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It's All Yoga

RACHEL HEADSHOT

In 2018, aged thirty-nine, I was diagnosed with Stage 3 colorectal cancer. It came as a huge shock; I was busy running a charity and had been a vegetarian for years. I also practiced yoga daily, swam three times a week, and considered myself to be healthy. How could I have cancer? In truth, I wasn’t listening to my body. I chose to ignore the deep sense of ‘dis-ease’ that I was experiencing. I put my weight loss and stress down to having a busy schedule and thought this was what life expected of me in order to be ‘successful’.

When I heard the diagnosis, I knew instinctively that something had to change for me to heal. I needed to slow down and rest. With such a short amount of time from diagnosis to surgery (3.5 weeks), I had little time to prepare. Surrendering was the only option. It was such a strong sensation – a deep sense of letting go and allowing my body to be taken on this journey.

I chose not to have chemotherapy

I was adamant that I wanted to choose alternative treatments over chemotherapy post-surgery. This was another strong voice from within, despite the advice from my (amazing) cancer team to take the chemo option. But it felt natural to me to give my body the opportunity to cleanse. I researched into how cancer develops and explored many alternative treatments including radically changing my diet, massage, aromatherapy, Bowden technique, Reiki & Reflexology. I deepened my knowledge of nutrition and plant health.

Thanks to the wonderful Chrissie Chung, I was introduced to Traditional Tantric Hatha. Chrissie generously came to our home and offered me a beautiful, nourishing practice. Over time, using this gentle practice daily, I slowly began to shift the focus to self-healing, self-compassion, and forgiveness as opposed to my usual hamster wheel of never ending to-do lists. I hadn’t realised, or truly observed, my constant and internal negative narrative. My constant need to be busy in order to feel of value and have a positive sense of self-worth. It is a daily practice still.

Learned behaviour can be unlearned

Old patterns are difficult to let go of. Our mind and body fight the letting go – it can feel as if we are losing a part of ourselves, our sense of self, our personality. Our conditioning is deep and takes years to re-wire. But as we know, what is learned behaviour can also be unlearned. If we are willing to let it go. And sometimes, that is the hardest part. Those of us in remission know that we need to take things slowly, and a day at a time. A gentle process of checking in and asking ourselves, ‘What do I need to do today to feel well in my body and settled in my soul?’

The small act of sitting in silence with the intention of breathing deeply can start a daily practice of mindfulness. Watching the breath rise and fall for a couple of minutes and asking yourself, ‘Where do I find myself locked in my thinking or held in my patterns of behaviour? What deeply rooted core belief patterns do I have of myself that keep me stuck?’

RACHEL QUOTEIn the initial stages, we simply observe. All we need to do is breathe and allow the inhale and exhale to nourish and cleanse us. Letting those areas of tension be released through the breath. Over time, these breathing practices and techniques begin to purify our minds so the brightest versions of ourselves can shine forth. We start to experience the positive elements of ourselves internally, as the breath settles us, and helps to clarify our over-stimulated minds.

Yoga is powerful medicine

Yoga shifts stagnant energy inside the body through breathwork and postures. This is vital for cleansing generally and important for moments when we feel overwhelmed. If we’re consumed with our feelings or anxious, postures that include forward folding and longer exhalations can help to soothe and settle us. Similarly, if we want to feel more energized and motivated, twisting and longer inhales can help stimulate us.

Yoga is the practice of cultivating trust and the building of a faith in ourselves, to awaken the senses and our internal awareness and inner capacity for healing. Yoga is powerful medicine, but it is slow medicine – it isn’t the quick fix we have all been conditioned to find. It takes commitment and a certain level of trust to know that each time we practice forms part of longer process on a journey towards healing.

Healing ≈ to become whole.  Yoga ≈ to yoke, or to bring together ≈ to make whole.

Rachel has shared a series of six short yoga practices on behalf of Mission Remission, which you can find in our Mission Fitness page on Facebook. Each class is designed to offer something different, with simple techniques that you can build over time, ideal for those who have never practiced yoga before. You can see more on her website at: https://www.itsallyoga.uk

Rachel was 39 when diagnosed with Stage 3 Colorectal Cancer in 2018. She lives between the Forest of Dean and Athens with her partner Camilla, they've been together twenty years in 2024. Rachel is a Producer, Consultant Fundraiser and Access Support Worker. Yoga and Kombucha brewing are two of her favourite hobbies – both pre diagnosis, and even more so afterwards, and she won two Fine Food Great Taste Awards in 2022 for her Forest Kombucha.

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