Tag Archives: YogaCaps

MGH Conference: Let’s Talk

Jau Gupta, Basem Gawish, Linnea Duff

Jay Gupta, Basem Gawish, Linnea Duff

It was a great day, with a large room at the Simches Research Center packed to the brim with survivors and caregivers. We all enjoyed a light breakfast, accompanied by guitarist Michael Caruso (Jazz for a Cure) and then after opening comments from Liz Brunner of WCBV NewsCenter 5, thoracic oncologist Dr. Lecia Sequist gave us a primer on the genetic underpinnings of cancer formation (abnormal DNA makes abnormal protein…etc, etc…) and then an overview of targeted therapies. It was fascinating and underscored my conviction that personalized medicine will soon render chemotherapy a thing of the past.

Next up was a panel composed of four patients as well as three caregivers from the Mass General Cancer Center Staff. This part of the program is always a crowd pleaser, as there is something both moving and inspirational about hearing patients talk about their own journeys. They each made wonderful contributions; I loved the comment about the gratitude felt each day simply for ‘being verticle’. And then the hilarious yet also poignant description of the ‘flossing enigma’—that moment, where you look at your situation (terminal) and wonder if you even need to continue flossing. This explanation was made in response to a question from the audience about making plans. After we all stopped laughing, the panelist went on to explain that yes, you do need to keep planning for the future. After all, he had already lived quite a few years past his original prognosis.

One of the panelists was a very young man, Basem Gawish. He articulated extraordinarily well the need to ‘split your soul from your body’ when feeling physically diminished by your disease and attendant treatment. He described lying in a hospital bed and yet running and leaping in his mind—just beautiful.

Next up was my dear friend Jay Gupta, from Yogacaps, Inc. He gave a brief oral history of yoga and then led the crowd through a series of moves that can be done in one’s chair. His wife Terry (also my dear friend and Jay’s partner in Yogacaps) helped him demonstrate and when Jay asked if I would too, I didn’t say no. First time for everything—I am generally a back of the room girl. Anyway, it was fun to have that vantage point, particularly when Jay got to the part where he had everyone flap their hands above their heads as if we were preparing to take flight—all those moving arms in the air provided an indelible image.

We then broke for a boxed lunch, which gave us a nice chant to chat (and to listen to more pleasing music compliments of Michael Caruso). After lunch we returned to our seats for one more presentation, as Susan Pollak, who is the president of The Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy, led us through some mindfulness exercises. It was a gentle way to end the day.

So thank you to all those who made this conference possible, including Susan Zuker and the Conquer Cancer Coalition of Massachusetts, who provided generous funding. Until next year!

*The conference was videotaped and will be made available online.

A beautiful way to move

An essential component of a loving long term relationship is gratitude; genuine appreciation for and recognition of the beloved. It is also important to not approach gratitude passively; it should be expressed. Undoubtedly one of the most effect ways in which to express our appreciation is caring. To care for, to take care of.

In my last post I talked about loving our bodies. For better or worse and until death do we part; there is no more intimate and/or long term relationship than this.

There was a time, not so long ago really, where I took my physical self for granted. Bit of a slow learner, I am. Now, I’m doing my best to give my body all the attention it deserves. One of the most important steps I have taken is to commit to yoga classes. On Tuesdays, I attend a class at the local YMCA, and on Thursdays an evening session for cancer survivors. Both classes are led by instructors from a really wonderful non profit organization called YogaCaps, Inc.  From their web page:   “…there is great potential for yoga as a transformational tool for social justice.”

Yoga as a transformational tool, not just for our bodies but social justice. It is easy to imagine that a world in which everyone had access to the calming influence of yoga might indeed be a better place.

Two members of my family are particularly pleased that I have finally gotten the yoga bug. One of my sisters, Laura Pastor, has been practicing yoga since 2003. She is also an avid runner, including marathons, and began taking yoga classes as a way to open up and stretch her muscles. She practices Bikram, Hatha and Vinyasa Flow and has recently begun sharing her love of yoga as a teacher.

According to Laura, she “enjoys the mental and spiritual benefits of yoga even more than the physical flexibility that it provides.”

My stepmom Carolyn Kersten has been practicing yoga for seventeen years now. When I first met her, she was thirty years old and had been a dancer and played the piano beautifully. By the time she was forty, she was battling rheumatoid arthritis. The pain and fatigue were debilitating in the early years, and although she insists they no longer hurt, her feet and her hands are now gnarled and misshapen to such a degree that even opening a jar can be difficult. I will let her describe in her own words her relationship with yoga:

“The 1st class of yoga hooked me.  It made my body “feel good”.  That was in 1995 when I was 53 years old.

At 31 I began getting serious about exercise.  Tried running around the block, but couldn’t.  Became determined.  When 37, I completed a marathon.  A couple of years later, I got rheumatoid arthritis, and could do nothing except barely make it through each day.  I am persistent.  I continued to “try” exercising.  Learned to swim laps.  Slowly became stronger.  Through diet and much prayer the arthritis was no longer an issue after about 10 years.

So after many yoga classes and attending conferences and workshops, I decided to get officially trained so I could teach it.  I have been teaching (mostly Iyengar) yoga at a hospital owned health club since Aug. 2000.  During this time, both of my hips have been replaced—one in 2006 and the other 2011.  People look at the deformity  in my hands, and learn that my hips are titanium, and figure if I can do yoga, that they can too!

I love teaching yoga.  It continues to make such a positive impact in my life, that I want to share it with others.  Try it—you’ll like it!”

So there you go. Three personal testimonials. In my case, I’ve only just begun but I’m already urging my husband to give it a go. It just does a body (and a spirit) good.