Yoga, the One Thing Cancer Couldn’t Take Away From Me

Catching you up…

There’s a big gap from the last post and this post… I still can not form the right words to express the time that has past between my last chemo and my surgery last month. The experience is still too raw and tender and difficult to replay even though I replay it in my head everyday.

But I promised myself I will go there fully and share a post, not only for the sake of my heart but because don’t you just hate it when your friends fill your FB feed with their life, especially when they find Mr. Wonderful? Your feed is bombarded with their new found love and they subjected you to their lovey dovey posts on each other’s wall day in and day out and you faithfully followed their journey and then one day they break up and your friend disappears for awhile and then shows back up on your feed with cute puppy videos without a SINGLE mention about what happened to Mr. Wonderful? LOL!! That’s not nice, leaving you hanging, wondering what happened…

In the meantime, I’m excited to talk about yoga, the one thing cancer couldn’t take away from me.

I’m finally moving in flow again this week. Although cancer halted my life in many ways, I would not allow myself to use cancer as an excuse to halt my yoga. From diagnosis thru treatment, thru surgery and thru every day in between, yoga was a constant. Today it’s slow and steady. Still not able to do a lot of things but I’m able to do a lot of things!! So thankful for my body for what it did for me through my loss, my encounter with cancer and now this period of healing. There were times I was angry at my body, lost faith in her abilities and down right gave up on her. But oh no… the voice of yoga brought me back. Sometimes the voice sounded like resilience. Sometimes it sounded like shame and there were countless times it sounded like guilt. Regardless of what it sounded like, these voices bought me back to my mat everyday.

A practice that continues to evolve.

My practice has evolved quite a bit over the last decade but wow, it has really evolved this last year. Through the years, it has traveled through many layers of physical, emotional and spiritual layers to varying degrees and this time it has brought me closer than ever to understand what yoga truly means to me. It tested my inquiry of how I could ever sustain every facet of this practice, both physical and mental, for the rest of my life under all imaginable situations… the answer is an astounding YES.

The undeniable aspect of my practice that has ripened a bit more from this situation is how it drove me into the depth of the yoga sutras like never before. When I couldn’t find answers to my never ending questions anywhere else, I turned to this aspect of my practice. Some verses that haunted me but yet got me through my darkest hours:

Yoga Sutra II.15

Parinama tapa samskara duhkhaih guna vrtti virodhat cha duhkham evam
sarvam vivekinah


Change, longing, habits or impressions and the activity of the gunas (energies of your body) can all cause us suffering, whether subtle or gross, are applicable to all facets of life, events, situations, relationships, etc. In addition,  pleasure seeking, external stimuli, memory of the past, daydreaming of the future all lead to increased suffering.  Suffering is everywhere. Even the wise will suffer. Only in the Self, our true nature are we forever free.

My True Self is somewhere in this body that is housing both me and a foreign guest.

As I learned, the more connected I am with the quiet, inner place of the Self, the better poised I was able to respond with equanimity, something I witnessed, a surrealistic moment, as I lay there in the ER department wondering if I was going to bleed to death. What haunted me was that no matter how devoted I was to my yoga prior to being diagnosed, no matter how committed I was to practicing everyday or the hours of meditation I did and the number of people I’ve shared yoga’s teaching with, I COULD NOT escape my suffering. In those moments, I felt like yoga failed me, especially after I practiced it so diligently, more than anyone I know, and even then, in the end I was still left suffering with my situation, this horrible thing called cancer.

Patanjali continues to say, NO ONE is immune to suffering but the experience of suffering is often the first step toward positive change. When your suffering becomes so acute that it disrupts your life, you’re more likely to seek a solution.

The solution:

Yoga Sutra II.16

Heyam duhkham anagatam


Prevent the suffering that is yet to come.

When you start to understand where your suffering comes from and that suffering can’t be avoided by anyone, you can prepare for the suffering that is yet to come and avoid unnecessary or additional suffering. We know we can’t change the above, but the answer, both magical yet most simplistic, resides in the fact that we can change how we respond and react when life deals us a less than desired card. With some effort, we can stop the “why me” and the “could’a would’a should’a” and the feelings of regrets, guilt and shame. Stopping these won’t stop the suffering itself but it doesn’t add more suffering to our pot. Then we can use our suffering to start a process of self inquiry and self connection to cultivate insights and gain tools to prepare for whatever may come.

With an understanding of these two sutras, I was able to connect to my breath, not just your plain’ol breath, but getting as close to it as possible, catching the place where it starts, then finding the heartbeat of the breath itself and then instead of abandoning the breath, staying with it until it reaches the place where it ends and finally instead of expecting the next breath or worse yet grasping for the next, get absolute quiet and keenly alert, there must be no thoughts or questions or doubts so that you can notice a micro moment and this space has to be micro for if it’s any longer, there will be grasping and ego. It is a place of stillness between the breaths. This space, a string of collected micro moments, made the present luminous and unclouded so I could switch from feeling devastated and angry about losing my pregnancy and getting cancer in its place, a situation that I had zero control over, to letting go of “what did I do to deserve this” and the other dead end thoughts that infinitely looped in my head, a part of the suffering that I can control. In essence, this was an opportunity to let go of the past and be present for the present, a place where suffering doesn’t linger for long because in the present, I can move through the suffering with much more grace and poise.

In other less philosophical ways, most often in TMI moments, yoga helped me pass the most painful gas I have ever had built up, not to mention its equally evil twin, constipation, all thanks to the medications that come with living in this territory and for having your guts handled, squished and sitting on the outside of your body for hours during surgery. I have never cried in such excruciating pain or have ever curled up as tight as I did. It seriously hurt more than the surgical incision itself. I have never done a practice that only involved poses, in no particular arrangement except to appease my intention to deliberately pass gas. I don’t think I can ever set an intention for practice with a straight face again. Yep, my yoga definitely evolved.

Final thoughts…

There is no question that yoga saved my life. Not only once when I first met her but twice when life got dark and three times over for when I wanted to quit and more so for those countless times when I questioned her, doubted her and lost faith in her teachings. Even through all this, she never once winced. She stood her ground and believed in me. Her quiet voice encouraged me, strengthen me, and carried me through my darkest days. She was ever so patient, never judged me for what I could or could not do and always met me where I was. Exactly as I was…

As much as I look forward to share this practice with others again, I’m also really nervous about coming back to teach and equally scared and anxious to see my yogi peeps again.

As always, thank you for your listening ear, your kind words, your prayers, your support… you know who you are.

One thought on “Yoga, the One Thing Cancer Couldn’t Take Away From Me

  1. Estela Cardona says:

    Hello Nikki- I wanted to let you know that you are in my thoughts. Your suffering and courage have touched my heart. I use this space when I am in my yoga practice and i feel deeply connected to my heart to wish you well and send you all my love. I pray for you and I wish with all my heart that you recover soon.

    I am not working right now if you ever need a ride or I can help in any way, please feel free to contact me. I will be glad to help.

    Please get better soon.

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