How yoga helped me – especially these past 18 months

I have realised that I have not written on my blog for just over a year. It has been a challenging year but it has also been filled with moments of light-relief and love. I finally completed my 200 hour yoga teacher training course with Shining Lotus Yoga. One of my assignments I submitted was a short essay on a Niyama project, which I have decided to share with you here. I hope it gives some idea of how I have been feeling these past 18 months; how I have approached my health during cancer; how yoga has helped me, and maybe there may be something in there that resonates with you. It would be comforting to know if this blog touches someone out there to make a difference to their lifestyle or way of thinking, and, importantly, helps them to listen to their body and intuition. I know it’s not easy, but life isn’t always flowers and sunshine, however, when those moments arrive, it can feel like pure bliss and gratitude is consuming. I wish for all of us to feel gratitude more often and for the flowers and sunshine to fill our lives similarly too. Below is my Niyama assignment on Tapas for you to read, with some photos from that time.

I wish you all the best for a wonderful new year, full of possibilities and love and may you find strength even when you feel weak, and love, even if you feel scared or alone. I send you all my love. Take care, Amie xxx

August 2021.

A short holiday break to Broadstairs, Kent.

It was around this time my pain increased, my appetite was low and I started to rapidly lose weight.

NIYAMA ESSAY FOR YOGA ASSIGNMENT

Niyama is the attitude and respect to one’s own self, in the body, mind and spirit.  Tapas in Sanskrit means ‘to burn’, and it’s meaning is to fire up a passion, a dedication within ourselves, helping us to ‘burn away impurities’ allowing us to improve ourselves with a fiery discipline.  It is associated with the Manipura Chakra located in the sacral plexus, which has the element of fire, and has qualities of self-trust, intuition, self-confidence, and self-power.

In July 2021, I was given the assignment to journal a Niyama for 30 days.  I chose Tapas as I thought it would help me continue and develop my personal journey for healing myself, by focusing on all 3 aspects; body, mind, spirit.    At first, I thought this project would be relatively easy.  As a cancer patient, I had looked after my well-being with a holistic approach for a while.  I had daily habits in place which I thought would be great to use as a foundation for my daily practice.  I had a checklist in a diary for each daily helpful healing habit, although I didn’t always remember to write in it.  I hoped this Tapas dedication would improve on that. 

Daily habits I wanted to make permanent, and have a written record of, were;

  • Skin-brushing
  • EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
  • Ohm chanting (whilst asking the Source for help)
  • rebounder bouncing practice (promotes lymph and blood circulation)
  • physio exercises for my shoulder and leg
  • participating in a live yoga class
  • developing my own yoga practice on the mat and/or self-study for yoga
  • noting my bowel movements (throughout the day)

To a certain extent, being strict with myself to record this helped, especially as I had a routine of making them follow one another in the morning, immediately upon awakening.  However, I got distracted with other ‘helpful’ habits that I had not anticipated, such as working out with my brother in the morning.  This began as a way to share the living room space for a workout routine, and it incidentally enhanced my relationship with him and lifted my mood.  These would be (and still are) a great way to nourish my relationship with my brother with a sense of togetherness whilst contributing to our physical health.  Unfortunately, I found it interrupted my routine for my Tapas chosen habits, especially the skin-brushing, EFT and Ohm chanting.  It was difficult to put these into action following the work outs with my brother.  A contributing factor was largely due to the fact that I tried to get all of these actions (bar the final bullet-point) completed before lunch!  This is because I found my energy levels and concentration were generally abundant in the morning but low in the afternoon.  My morning routine took anything from 3.5 to 5 hours in total, depending on the length of time I assigned to each task and any unexpected events on the day, eg a phone call, an appointment, etc.  Often it would take more time than I had anticipated to complete these tasks.  So sadly, a full completion of all of the check-list was often neglected.

End of August 2021.

A short holiday break visiting Walmer Castle, National Trust.

Doing yoga helped to ease my pain and focus my mind.

This was just before I went for scans in September which would show the cancer had become more active in my lymph nodes and have grown.

In July 2021, on my first day on the project, I made an entry in my Niyama project journal.  I seemed pleased with myself for the quality I gave to 4 of the tasks.  The second day, I began a private 1-2-1 tuition for my well-being using breathwork and intention setting, which I thought complimented my Niyama assignment.  I thought I was going to be running ahead with my cleansing plans for better well-being and every-day matters.  However, the next and final consecutive two days of my entry, showed a keenness to continue but also hinted at an excuse of schedules being out of sync due to medical appointments and physical pain.  And there endeth my journalling. 

It is at this point that my weight loss and back pain really began.  I found it hard to concentrate, get started, and, find any drive of being motivated.  Each day got progressively worse and so the effort into the project was set aside and ignored.    Most of my waking moments were consumed with worrying about my health, medical appointments, side effects of the cancer and preparing for other cancer treatments, such as radiotherapy and fearing that I must soon come off the trial and re-commence chemotherapy.    

Losing weight through the inability to eat enough, and through my constant diarrhoea, I found my energy levels got increasingly low, which affected my physical, mental and spiritual health.  This was a very low point in my life, which lasted over 9 months.  Luckily, I found that my connection to yoga allowed me small but vital moments to breathe.  This was a time in which I needed to rest and conserve my energy, to try and put on weight, and to prepare for leaving the trial drug and change to chemotherapy.  This was a reality in January 2022 when, scans showed, the cancer had spread to my liver.  I no longer had the choice to stay on the trial, so was forced to make the move to chemotherapy.  Unfortunately, my body was still not ready for this aggressive treatment, so I fell two steps back, my weight dropping to 33kg and feeling highly emotional and unsteady in my thoughts.

January 2021. My weight was a scary 33kg.

Scans had just shown my cancer had spread to my liver and so I could no longer be on the BEACON trial (where drugs were Cetuximab IV and Encorafenib tablets).

I enjoyed (or rather escaped) for a Spa Treatment get away with my mum before starting chemo.

Fortunately, I was admitted to hospital to help with my digestive system, have a nasal-gastric tube (NG tube) fitted to help me put on weight, and to be monitored during chemotherapy treatment.  This was the start of me gaining weight, and gradually increasing my energy and mental capability.  I was able to practice yoga again, starting slowly at 10 minutes then increasing up to 40 minutes.  It was a game changer for me, and I gradually began to feel more like myself and I found moments of clarity and the ability to think more clearly.  This allowed me to put into action the occasional task from my Niyama project.  I did not put pressure on myself to do everything in one day, indeed, I did not put pressure on myself to do anything on the list at all.  I began to listen to my intuition of what I needed for that day and at that time.  If that meant sleeping; I slept.  If it meant going for a walk with my NG feed tube round the hospital corridor; I walked.  I was learning what was the right thing to do for me, without so many expectations or pressure, just by taking one step at a time.

February to March 2022.

I was admitted to hospital to help me gain weight and to address my bowel issues and diarrhoea.

Once I was discharged from hospital, I allowed my intuition to continue; listening to what it was trying to tell me.  In May 2022, I signed up to a 5-day yoga retreat in Ibiza with my mum and loved every minute of it!  I felt like I was re-connecting to myself again.  The joy and relief I saw in my mum’s face also gave me reassurance that once I looked after myself, I was able to help others too; a beautiful butterfly effect!  The retreat gave me the freedom to explore yoga again.  I addressed my own well-being and health in a new light, was reminded of my learning from the Teacher Training Course.  It was like pressing the re-boot button.

This project allowed me to appreciate and experiment with my own connection to Tapas at various stages in my life and, at each point, it was valid and, gave me a helpful challenge of how to try to be a better version of myself.  Even if it is a bumpy ride.  So although I did not have 30 consecutive days of completing my Niyama project, I did have a journey with it. 

May 2022.

Ibiza.

Time spent at a yoga retreat and a few days at a hotel, allowed me and my mum to relax and unwind. I started to reconnect to myself again.

I discovered that Tapas, as a self-discipline, reminded me to stay focused on a personal transformation to improve my well-being; physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  I have realised that there is no quick-fix or a limited or endless time period in which to become a better person.  It is a daily affair.  It is a constant course of self-improvement; small changes on a daily basis, as a practice.  It helped my habits improve leading to a happier and healthier lifestyle.  I have continued to strive to do this.

However, I have also learnt that physical pain and low energy had a profound impact on my motivation to stay committed and carry out daily tasks.  Yet when I was able to remind myself of my original mission, even just by thinking about it, I felt better and more focused in myself, simply by having a goal and by looking forward to the future.  I guess that’s the hope of tomorrow and another day to be better.

I will leave you with a quote, that I feel reflects my own experience on my Tapas journey:

“Each moment is an opportunity to make a clear choice of right action.  Quite often the choices that prepare us for the fire are options that vote against immediate satisfaction and pleasure.  When we listen to our inner voice and surrender to staying present to the unknown, the unpleasant, and often to grief and pain, we are preparing ourselves to benefit from and be blessed by Tapas.”

‘The Yamas & Niyamas – Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice’

Deborah Adele

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