UAB Restorative Yoga Gives Control Back to Cancer Patients

UnknownBonner Wagnon had no idea what to expect when she first stepped into the yoga studio after undergoing surgery for cancer. Invited by a friend who had a cancer diagnosis similar to her own, she was drawn to the yoga class designed specifically for those battling cancer or living in remission.

The class did not require previous experience, and it was described to her as a welcoming group of people with many types of cancer and in various states of health. It offers a weekly opportunity to relax and quiet both body and mind and learn breathing and stretching techniques to help with work, life, and health challenges.

“Count me in,” Wagnon said, and she began attending in March 2013 though still recovering from surgery that restricted her movement. Instructor Suzanne Graham helped her make adjustments and modifications in order to reach the different poses. Wagnon now attends the class as often as possible.

“Suzanne was lovely about not making a big deal about it. She makes clear that this isn’t a class about perfecting yoga technique, rather it’s about using yoga to help each of us be comfortable with our bodies, gain some flexibility and be supported by people who without even saying a word, let you know that they understand what you’re going through,” Wagnon says. The class helps her transition from days filled with work and life demands, giving her a greater perspective and sense of calm.

“I truly appreciate this unique program and that it is open to people living with cancer throughout the community, whether or not they have been a UAB patient,” Wagnon adds. She makes attending the class priority and says she enthusiastically recruits others living with cancer to attend.

Wagnon also likes that they do not make a fuss over attendees because they have cancer or are a survivor. She continues to be resistant to that aspect of her disease.

“You have life with cancer once you are discharged, but this is something you can continue to do to manage your disease in some ways, not that you are ever totally discharged,” Wagnon explains. “This class is something I can do to advance my health without being in a clinical environment. It helps me be grounded in the work, life, health swirl of living with advanced stage cancer. I sleep better, have more flexibility and enjoy this lovely group of new friends.”

Teri W. Hoenemeyer, MSHA Director of Education and Supportive Services at UAB’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, helped start the program at UAB a year and a half ago. The class not only helps patients get strong and more flexible, it also helps them develop a social network and support system.

“We can’t treat all of the symptoms and side effects in the clinic, so this is just another way to be able to help patients build those coping skills and the ability to self-manage their disease,” Hoenemeyer says.

Graham describes restorative yoga as a receptive practice by which participants guide themselves to a healthy state of being through meditation or relaxation. Students are supported by props including bolsters, blocks, and blankets that help create a more conducive environment for working and healing.

Graham tries to create a space in which students have time to reflect on their illness. She offers participants nurturing and peace on their journey with cancer.

“I try to set the environment and atmosphere in each class when they come in with the energy they have, that they can process where they are, what that energy is for them: cry if they need to cry, laugh if they need to laugh, or rest if that is what they need,” Graham explains.

Graham says her students are her greatest teachers because they inspire her to live in the moment and appreciate life’s blessings.

“Many of these people are fighting a hard battle right now and almost all of them remain positive, trying to do the best they can to live with their diagnosis,” Graham says.

Jennifer Hicks, MSHA, MBA, is the Program Manager for the Supportive Care and Survivorship Program. She says the program sprung from a need in the community and patient population. “It gives them a place where we have someone who is trained in working with people with serious illnesses that is really able to help support them through the class.”

Hicks says the class actually functions in some ways like a support group. It is open to anyone with a personal history of cancer, whether a UAB patient or not.

“Our hope and goal is that they will come to this class and be supported, build strength, and be able to move onto the next level of physical fitness, whatever that looks like for them, so they can continue to be healthy and grow,” Hicks explains.

Restorative yoga is a 10-week program with a one-week break between cycles, and it is held twice a week at two different locations. Class is held at Embody Practice Center on Thursdays from 5:45 pm to 7 pm, and Wednesdays at PH Balance in Vestavia from 1:15 pm to 2:15 pm. The cost is $50, but no one is denied access due to lack of financial resources.

Registration is required. For more information on locations and schedules or to register, contact Jennifer Hicks at (205) 996-5054 or jenniferhicks@uabmc.edu.

Embody Practice Center
Suzanne Graham, ERYT 200
Thursdays 5:45 pm – 7 pm
PH Balance in Vestavia
Suzanne Graham, ERYT 200
Wednesdays 1:15 pm – 2:15 pm


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