By Teri Richardson

The Words That Changed My Life

Years ago, one of my best friends took me to my first yoga class. I immediately loved the freedom as well as the strength that yoga allowed my body and mind to access. I never could have imagined that it would become the lifeline and practice that it has for me. Many years later, I had serendipitously become a relatively healthy yoga teacher and business owner, until January of 2016, when I was blindsided by the words, “It’s carcinoma…You have cancer.”

Just like that, I was no longer healthy and diagnosed with what would later be determined as Stage II Breast Cancer. The disease deluded me and threatened my life. Cancer diminished the trust and security that I once had in my strong and able body. It left me with one that was invaded, scarred, manipulated and compromised by treatments, administered to remove it and ward off recurrence. Cancer altered my previously healthy everything forever.

When doctors told me not to expect to have my yoga practice back for an entire year (after the initial and main steps in my cancer treatments were to be complete), I was devastated. But that couldn’t be my story? That simply would not work for me or my life!

Yoga for Cancer

Determined to move my body and retain my sense of self and the sanity that I imagined slipping away, I searched the internet for ‘Yoga for Cancer’. That’s how I learned about Tari Prinster, her book, a y4c class, and discovered the personal method through which to strengthen and forge my fight. In that moment, I instinctively imposed my own instincts towards self-care and hoped for consolation.

Within six weeks, I had read Tari’s book, recovered enough from my elected bilateral mastectomy (my breast cancer was unilateral), and attended a y4c class. It was in that class that I finally took a breath and began to rebuild a consistent practice. I learned to move in ways that directly address the physical, emotional, and spiritual effects of cancer treatment. y4c classes helped me to improve my range of motion, build strength and stamina, and start to feel like myself again… Life was not over.

A New Perspective On The Practice

From there, I began to approach my yoga practice with a new sense of respect, understanding, caution, experimentation, and wonder.  I transitioned into and out of poses with a greater sense of presence than before. I also realized that I had been accessing my yoga practice all along: I naturally utilized breathwork and meditation to manage stress while waiting for appointments.

My already established physical yoga lessons were relevant too. For example, I strategically built the bridge pose on my hospital bed post-surgery to use a bedpan, utilizing the strength of my legs to keep from compromising my chest. I was grateful to have already had that yogic knowledge within me to pull from.

Strength Through Yoga

When I was released from the hospital, we were all stunned when I walked the four flights of stairs to my apartment with relative ease. To make this possible, I focused on the careful placement of my feet and use of my legs to stabilize my upper body. Yoga was (and still is) my instinctive go-to.

To the amazement of my doctors, myself, and my teachers, within two months, I was able to resume a strong yoga practice, and I began to feel that my cancer-affected body was capable of more than everyone expected. Yoga made it so.

The Gift of Yoga: How Yoga Helps Cancer Patients

By month four, in between surgeries number one and two, I went to train with Tari Prinster. By month five, when my tissue expanders were switched out for implants, I had already become a certified yoga4cancer teacher with a special inside understanding of how to teach yoga to cancer survivors.

Both attending and completing the y4c teacher training while going through my own personal cancer and recovery process helped me to realize how yoga is beneficial to address and manage the side effects that cancer treatments cause. As a result, I’ve grown stronger, more aware of, and better focused on how my body works and began its healing. My breast cancer diagnosis forced me deeper into my previously established connection to yoga and its benefits. Yoga has given me ME back.

I also now know how important free y4c classes are for cancer patients in any stage of treatment and recovery, as well as their caregivers. yoga4cancer helps survivors reconnect to their own bodies and to their lives, through self-care, self-healing, and an element that medical support alone cannot provide.

yoga4cancer: A Community of Survivors

One year after my final surgery and on the second anniversary of my diagnosis—with the support of Tari Prinster and the y4c team, and in collaboration with Clare Patterson, a fellow yoga teacher and cancer survivor—I launched a free y4c class at my studio. Now in our second year, we’re building a growing community of survivors who are encouraged, empowered, healthy, and stronger in their bodies, because they are being supported in their need to be themselves in their personal fight against cancer.

I feel incredibly humbled to share yoga4cancer and empower other cancer survivors with tools and practices for recovery. I have such immense gratitude for Tari Prinster and y4c, as well as our students, who inspire me every day.

About Teri Richardson
Teri Gandy-Richardson, RYT 500, is a Brooklyn based visual artist, yoga teacher, studio owner and writer who finds great personal peace in nature. All of her work is deeply inspired by the resilient layers within the human experience from which she is moved to weave meaning into her own life. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, Teri vehemently champions her yoga practice, creative mind as well as the support of her friends, family and community as the reasons for her ability to bounce back and— to get ‘herself’ back. Through that process, she continues to create a ‘home’ through all of her work, love and humor that is accessible for all.