“Pause to notice” and “back to center” are not phrases I usually use. But on this spring morning, I heard these words and repeated them to myself, again and again. This was my first attempt at yoga.
I never thought I’d need to visit the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center for anything—much less for yoga—since men are about 100 percent less likely than women to suffer from breast cancer (OK, I’m guessing, but it makes sense). So the men here are very unlikely to be patients, but it’s very likely that they’ll know and care about a woman who is (nearly 5,800 women were treated at this Center last year). Walking in this first time, I had just learned that I don’t have to be a patient to take advantage of the Center’s wellness programs, which include yoga classes with certified teacher Joan Shanley—she’s also an instructor at Luminous Yoga, LLC. Some people might argue that yoga might not be the most “manly” activity, but that’s just an image problem. Joan tells me lots of men do practice and enjoy yoga.
I walked into the Center, located at 111 Beach Road, early in the morning and found my way to the offices on the second floor. Yes, offices. This isn’t a gym or an incense-filled, one-room studio. The Center makes the most of its space, which is made abundantly clear by its separate entrances. One entrance is for patients. This is a full service, comprehensive treatment and post-op care facility, with Advance Radiology next door and mammography, surgery, and chemotherapy services upstairs. Patients also meet here with their surgeons for post-op follow-ups. The other entrance is for the wellness programs, which cover nutrition, psychological counseling, acupuncture, massage, Reiki and meditation, and more—all of which are open to the community and patients.
“We’re a nonprofit,” says Executive Director Donna Twist, “so we want to give back. Our practitioners give lectures for free. Our psychotherapists, naturopaths, and nutritionists, all, talk about their specialty.” She adds that’s there’s good reason to separate the two paths of patient treatment and community wellness. “The second entry is for privacy and [patients] don’t have to go through that same door when they first heard” the diagnosis. Members of the community also find benefits at the Center. The services are offered at affordable rates, perfect for starting on a healthy path without straining your wallet. The group acupuncture is only $35, while massage therapy runs $1 a minute. The yoga classes cost an astonishingly low $16. These fees go towards the Center, but the majority of funding for the quality services and sincere commitment for un- and underinsured women generally comes from grants and donations.
The room for yoga is small. The class size maxes out at only six. My own class was made up of me and two other students. The woman came in, talking about rushing to get things done that morning. The man mentioned having just come from the gym. Both were fit and friendly. Joan, our teacher, sat serenely in front of us. Noticing her perfect posture, I worried about my own lack of flexibility. When I rock climb, I’m totally focused on finding the next hold. As I started moving from one yoga pose to another, controlling my breath, I was equally engrossed in the moment.
With gentle reminders to move a foot a bit or straighten an arm, Joan advised that success in yoga is not defined by reaching a certain pose or rhythm; it’s actually about not trying too hard and being OK with the position and movement. It’s very different than the typical day-to-day challenges at the gym or even the office. The class was more about being present in the moment, instead of trying to perfect poses.
I had thought flexibility would be foremost in my thoughts, but I discovered that it was the breathing that got me. Stretching felt great, but the calm, commotion-free class without any distractions, led by Joan’s calm presence, gave me a chance to breathe, really breathe. Joan talked about balance—both psychological and physical—as well as awareness. “Pay attention to your body. Be present. Be diligent about your limits and boundaries,” Joan says. “I’m a more successful human being because of yoga—not sweating the small stuff.”
So when you see someone moving from one pose to the next, know that there’s a lot going on. He or she is fully aware of body, breath, mind and simultaneously opening up to the inner and outer self. Yoga is a healing art. My nervousness at the outset evaporated within minutes. I never worried about keeping up or pushing away an inner distraction. I just did it, and let go of more than a little stress. From the first moment and for the rest of the day, I felt incredible. Who knew that day that I was on such a good path?
Joan’s weekly classes in Kripalu Yoga for beginner and intermediate students are held from 8 to 9 a.m. at the Norma F. Pfriem Breast Care Center. Bring mat, water and willingness to stretch.