“This is the room”, I thought to myself. A seascape painting on the wall, a sofa, a desk, a box of tissues. “This is the room where they tell you that you have cancer”.
When I left the house that morning, it was a typical day in the life of a working mother of four. I made lunches, dropped the kids off at school, and went to the Pilates studio for a couple of hours before heading to my mammogram. Life was full and I was busy.
“We won’t get the results for a couple of days, but from my experience, I am 99% sure it is cancer”, the doctor said in his unwaveringly calm manner.
In that inconceivable instant, my entire world shifted. I was a healthy 39-year-old woman. I ate well, used natural medicine, and was a Pilates instructor for goodness sake! Health was my identity. Did none of that matter? How were my kids going to handle this? How was I going to survive financially? Was I going to survive at all? The tension crept into my neck and shoulders and my breath caught in my throat. My chest felt alien. My thoughts were scattered as I drowned in disillusionment and chaos in body, mind, and spirit.
Fast forward now, to where I made the most significant realization of my journey. The human body is astoundingly resilient. Humans adapt. In fact, our ability to adapt is the greatest evolutionary advantage we have used to survive the millennia.
Our fascial network – our interconnected malleable matrix, which supports and entwines all of our biological bits and pieces – functions as a system of resilience and responsiveness. My body was going through a lot, chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation- but the body is designed to respond to any stressors and forces it encounters. Armed with this reminder, I turned to the essentials – movement, breath, and community – to guide my slow and sometimes discouraging journey to feel whole again.
Along with Pilates, I practice Qigong, an ancient form of movement designed to move energy (qi) through the pathways of the body (meridians). Modern movement science suggests that through patterns of compressing, tensing, and releasing, our fascia squeezes and pumps these meridians, along with our tissues and vessels, and provides the hydraulic action to move lymph. The harmonious flow of energy and fluid hydrates tissues and removes cellular waste. Simply put, movement heals. By focusing on restoring the resilience of my body, I also nourished resilience in my spirit.
Here are some tools I use to restore tissue resiliency and mobility of the upper system for myself and other breast cancer survivors.
Keep the breath slow and smooth, through the nose, and without force.
Upper Axis Release
Position: “Goal Post” arms. *opt. elbows can lower to “W-shape”
- Roll the humeral shaft. Encourage the collarbones, scapulae, ribs, and upper spine to follow the chain of movement. Allow the upper spine to rock.
- One Forward/One Back. Gentle rotation of the upper spine.
- Bridge: “Goal Post” arms, roll the hips up. At the top, feel the contact from elbow to elbow and roll the arms back, opening chest. Keep the arms back while rolling the spine back down.
Drawing the Bow (from Eight Silk Brocades Qigong)
Opens the lungs and benefits neck, chests, and shoulders.
Position: “Horse stance” *opt. seated
- Index finger points up while the middle and thumb connect. Other hand pulls in a fist as if drawing a bow. Eyes focus on index finger.
- INHALE- Tense and hold
- EXHALE- release the hands and relax, soften.
- Glide the arms to the other side.
*repeat 3-5 slow meditative reps
Enhance traditional mermaid with meridian stretches! This variation massages the liver and spleen, while stretching the meridians in the hands and side body
- Look at extended arm. Flex hand down and up
- Palm up, bring fingers towards the ear, like holding a tray
- Shave across the head and imagine pressing the palm into the opposite wall. Stretch the pinky and hold the tension before stretching to the other side.