Thursday, July 06, 2006

Article from the Beaches Leader

Cancer survivor reaches out to others by teaching yoga

by ASHLEY MILLS, Staff Writer, Beaches Leader

When Christina Phipps finished her four-month chemotherapy treatment, she was ready to give back to the community of breast cancer survivors.She just wasn't sure how.

A practicioner of yoga for four years and an instructor for three, Phipps noticed that none of the other women she was receiving treatment with practiced yoga.

And then it crsytallized for Phipps: yoga was a way that she could reach out to those battling breast cancer.

On July 18, Phipps will hold Yoga for Breast Cancer once a month at the Cobalt Moon Healing Center in Neptune Beach.The free class for women in all stages of breast cancer will cover calming and healing exercises.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in December, Phipps said she drew her strength from her husband, her family and yoga.Phipps continued to teach classes throughout the course of her treatment, missing only two days of class after her mastectomy. Two weeks into the chemotherapy, she lost her hair, her eyebrows, and her eyelashes.“I had bad days and good days,” she said, “but more good days than bad.”

Phipps said yoga gives her strength and serenity to handle her diagnosis. Now she wants to help other women to do the same.Doctors only offer limited instructions for physical therapy for women recovering from breast cancer, Phipps said. Yoga for Breast Cancer takes the stretching instructions usually provided by doctors to the next level, she said.Phipps said yoga is beneficial because it helps the practicers to calm and center their minds, relieve tension and stress, improve range of motion, reduce the effects and discomfort of scar tissue, relaxe the gripping feeling in the chest area and energize the body, mind and spirit.

The exercises are especially beneficial for women who received radiation therapy or have had an expander inserted, Phipps added.“Yoga does bring such a sense of well-being, and you're really taking care of yourself," she said.“If you do stay home and you stay still and stay on the couch, then I think you really can get where you start feeling sorry for yourself.”

Sarah Deprin, the manager of Cobalt Moon, said that yoga is beneficial because it increases a person's breathing rate, opens the body up and increases balance.More importantly, yoga helps people to listen to their bodies, Deprin said.“Christina is just so happy and that alone is a real testimonial to yoga,” she said.The beginning of the class coincidentally corresponds with a recent study that shows that women being treated for breast cancer and who also practiced yoga reported a higher quality of life.

The study, from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, found that women who practiced yoga twice a week reported better physical functioning, better general health and less fatigue than their counterparts who were placed on a waiting list.For Phipps, this information was merely confirmation of what she had personally experienced.“I had it all planned out and then this study came out that said yoga helps breast cancer patients, and I'm like, ‘I knew that,' ” she said.

Another important benefit that the yoga class offers, Phipps said, is a sense of community.When Phipps was first diagnosed, the students in her class were an important source of support.“They were the first people I told right after my husband,” she added.“They were with me the whole way.”

This sense of community was definitely present at the first Yoga for Breast Cancer class, she said.The class combined exercises with a support group atmosphere, as the participants shared their cancer experiences.

Along with support, participants can expect a sensory indulging experience, including aromatherapy and healing music.Yoga novices are welcome, as the class assumes no prerequisite experience.

“If people just come, it's going to be a revelation for them,” Phipps said.“It was for me.”Although the class is free, Phipps is asking those who are interested to pre-register because space is limited in the facility.

For more information, call Phipps at 631-8173.

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