Overcoming the Fear of Cancer Through Yoga
by Lisa Powers
Lisa Powers, a certified Ananda Yoga™ teacher and teacher trainer, has taught yoga, meditation, and chanting seminars for over 18 years. She works at The Expanding Light Yoga & Meditation Retreat in Northern California. In 1998 Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer and is today completely cancer free, which she credits, in large part, to her yoga practice.
I still remember the day I received the phone call. It was my husband's birthday and he happened to be on the other phone when my surgeon called and said, "Are you sitting down? I'm really surprised. It's breast cancer and the lumpectomy didn't remove all of the cancer."
Jolted out of a rut
We both hung up and my husband came into the room and looked into my eyes. He asked if I was all right. I said, "Yes, and I'm going into the kitchen to make cookies for your birthday party." I knew I had a choice in how I was to respond. I wanted to make that choice as consciously as possible.
The biopsy had shown a malignant tumor in my left breast, which is right over the heart. I remember thinking, "Well, if you're going to die, what's there to lose in opening your heart? I began a silent mantra immediately"This is mine. God doesn't make mistakes. This is a gift from God, from Divine Mother."
Before I found the lump in my breast I had been in a rut for months. I didn't know how to get out of it, and I didn't seem to have the energy to try. I remember praying, "Divine Mother, help me get out of this." You've probably heard people say, "Be careful of what you ask for." Yet, I trusted that Divine Mother knew what it would take to get me moving again.
Afraid to eat
Despite my initial resolve, my energy contracted right after the diagnosis. Fear of suffering, of pain and sickness, clouded my days. Suddenly I remembered everything I had ever read about foods, pesticides, fats, hormones, and preservatives that caused cancer. I became afraid to eat.
A friend came over when she heard me sobbing on the phone. She rubbed my feet as I told her how afraid I was of eating. I had hardly eaten in three days. She took me downstairs and made some soup. She said, "I've seen many people go through this, Lisa, and I don't think it makes any difference what you eat." It was the right thing to say in that moment, for my fear vanished. We began talking about her son. I made a comment that seemed to help her with an inner struggle and she thanked me. In that moment I remembered the time I had nearly drowned in rough seas with a friend in Hawaii. What gave me the strength to get back to shore was calling out encouragement to her.
My health crisis occurred shortly after our community had experienced an unusually large number of deaths. Six women who had been fighting long-term illnesses such as cancer, AIDS, and MS all died within a few months. It seemed as if the entire community was in a state of grief. I felt we needed someone to live so the grieving could stop. I put into action a spiritual truth: When you're too self-involved because of depression, illness or difficult outer circumstances, the best way to change your energy is to do something for someone else. By thinking of others, in this instance the community, and not myself, I was able to stay much more positive.
I renewed my efforts at sadhana, adding some yoga postures with affirmations. This along with meditation became my daily healing tonic. The asanas and affirmations helped to keep my energy dynamic and stable, my mind centered and accepting. Meditation, however, was my refuge, the place where I could experience that I am not my body, and that my body's troubles are separate from who and what I really am. Chanting was also helpful, especially when agitation or fear made meditation impossible. Singing to God took me into the calming reality of my heart and soul connection with the Divine.
My mastectomy was scheduled for three weeks after the biopsy. Still, I constantly called the surgeon, trying to get him to operate sooner. I thought of all those cells growing out of control in my body and I wanted them OUT! I called each morning to see if there might be a cancellation. Fear struck again.
Divine Mother handed me another lesson. As long as I tried to change the outer circumstances, instead of trusting the guiding hand that was so evident from the beginning, I lost my inner peace. When I accepted what I could not change, my peace returned. I was able to see that those two weeks before surgery would allow me to tie up work-related responsibilities and to relax and heal after the surgery.
As is the tradition at Ananda Village, I was given a blessing the night before the surgery. It seemed as if the entire community showed up. We chanted while people came up in small groups and blessed me. Many friends later commented on the powerful healing energy they felt that night.
The healing power of love
During the surgery, several friends prayed at the hospital chapel and sent healing energy. Two days after the mastectomy, the pathology report miraculously showed no traces of the cancerous tumor. My doctors explained it by saying that my immune system may have taken care of the remaining cancer, or that the cauterization of the biopsy incision could have eradicated what was left of the disease. I choose to think that it was the love and prayers I received from my relatives and spiritual family before and during the surgery.
Five months later I was asked to work at our guest retreat, The Expanding Light, and begin teaching Hatha Yoga again. My cancer experience had opened my heart and I was eager to work with people and share the blessings of yoga.
A year after my surgery I felt lighter, more relaxed, and began noticing a new level of self-acceptance. The freedom to be "me," with all my imperfections, felt extraordinary. I was learning how to enjoy the divine connection we all have with one another, and to allow divine love to flow through me. I was also much more open to God's will in my life, whatever that might be.
Having a disease that strikes fear into most people was the experience that freed me from fear. Cancer was Divine Mother's gift to me, and I will be eternally grateful for it.