Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Cancer survivor shares yoga’s positive impact

Boca Raton yoga studio Yoga Journey (fifth floor of the Wyndham Hotel, 1950 Glades Road, 561/479-7819) has started offering the yoga4cancer (y4c) program for yoga instructors who want to learn more about how yoga can help students who have or had cancer. The program’s developer is breast cancer survivor, author and master yoga teacher Tari Prinster.

I asked Prinster to share her story, so that it might help others impacted by cancer. Yoga instructors interested in the program will also find answers about how to get involved.

Tari Prinster is 72 years old. She tells the Fit Life that she lives in New York City and Stowe, Vt., and has been an avid athlete all her life. She has been a yogi for the past 25 years.

“I became a yoga teacher after my breast cancer diagnosis in 2000,” Prinster says. “I used yoga as a powerful tool to manage the daily challenges of my cancer treatments (surgery, chemo and radiation), as well as the side effects and lifelong vulnerabilities they create.”

Prinster’s work was featured in the documentary film, “YOGAWOMAN,” which premiered in 2010. This award-winning yogi presents at conferences, including Yoga Journal Live-Miami. Her book, “Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors,” was published in November 2014.

The Fit Life: Would you share with readers how yoga helped you through treatment and in recovery?

Prinster: A cancer diagnosis is like falling off a swing as a child—the shock, hitting the hard ground, that thud sound, then the gasp for air, all in a split second. The word “cancer” pried loose my hold on life, and time seemed to stop.

During my treatment, I found that yoga was the only exercise that I could do and wanted to do. Although I didn’t know why at the time, it helped me physically and emotionally throughout my surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. And, ultimately, yoga played the lead role in taking me from active treatment to maintaining my new normal.

I learned to use two yoga tools—gifts, really—to prepare myself for my oncology journey: breathing and meditation. Chemotherapy made me anxious, but it also produced new fears, such as damage to healthy cells and a further loss of personal control.

In the past, I had underestimated meditation. Now, meditation let me rest my mind whenever I chose, especially in the chemo chair. I could monitor my thoughts, which helped me sleep at night. I felt in charge again! With breathing and meditation, I was growing emotionally stronger, giving myself a way to strike a bargain with my treatments.

I also learned that an active yoga practice was possible and vital to my recovery. Restorative, gentle, or “chair yoga” was—and often is—the recommendation for cancer patients and survivors. This wasn’t fulfilling for me. I found that an active yoga practice charged me with energy, enabling me to live life and enjoy my days during treatment.

I wasn’t the only one noticing the effect of yoga on my recovery. My oncologist would remark how well I was responding in my chemotherapy trial. Neither of us knew why, but we had our suspicions. We wanted to know more about yoga for cancer, so we could help other survivors. This was the beginning of my research on y4c methodology, my book and the next chapter of my life.

The Fit Life: Your practice and teachings are research-based. Could you point my readers in the direction of one important study and share its findings?

Prinster: Here are two. To start, everyone’s cancer and treatment plan will be different. Often, the side effects of cancer and its treatments can be debilitating and long term. In addition, each individual survivor comes to a yoga practice with personal needs. Some common to every survivor are: anxiety, fatigue, bone loss and, surprisingly, weight gain. Weakness due to surgeries, or inactively, is also frequent. Plus, the fear of recurrence never subsides.

Yoga reduces stress. No one doubts that a cancer diagnosis causes stress. The reverse—stress causes cancer—is not yet established. What we do know from recent research is that yoga provides emotional benefits and teaches positive ways to manage stress. Studied as a relaxation technique, yoga improves cortisol levels and psychological measures of stress, wellbeing, fatigue and depression. In a 2009 study conducted by National Institute of Health, after 10 weeks participants reported a positive difference in aspects of mental health such as depression, less anxiety, improved sleep and feelings of resilience over the control group.

Yoga builds bones. Bone loss and fragile bones are a common side effect of treatments. Osteoporosis and osteopenia are concerns for cancer survivors who would like to avoid medicating for such conditions. For 60 years, we have known that weight-baring exercise builds bone. Most aging Americans are told to go to the gym and lift weights. Loren Fishman, MD, researched yoga for osteoporosis showing 85 percent improvement in yoga practitioners over control groups.

The Fit Life: It says in your press release: “The common misconception is that cancer patients are fragile and need lots of rest,” says Prinster. “But the research supports an active practice to heal the body and reduce recurrence.” Could you elaborate for readers who might not be familiar with yoga practice?

Prinster: After treatments, patients are told to go home and take it easy. Caretakers and family members coddle the cancer survivor into a sedentary attitude, not recognizing that the body has evolved to move, as well as to rest. Movement is one essential, natural way to keep the immune system strong and unfriendly to cancer.

Our bodies were designed to move and, when we do so, we massage organs and detox body systems like the heart, lungs and lymph system. Lack of movement endangers both the body and the mind.

Cancer survivors do need to be aware of specific movement in response to treatments, surgeries and other changes in the body. A trained yoga teacher will know this and know how to modify a yoga practice to match a survivor’s needs.

The Fit Life: The press release says you are “founder of yoga4cancer, a unique yoga program rooted in science is launching online March 14 in partnership with Boca Raton studio, Yoga Journey.” What does it mean that you’re launching online?

Prinster: Since 2005, the y4c teacher trainings have required 45 hours of study in a classroom setting over five days. This was both time-intense and expensive. In 2015, a nationwide online program was launched, meaning the bulk of study hours (30 hours) could be completed over eight weeks at home, minimizing expense and maximizing comprehension. A weekend ‘hands-on’ practicum session completes the training in different locations convenient for the participant. In addition to the convenience of online study, participation is not limited to one location. People from all around the world have registered.

Yoga Journey has partnered with y4c to host one of the weekend practicums. Yoga teachers wanting to be trained to teach safely to the specific needs of cancer patients and survivors can register for the training to be held in the Yoga Journey’s studio. Study starts any time after March 14 and finishes with a weekend in Boca Raton on May 13-15.

By May 10, there will be 20 more y4c trained teachers in Florida. Their names and contact information will be listed online.

The Fit Life: What is your goal with yoga4cancer, and how might my readers benefit?

Prinster: At first glance, the idea of yoga for cancer patients undergoing treatment and now in survivorship seems obvious—a logical step. What better way to manage anxiety, gain strength, increase flexibility and create feelings of wellbeing! It seems like everyone knows yoga is good for you, whatever the style or flavor.

Yoga is not one-size-fits-all, and there are some very clear differences to be considered. So what kind of yoga for someone touched by cancer is best? Y4c is good, of course. Most important is to find a yoga teacher or yoga therapist who is trained to understand your needs.

Cancer survivors come to my classes with high expectations. They come with fear, doubts and questions about both cancer and yoga. And they come with a desire to know how and why yoga will help them be healthy and stay cancer-free. They come to yoga as people wanting to feel whole and normal again, not just as cancer survivors. They bring life challenges, not just cancer challenges.

My goal is to see more and more cancer patients and survivors in yoga4cancer classes and more y4c trained teachers working in hospitals, clinics and yoga studios around the world.

My first wish would be to see every hospital and oncology clinic start wellness programs, usually called CAM (complementary and alternative medicines). I would want them to understand that not all yoga is the same, and to require that anybody who teaches yoga to cancer patients and survivors has specialized training. My second wish is to have insurance coverage for the services of certified, trained yoga teachers.

To learn more about y4c classes or find a y4c-trained teacher in your area, click here.

Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton
Lisette Hilton, president of Words Come Alive, has had the luxury of reporting on health, fitness and other hot topics for more than 23 years. The longtime Boca Raton resident, University of Florida graduate and fitness buff writes for local, regional and national publications and websites. Find out more on

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