a­tion treat­ments when she learned of the class.

Hav­ing never done yoga, she was skep­ti­cal, and said, “At first, I thought I would be in and out of here in maybe a month … but it has lim­bered up joints and mus­cles in my body so much. It re­ally seemed to help me where I had been so stiff.”

The prac­tice gave Wil­less the abil­ity to lift her arm fully af­ter un­der- go­ing a mas­tec­tomy and, over time, has im­proved her bal­ance and the strength in her legs and up­per arms.

In ad­di­tion to the phys­i­cal ben­e­fits, she said, “I think it helped with my men­tal out­look,” adding that she likes the quiet at­mos­phere. “You kind of just get into your own lit­tle world, and try not to let what­ever’s go­ing on in the world en­ter your mind. … It helps you sort out what’s go­ing on, be­cause it could get de­press­ing for some peo­ple.”

Though she waited un­til her can­cer treat­ment was over, Wil­less said she wishes she would have at­tended dur­ing that process, and rec­om­mends that any­one un­dergo- ing treat­ment get in­volved.

Rec­og­niz­ing that the idea of yoga might be in­tim­i­dat­ing, es­pe­cially for peo­ple whose bod­ies are in a weak­ened state, Reeves stresses there is no cause for worry. The class meets peo­ple wher­ever they are phys­i­cally — most work is done while seated in a chair, and even when a move­ment is done stand­ing or ly­ing on a mat, stu­dents are en­cour­aged to stick with what­ever their bod­ies tell them to do, or not do.

For some, the prac­tice of fo­cused breath­ing is the limit of what their bod­ies will al­low, but Reeves said that act can make a world of dif­fer­ence. She spoke about a physi­cian who was un­con­vinced about yoga’s ther­a­peu­tic ef­fects un­til he got can­cer and went to a class, then said that even if he didn’t feel like do­ing any­thing but sit­ting in his chair and breath­ing, he felt bet­ter.

Another way Reeves in­cor­po­rates fo­cus is through guided im­agery, ei­ther by paint­ing a men­tal pic­ture or of­fer­ing a word for stu­dents to deeply con­sider. In one class, she gave the word “awaken,” sug­gest­ing to par­tic­i­pants they could be awak­en­ing their mus­cles and lungs with oxy­gen, along with awak­en­ing their minds to pos­i­tive thoughts.

It’s highly mean­ing­ful for Reeves to see the trans­for­ma­tion of her stu­dents, and to know their qual­ity of life is be­ing pos­i­tively en­hanced through the class. She was vis­i­bly moved re­count­ing com­ments she’s heard, like, “You’ve made a dif­fer­ence in my life.” The hum­ble yogi said it feels amaz­ing to un­der­stand that some­thing she of­fers is sig­nif­i­cant to oth­ers.

The funded class with no charge meets from 10-11 a.m. Mon­days, and a sec­ond chair yoga ses­sion takes place from 10-11 a.m. Wed­nes­days with a sug­gested $5 do­na­tion.

At­ten­dees should wear non­re­stric­tive cloth­ing, and wa­ter is avail­able in the stu­dio.

There is no need to make a reser­va­tion, but those in­ter­ested are wel­come to con­tact her for more in­for­ma­tion. Reeves can be reached by call­ing or tex­ting 501-681-0566, or send­ing an email to GraceFul­[email protected]

Par­tic­i­pants in the yoga class work from chairs dur­ing a ses­sion.

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