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SomaYoga: Therapeutic Approach for Breast Cancer Patients

Jun 13, 2024 | Your Health

Individuals undergoing breast cancer treatment face an arduous journey. One approach these patients can use to help them manage the treatment process is SomaYoga—a therapeutic style of yoga that combines classic yoga philosophy and postures with modern healing modalities.

Suzanne Larsen, Yoga Therapist and Director of the nonprofit Main Street Yoga at Ease, shares information about SomaYoga and its benefits for breast cancer patients.

What Does SomaYoga Involve?

SomaYoga is a unique fusion of somatics, restorative breath work, polyvagal theory, and the therapeutic application of classical yoga practices. It’s aimed at promoting awareness throughout all of layers of consciousness, easing movement, and improving overall well-being.

“Unlike what we often associate with regular yoga, which can be a little daunting with its big physical practices, SomaYoga emphasizes the connection between the brain, muscles, heart, nervous system, intrapersonal and interpersonal relationships, community, and environment to release tension and improve movement patterns and relationships,” explains Larsen.

For those managing symptoms of breast cancer treatment, SomaYoga provides more opportunities to practice than just focusing on the physical body. When a person experiences a health crisis that can be abrupt and ongoing, the relationship with oneself is constantly changing. Sometimes, the body doesn’t feel like a very hospitable place to be.

“We have tools we can use to help get current with curiosity and compassion. We have ways we can work, depending on what each individual needs, to help get comfortable and build a loving and conscientious relationship—even when the circumstances seem daunting and disorienting,” she adds.

Self-Care Is Not a Luxury, It’s a Necessity

If someone has never practiced traditional yoga, or has only minimal experience with yoga, it might be a bit daunting to take on SomaYoga practice. Per Larsen, “showing up is the hardest part.” Once patients do show up, the benefits are immense—particularly because Larsen helps individuals customize their SomaYoga practice to address their most pressing concerns. For example, she can help target joint pain, neuropathy, fatigue, weakness, and anxiety.

“I always urge people to come and try it because self-care is not a luxury. It’s a learned skill and it’s something we can continue to improve through our own compassionate participation. Also, there’s a tendency sometimes when we’re not feeling well to feel disconnected and isolated. There are real benefits to healing in community and connecting with people who understand the experiences you’re going through and who can share resources and inspiration.”

What Happens in a Typical SomaYoga Class?

To participate, all individuals have to do is attend an available class. All props are provided, but Larsen encourages people to bring their own personal comfort items if they wish. The class typically begins with checking in with everyone; connecting the community of participants and reinforcing that no one is alone. Then, participants engage in nervous system regulation to help settle into the space.

“That doesn’t mean we’re always going to be at ease or comfortable, but beginning a practice this way gives us a break from anxiety. When we practice that, it gives us some relief. Remember, our stress reflexes are not bad. They’re not something we should be upset about. It’s our body’s intuition loving us and protecting us. They only become problematic when we hold them past the point when we need them,” shares Larsen. “It can be exhausting being a patient and an advocate. So, we invite ourselves to turn on some of the love and attention we have within.”

SomaYoga’s Short- and Long-Term Benefits

Larsen notes that almost everyone feels refreshed after just a single session, simply by virtue of having the opportunity to turn positive attention to oneself. However, benefits are cumulative. The more a person practices SomaYoga, the better they will feel in both the short- and long-term.

“A big part of our work is to help bridge the gap between clinical care and self-care by helping people to interpret the directions they get from their physical therapist. By giving people small, short practices and also the reasoning behind them, the understanding, they can take those practices and use them whenever they need,” she shares. “It’s really about developing a toolbox for resourcing so we feel more comfortable, more connection, and we have more agency, even when things are scary.”

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