"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is ..."
-- T.S. Eliot
By LEAH BETH WARD
Lights are dimmed, pillows and mats form a row on the carpet and the sounds
of synchronized tuning forks float from the CD player.
A gentle-looking man with a
ponytail speaks softly and instructs the women lying on their backs to simply
listen. Listen to the sounds around them, to any bodily sensations and to their
left, Debbie Brown, Kym Boob and Kym's mother-in-law and supporter,
Alice Boob, meditate during a yoga class designed to help those
fighting cancer at the North Star Lodge.
"Identify them, give them a name and return to listening. In this listening,
there's no anticipation," says Michael Moritz.
And in perhaps the toughest task of all in this yoga class, Moritz asks the
women to focus on their pain.
"Breathe into that area. This is tricky because this is not treatment in that
we expect the pain to disappear."
Moritz is asking a lot because this is a yoga class for cancer patients and
they are very sick. Tired from radiation or battling nausea from chemical
treatments, they are "doing well just to get here," notes Kitty Inaba, program
coordinator at North Star Lodge.
Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital's North Star Lodge started Healing Yoga
classes about two years ago. That was around the time research published in the
journal Cancer showed that Tibetan yoga led to significant improvements in the
sleep of patients with lymphoma.
Applying the principles of meditational yoga to cancer might sound to the
uninitiated like a throwback to quackery, but in fact it's not.
This month, the famed MD
Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas announced expanded research
into the benefits of Tibetan yoga in relieving the side effects of cancer
treatments. Patients suffer physical effects like fatigue, and there is the
obvious mental stress, such as having disturbing thoughts about cancer. MD
Anderson received a $2.4 million grant for the study from the National Cancer
Instructor Michael Moritz talks class participants
through a meditation geared toward quieting their minds and
increasing their emotional health.
For Kym Boob, 39, of Yakima, the benefits of yoga became clear pretty
quickly. She was diagnosed with gynecological cancer in April and started the
weekly class about six weeks ago.
"At my second class, I decided I needed to be here every week because it
calms me and centers me," she says.
Boob uses yoga breathing during her chemo treatments when drugs are injected
into a vein through a "port" in her chest. The port is a drum-shaped device
placed surgically under the skin.
She practices what Mo-ritz calls setting aside the "judgmental" mind, when
our brain comments, criticizes, carps and otherwise makes us crazy.
"It's about not letting that voice become who we are," she says. "People in
here are trying to reach that place."
A place of quiet awareness.
Dr. Maria Jorgensen, an oncologist with Memorial, said healing yoga is not
about performing a variety of physical poses.
"It works at more profound levels than the body," she said. "It helps the
patients learn techniques to put their minds at rest and not be caught in the
emotion of the moment. We have a power of mind over our bodies that we tend to
Moritz, who teaches yoga at Stillpoint Studios in Yakima, helps the patients
tap into that power with guided meditation. They learn to focus on their breath
and let go of the chatter that can clog the mind.
After the session, class members feel free to talk about how easy it is to
let the mind steal their quietness and balance.
They talk about getting stuck in their roles as mother, caregiver, employee,
spouse. And then Debbie Brown of Selah acknowledges a painful reality.
"What if you can't do those roles anymore? I can't be who I used to be."
Gently, Moritz says: "You are not those roles. Your identity is the breath."
At the North Star Lodge, yoga
offers a healing respite for those fighting cancer.