Blog written by Vicky Fox, author of ‘Yoga for Cancer’
Where it all began
I trained as a yoga teacher in 2008 and felt so lucky to be doing something that not only I enjoyed but I felt huge benefit in. I was always fascinated by the therapeutic application of yoga and how yoga could support people and in 2013 Laura Kupperman came over from Colorado to teach her “Yoga For Survivors” training which focused on how to support people diagnosed with cancer.
I had started studying with her when one of my best friends was involved in a tragic accident which meant that whilst learning how to adapt practices for side effects of surgery and treatment for cancer I also learnt how to hold space, be present with pain and not to be able to fix it. I think this was a huge learning for me just being fully present with someone with all that they were experiencing and with no judgement but just to be. This made my first few classes of yoga for cancer less frightening, remembering that these were just wonderful people coming into the room to have some space where they were nurtured and protected, practice yoga and maybe start to get connected to their bodies again.
What inspired me to write the book
The yoga classes gave them chance to switch from being a patient to being a co-crafter of their well-being and I started to meet the most fabulous people who shared with me what they were going through and I learnt to adapt so that everyone could participate in every bit of the class no matter what they were bringing with them on that particular day.
I volunteered to teach at Paul’s Cancer Support Centre which was a fantastic charity offering support for people living with cancer. The room I taught the yoga in was a shared space room that was used for other activities and it was not uncommon to go into the room, move furniture around and pick up the odd crisp that had escaped under a table. I loved teaching there but I also wanted to give my students the chance to experience what I felt when I went to triyoga, my local studio for a class. A dedicated space just for yoga with all the props you could possibly need and not a crisp in sight.
At the same time one of my friends worked for a company that had a charitable trust and they were thinking of sponsoring me to teach a free class for people impacted by cancer. As a result I approached Jonathan Sattin the owner of triyoga with this idea. We were negotiating room rates when I found out that the trust had voted for a different charity and so I had to contact Jonathan to tell him that I couldn’t teach the class as I didn’t have the funds for the room. He immediately responded that I could have the room for free and I agreed to teach the class for free and there we had it, the free class of yoga for anyone living with cancer started in April 2014. The “free” aspect was really crucial to both myself and Jonathan. It can be expensive being diagnosed with cancer. You might need child care, you might not be able to work, you might need to take taxi’s or have overnight stays in hotels. All this costs money and I wanted the classes to be as inclusive as they possibly could and being able to make them free meant we could do that.
How and when the book started to take shape
When we went into lockdown in March 2020 it was imperative that I got these classes online as soon as I could because I knew that community was a hugely important part of the class and suddenly we were all being told to stay at home and I knew this would be so challenging for some of my students. Triyoga immediately put a class on their online platform, on a Sunday, which quickly grew and I taught more classes from my home. If you knew anyone who was considered “vulnerable” during the first wave of covid you will know why the support of a community was so incredibly valuable. Some students were told if they caught covid they would not be able to be treated for cancer and other students had trials they were on cancelled as a result of covid. This online community became hugely important because students were unable to see physiotherapists or to get advice on certain side effects and so they started being discussed more widely in class.
The more I taught online the more I got to know my students, the more they asked for yoga poses that might help with a side effect. I wonder if it was that people felt more able to open up in this online format or whether it was just that they didn’t have as much choice. Students that only came once a week to class now were showing up to every class and I realised that what everyone needed support with was not cancer but the side effects of treatment for cancer.
I started creating little, short videos which I either put on Instagram or on my website with some ideas on poses that might help with cording, lymphoedema, scar tissue, peripheral neuropathy and other side effects that people needed support with. I had already started writing a book on yoga for cancer but teaching online helped me find more focus for the book and the idea of A-Z of side effects for treatment for cancer started to take more shape.
What I am most grateful for
I could not have done this book without the sharing and honesty of my students who have emailed me, spoken to me, opened up to me about what they are experiencing and asking what might help. They have trusted me and I am hugely grateful to them for this. My students really need all the credit for this book because it wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for them.
Anybody who is fortunate to work in a job where you contribute and others benefit will know how much purpose this gives you in life. I am so lucky to be able to do what I do and meet the most amazing people that I meet. By being forced into online teaching (which is now in a hybrid format of live studio and livestream) it enabled me to reach out to more people and where I had been unable to teach people that lived on the other side of London to me, I was now able to teach people anywhere in the UK or even abroad.
What I hope to achieve with my book
I hope this book will be an extension of these classes and empower anyone impacted by cancer that although you can’t control life you are able to control your response.
Remember, you can read the first chapter for free!