Gentle Stretch Yoga Class Helps Cancer Patients Heal
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
When Deborah Templin was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, she did what every brave cancer patient does. She took a deep breath, rolled up her sleeves and vowed to battle her aggressor. After getting a lumpectomy, she endured chemotherapy treatments and plugged into the empowering 12-week LIVESTRONG program designed to promote physical activity following a cancer diagnosis.
“The LIVESTRONG program was very helpful,” says Templin, a Hendricks County resident.
In 2016, however, she was dealt another blow when a second lump formed in the same breast. This time she opted to have a double mastectomy.
“I’d been to so many appointments and had so much help with the LIVESTRONG program that when it was all over, I had this feeling of, ‘Now what do I do?’” Templin says.
Left weak from treatment, she needed to find a way to build herself up so that she could resume her life in the best and healthiest way possible. It wasn’t easy, however, especially when she felt drained physically, emotionally and financially.
“You spend a lot of money fighting cancer,” Templin says.
So when she heard that the Cancer Support Community (CSC) of Indianapolis was offering a free weekly Gentle Stretch Yoga for Cancer class, she considered it a godsend. Offered Monday evenings through Hendricks Regional Health (HRH), the class is for anyone impacted by cancer — those who are newly diagnosed, in treatment, gathering strength, a survivor or someone who supports another individual who is journeying through cancer.
The classes use gentle movements (usually seated on a chair) to assuage symptoms, balance energy, build bone density and stimulate the lymphatic system. Lori Coffey, who teaches the class, utilizes various breathing techniques, restorative postures and guided meditation to reduce stress, improve physical function, manage pain, improve sleep and support the immune system. Coffey remains mindful of the poses she asks the class to engage in to ensure that it’s always a positive, uplifting experience.
“It’s important to keep it basic because those who are going through the cancer process are already so overwhelmed that the last thing you want to do is present them with something that’s going to serve to overwhelm them some more,” Coffey says. “Those in treatment will be more depleted than those who are done with treatment. Also oftentimes other health issues pop up, too, such as arthritis.”
When Coffey was training to become a yoga instructor, she participated in a research project that focused on cancer patients wherein she researched the population’s needs, wants and limitations, then led a yoga class designed just for them. Around that same time, one of her sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer. Soon thereafter, another sister was hit with the same diagnosis. Being dealt a one-two family cancer punch only increased Coffey’s passion for helping this particular community.
“This has been something that’s been true to my heart for years,” says Coffey, who appreciates the connection she sees amongst her students, likening the class to a pseudo-support group.
“I remember when some of these gals first started coming to class, they were still wearing hats because their hair hadn’t started growing back following chemo,” Coffey says. “Witnessing that transformation from bald to peach fuzz to a full head of hair is so exciting.”
CSC is a nonprofit that is fully funded by contracts the organization has with hospitals, donors and grants. There is no federal funding.
“The hospital pays us, we provide services free of charge for anyone impacted by cancer, whether that’s a patient, a loved one or friend of a patient,” says Faith Griffaw, program manager for Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana. “You might have a friend who lives in California, but if you are caregiving to them by being a listening ear, you, too, are able to come to this class.”
Templin began attending Coffey’s class two years ago and always looks forward to her one hour of bliss each week.
“It gave me a way to work on my health without costing me a cent. I’m so thankful for that,” says Templin, who admits that prior to taking the class she had been skeptical of the practice.
“I have another physical issue — a connective tissue disorder that causes me a lot of pain,” she says. “Yoga, with all the stretching and deep breathing exercises, helps me feel better. Plus, I sleep better now.”
For instance, when her mind is spinning and she’s tossing and turning, she uses some of the relaxation techniques Coffey teaches in class.
“I focus on counting in my breath, holding it, then releasing it,” Templin says. “It slows my mind down and helps me fall asleep.”
When Gentle Stretch Yoga for Cancer was initially offered at HRH back in February 2016, it was a monthly class, but Griffaw petitioned to transform it into a weekly class because if someone had to miss a session, it was eight weeks between classes. Once the class became weekly, they saw a huge increase in attendance, and it has continued to grow steadily. Though the class started out with just one student, now typically between 8-12 people come on a weekly basis. And if one person is missing, the others ask, “Where is so-and-so?”
“They definitely look out for one another,” Coffey says. “It’s truly an inspiring group.”
For more information on the Cancer Support Community of Central Indiana, visit cancersupportindy.org.