Breast Cancer and Yoga

Questions were posed by a local magazine writer here in Jacksonville and all answers are written by Beth Daugherty, M.S., M.A., E-RYT. Beth is Executive Director of the Christina Phipps Foundation and founder of Lifespan Yoga, LLC.  Beth’s full bio can be found here.

How does yoga benefit breast cancer patients? Yoga is a mind-body practice with benefits to both the mind and body for cancer patients. Physically, it is recommended in most cases for patients to get moving soon after surgery, so yoga can be a part of that movement recommended for many people. Patients are usually in physical therapy during the rehabilitation period to regain strength and range of motion. If their doctor approves, attending gentle yoga also helps build strength and range of motion. Yoga adds to the physical exercise meditation and relaxation which assists in the recovery process. Managing stress is part of the journey of recovery and yoga helps greatly in this area.

How does yoga ease pain? Yoga trains us to be deeply aware of our bodies, to take care of ourselves, and to be mindful about what we need during health and illness.  This is the mind part of the mind – body yoga practice. A calm, relaxed, stress free mind helps patients cope with and manage pain. A calm mind also helps cope with the effects of medical interventions and treatments that continue to pop up on the road to recovery.

What poses are most beneficial for breast cancer patients? Savasana (relaxation pose) is most important, we always say that. Many gentle poses help, but learning to relax and calm the mind during such a stressful time is most helpful.

Are there any poses breast cancer patients should avoid? This is all completely individual and based on the medical interventions and treatments used for each patient.  In general, many breast cancer patients will avoid Cobra pose, even Sphinx can be troublesome right after surgery. But each person is so different the yoga instruction must be tailored to the person. CPF classes are small and people get to know each other very well so teachers can use their best judgment about what to avoid and what to work on.

How do you create yoga classes designed for breast cancer patients? Our CPF instructors, working with the host organization, will tailor classes to the students that come in the door. Typically this means discussion, support, education, instruction of Gentle Yoga poses, guided relaxation and meditation. The community building aspect of CPF classes is part of the healing process. People further along in their treatments will help newcomers and provide a great deal of support.

Are your classes specifically designed for post-operative breast cancer patients or all breast cancer patients? The facility that invites the instructor in to teach usually has a specific need and we attempt to fill that. Some organizations are looking for a class for only breast cancer patients in treatment, others want a class for all cancer patients, and some organizations open classes to all survivors and caregivers. It really depends on the facility, the size of the space, the staff working there, and what their priorities are. The CPF provides the yoga teacher.

Can yoga help prevent breast cancer? I do not think the research community would make that claim.

Did you start the Christina Phipps Foundation? No. The foundation was started by the Phipps family and is headed by Mr. Ben Phipps, located in Tallahassee, FL. The mission of the Christina Phipps Foundation is to provide specialized training for experienced yoga instructors to prepare them to guide cancer patients and survivors through yoga therapy. The Foundation’s training is conducted by physicians and other healthcare and yoga professionals. This specialized training is not available anywhere else and our training will help CPF instructors deal with other limitations, beyond cancer. In fact many CPF yoga teachers go on to pursue further education in Yoga Therapy. A particular focus of the Christina Phipps Foundation has been on breast cancer, but the Foundation’s certified instructors work with all who have range of motion or pain limitations, regardless of their source.

When did the Christina Phipps Foundation begin? 2010

How many yoga teachers has the Christina Phipps Foundation trained? We have trained and certified 62 teachers since 2010 and in November, 2013 when we graduate our latest class we will have 77.  We have had over 30 organizations host CPF classes in the past 3 years. Sometimes the host organization only wants a class a short time, some are longer term. Currently we have 17 classes running (or starting up). More information can be found at

The certification for yoga teachers is provided free of charge and we ask each teacher to volunteer teaching yoga to cancer patients for 26 weeks in one of the ongoing classes or in a new location. As teachers complete their 6 month commitment, we send in newly trained teachers. This year we will train our first team from Georgia and they will begin classes north of Atlanta.

How has the Christina Phipps Foundation honored Christina’s memory? Christina had a passion for teaching yoga to cancer patients all over Jacksonville. By continuing this work in Jacksonville, the beaches, St. Augustine, other areas of Florida and soon into Georgia her memory is alive today.  We honor her not just by training and certifying yoga teachers to do this work, but by these same yoga teachers volunteering their time to work with patients directly. The CPF has also played an instrumental role uniting the yoga community around this cause and we have been supported in our work by many of the local health care providers.

Do you have an advice for recently diagnosed breast cancer patients? Follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to the medical treatments you require and when you get the ok from your doctors, come to yoga! Our classes are waiting for you.

Huntington’s Disease and Yoga

June 21st and 22nd, 2013 I traveled to the Huntington’s Disease Society of America’s 28th Annual Convention to introduce Chair Yoga to individuals from all over the country living with Huntington’s Disease. We had lively yoga sessions including Gentle Yoga, Chair Yoga and Wheelchair Yoga. On day 2 I even pulled out some props. These yoga classes included adaptation for a range of mobility concerns, so I can not even begin to describe my awe at what these students new to yoga accomplished. I am grateful for the invitation by the convention organizers to bring yoga to those with HD and the assistance provided by the convention staff during classes. Special thanks go to yogi and New York Times bestselling author Lisa Genova for her interest and kind words about the classes. Although it can be helpful to label classes Chair Yoga or Adapted Yoga, for me it is all yoga and I am happy to share it.

Mindfulness and Meditation

Research comes out all the time touting the benefits of yoga for so many conditions. I had a student in class yesterday who had been referred to “yoga” by her doctor to help her with a chronic, complicated condition. This has happened to me weekly since I opened my doors. More and more doctors are referring people to yoga, and of course I am a huge fan of the doctors that are specific and say “very gentle, beginner yoga” or “very gentle chair yoga”. I am also a firm believer that the training in mindfulness and meditation happening in a good yoga class is a huge part of the significant results in the research.

But when another student told me she had a doctor recommend “mindfulness” I think she felt like she was sent to the store and told, “oh, get a bottle of pills”. Which one? What kind? Mindfulness meditation, mindfulness practice, yoga, what? How do I do this? How often? How do I know if I am benefiting? Will I get this in yoga? Not all yoga teachers meditate and many have no experience teaching various forms of meditation. This is another powerful practice, but I do think people appreciate a bit more instruction. I am offering Mindful Coaching  which can include education, instruction and support if students would like that.

What is Karma Yoga? Part 2

After a task is accepted, time is committed and you realize this is actually going to be sacrifice, you go to work. You may be cleaning toilets, doing manual labor, using your skills, or being the boss; any number of tasks can begin the Karma Yoga practice. Immediately, a new stream of monkey mind chatter begins.

Monkey Mind #1

Very common is, “Who cares what the quality of my work is, they are lucky to have me so I’ll just show up and enjoy myself and if my work is sloppy, it does not really matter.” You continue to think, “Oh, who cares, no one knows I am the one doing this. I will cut corners. I will do sloppy work and everyone should just shut up and be happy I did the darn thing. No one else is here wasting their time, so at least it is done.”

For some people it is difficult to perform at a high level and do your best when you are not being paid or recognized for your work. Changing this mindset is hard.

Karma Yoga practice does not allow for this mindset. The idea is to stay in the moment with the task at hand and do your best. Letting go of the need recognition for your job well done is part of the process. Being recognized may or may not happen in the future. The craving for money and recognition are the monkey mind. The trick is to get back to the moment.

Monkey Mind #2

Another common mind chatter, “It doesn’t matter if I am late or skip it once in a while.” Thoughts like this arise after you are acquainted with the task, accepted it, maybe you even enjoyed it for a few hours or a few days. You got a bit comfortable, moved a little bit more into it and bang. It hurt too much. Monkey mind tries to make it easier.

This is how we know we are trying. Getting to this point is actually success, because most people can not even get to this point. If you begin to show up late, pretend you are sick, call in and lie, skip the work and don’t even call…all of these things are a flashing red light that you have hit your edge. You want out, you want a break, you are completely at your edge and now you may realize this is a hard practice. The easy thing is to show up late or skip a day and disappoint all the people who rely on you.

In Karma Yoga practice, we name it for what it is, monkey mind chatter, and get back to work. Or is it selfishness? If so, name it and get back to work. Exactly like in sitting meditation when your mind zips off into crazy land. In meditation we are instructed to stop dreaming of how you are going to buy more lettuce and get skinny because that is not really meditation, that is dreaming. In karma yoga it is the same, call it what it is and get back to the moment.

What is Karma Yoga? Part 1

Karma means action. Yoga means union of things which have never been separated in the first place, such as the body, mind and spirit. Karma Yoga is a path of yoga where these concepts of action and union are combined in a unique way. This yoga path has nothing to do with fitness, but for those who practice, it is a form of meditation.

Where did it come from?

The Bhagavada Gita proposes a three prong approach to liberation. These three paths can be very meditative for people:

  1. Karma Yoga, the path of service. In the beginning, your personality traits may play into which path you are drawn to. People who love to work, volunteer and manage a million projects tend to try Karma Yoga.
  2. Jnana Yoga, the path of wisdom or knowledge. Brilliant introverts, writers, or philosophers may be drawn to Jnana Yoga.
  3. Bhakti Yoga, the path of devotion. Artists, singers and actors may prefer the beauty and soul of Bhakti Yoga.

Just like we often gravitate to a particular asana style that is best for our physical body, we often gravitate to a Kriya Yoga (Jhana, Bhakti or Karma) best for us. Karma Yoga can be a very difficult practice so it is important to know the bumps in the road are completely normal and they are all instructive.

Is it like practicing asana (postures)?

In asana practice we hit an edge. When you hit your edge in asana practice you do not give up asana all together and run screaming from the mat. Imagine you are in Triangle and you find your edge, you stop and you realize your hand is a foot from the ground. This is not where you wanted your hand, you want your hand smack down on the floor. Everyone else looks better in Triangle. You think why me, this is embarrassing. But you probably do not run out of the yoga studio, tell the teacher you are never coming back and yoga is not for you. In fact, sometimes you love the edge. It shows you where your personal work is. As hard as it may be, you accept “my hand is a foot from the floor.”

It is exactly the same practicing Karma Yoga. We will hit an edge. Let me explain.

How does Karma Yoga begin?

A task is selected or assigned. This may be something you volunteer for or something your teacher or director asks you to do. This is probably something you are not being paid for and something that will take your time. So the first mental obstacle people encounter, if the job does not meet their expectation, is, “I am better than this. I am not going to do this. My time is much more valuable. Maybe they should ask someone else.”

A volunteer job is a great place to begin because these thoughts come up quite naturally right away and it gives you something to work with. All your excuses are front and center so you can begin practicing yoga.

Imagine you volunteer to teach a yoga class at the shelter. No one arrives for your karma yoga class after you gave up your time, gas money and paid the babysitter. You are mad. You do not want to do this “volunteer work” any more. You doubt your ability to do this work. Now you have found your edge. Just like in asana practice, take a breath and know this is where your work is. There is no sense comparing your self to someone else who has a full class. This situation is completely yours and your practice is dealing with what is.

Another common first stream of thought is, “I do not want that task. Can you give me something else? Could you relocate me to another area? I do not like doing that sort of thing. That is not what I really signed up for. I want something more perfect for me.” It is another wonderful set of thoughts to work with. It is a way of your mind trying to get out of actually taking the action you originally agreed to or signed up for.

I was in a Karma Yoga Program once and we were divided into two groups – half were asked to clean and the others were asked to cook. Immediately people in the cleaning group began to try and get switched to the cooking group because it was perceived that cooking was a better assignment. They came up with every reason in the book why they should be in the cooking group; they were experienced, they needed to learn cooking skills, they had allergies to cleaning agents. The exact same thing happened in the cooking group. People started whining, I don’t know how to cook, I hate the smell in the kitchen, or I have food issues. These people got their first introduction to Karma Yoga and did not like it- accept the role. Some people quit the program and paid for airline tickets home because they did not want to be in the group they were assigned, they thought they deserved more, different, better. They gave up the opportunity.

©Beth Daugherty, 2013. Email questions to

Cross posted at the

Part 2 Coming Soon.

Kids Yoga

When I began to teach yoga classes for children some of the calls that came in began to take on a similar pattern. After I explained the time, location and cost of class, the caller paused, waiting to tell me something about their child. I knew what was coming. The concerned parent was going to tell me about a “special need” her child was suspected of having, or had been diagnosed with. The range of “special needs” was extensive. Tactile dysfunction, proprioception disorders, vestibular dysfunction (possibly related to ear infections), brain damage, auditory processing difficulties, heightened sensory perception, autism spectrum disorders, childhood anxiety, ADD/ADHD or maybe something new to me. Often, a mix of two or three of these was discussed.

If a child had been diagnosed, the services available may be limited. Sometimes children would not or could not be included in traditional activities at the local gyms or karate studios. Sometimes these programs and the teachers were so geared to normally developing children they were not helpful or problematic. Always the parent, usually the mother, was searching for something they could not put their finger on. They wanted a program their child could be nurtured in and have some personal attention. They wanted a place where their child’s disability was recognized but not obsessed over or overly focused on. Of course they wanted the child to have fun but at the same time should not be over stimulated.

Lifespan Yoga is perfect.

My classes quickly became very inclusive. If you looked in the window you would never know there were children with all sorts of special needs practicing yoga. It looked like any children’s program with exercises, music, snacks, art, craft projects and the ubiquitous treasure box. There were plenty of normally developing children. No one knew anything about any other child’s history. Not the other yoga students, not the other parents.

As a yoga teacher it is important to be aware of possible abnormalities in “normal” and undiagnosed students too. Often children with special needs are not diagnosed or labeled for years. This does not mean they are developing normally. This can simply be a matter of finances (diagnosed children are eligible for many expensive health and education services some schools and organizations may not wish to pay for). Some professionals know a child has special needs but will put off labeling and wait to see if the child will “grow out of it.” 

All yoga teachers planning to teach children should pursue continuing education about as many special needs as possible. The availability and expense of quality continuing education in special developmental needs for children is very limited in the yoga world. I recommend local colleges for continuing education, as they will most likely provide the most current information and current research in the area of special needs. It is very inexpensive to take a course at the community college and many are offered online. I cover special needs in all of my teacher certification programs, but this is rare.

As yoga teachers, we meet the student where they are, even those students with special needs. Yoga education and research has not even begun to dive into this rich area of potential healing for children and families. My experience tells me yoga, safely and consciously taught, is more than a fun, inclusive activity for children with special conditions. It is a practice with great healing potential for the whole family and we have not even scratched the surface of what we can do.

© Beth Daugherty, M.S., M.A., E-RYT, CPF, LVCYT. I wrote this article for the website and cross posted it here and at blogger.


Lifespan Yoga® Chair Certification

When I began teaching yoga to cancer patients that were being treated with chemotherapy and radiation, everyone was doing well and many of my students were fit. But I had a nagging feeling that someone would come in that could not get up and down from the floor. This prompted me to learn Chair Yoga. I did my research, took classes, read up on it and finally put it on the calendar as a stand alone class. In the first class I had a woman who had suffered 7 strokes, a woman with dementia, two women who walked with canes and a few people with leg problems from diabetes. I realized this was going to be as challenging as the cancer classes and I loved it. I never looked back. I added another class. I found a certification program so I could lean more. And now I certify other yoga teachers to teach this very special type of yoga.

Forward Bend in Chair Yoga

Forward Bend in Chair Yoga

I have tried to make this process as easy as possible. To enroll in this certification you must have completed a Yoga Alliance Approved 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training and have a calling to learn how to teach yoga to people who cannot get up and down from the floor. This includes people of all ages. Younger people attend chair yoga classes if they have serious headaches or medications that make them dizzy. People with every type of disability, especially MS attend. People of all ages with knee and hip problems avoid floor yoga and move to chair yoga. Diabetics with neuropathy may feel safer doing yoga in a chair. Some people begin in chair yoga and after a few months transition to gentle yoga on the floor. This happens more than I expected. Of course anyone who sits at a desk can do yoga at work in their chair. Many yoga postures can be modified so everyone can experience the spirit of the yoga poses from a chair or with the chair as a prop. If you are interested in providing a transformational experience for these students, this certification is for you.

Curvy Yogis at Lifespan Yoga

Many curvy bodied students have always wanted to do yoga but never felt welcome in a yoga class or yoga studio so they avoid it. We actually had a curvy student in Jacksonville, FL kicked out of a yoga class because she was “too fat”, and yes it made the papers. That is crazy. Yoga has always been for every body. People of all ages and stages of life have done yoga for years. It is important to break the myth that yoga is only for skinny, flexible, young people. You will probably never see an image in the media of a curvy yogi. The last advertiser I was working with could find no stock photo of a yogi over a size 4 to use for my ads.

Gentle Yoga

Gentle Yoga

The main goal in my Curvy Yoga™ classes and workshops is to provide a comfortable and supportive space for curvy students. We explore yoga postures with others who may share similar concerns, learn about the same props, and address similar challenges. I have found beginning curvy students could completely relax with others in a no-judgment zone. All students in my curvy classes feel confident about moving into Gentle Yoga at my studio, if that is where they want to go.

I completed my certification last year and am the only certified Curvy Yoga™ teacher in Jacksonville, FL. I really was not looking for another certification; I pursued the certification because I wanted to be very clear that my studio not just welcomed curvy bodied students, but was serious about their yoga education. I want my classes to feel safe and accessible for all people.

Interview with Jessica Natale

Meditation is the tongue of the soul and the language of our spirit. – Jeremy Taylor

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So Jessica, why don’t people meditate?

From my experience people often have a laundry list of why they can’t and don’t meditate. I frequently hear: I can’t/don’t want to sit still, I don’t have time, I already go to such and such church, or do such and such practice.

How do you respond to this?

As soon as I hear “I can’t sit still” I know this is the person that NEEDS meditation the most. There is nothing anybody can’t do. There are ways to make meditation bearable for all. There are many different positions to sit, stand and recline in. Sitting in a lotus pose with your thumbs to fingers is not the only way to be meditative. Small increments of practice are useful as well. If one meditated and held still for only 49 seconds, that’s still meditation!

What about those people who fear failure?

Part of being a well adjusted adult is the willingness to try new things. If you can not introduce a new activity even for one day, even for 10 minutes, how can you expect to deal with major life changes? Small wiggle’s in our comfort space allows us to handle life when the floor drops beneath us completely, with much more grace and sanity. Science has begun to tell as that change in routines (like trying something new) can help increase a person’s happiness and ultimately their health.

What do you tell people who say they do not have time to meditate?

If you don’t have time to meditate then you’re telling me you never wait at the doctor’s office, do laundry, or struggle to fall asleep. These are all moments when your mind does not need to be working on something else. You know that show you watch just because it’s between the shows you like? Well, that’s your meditation time. From the last 5 minutes of the spin cycle you are waiting around for. The 45 minutes it takes your daughter to blow dry her hair. These are all increments of time that can be used to relax and center your self.

What about those that say they have another practice?

Meditation can mean a great variety of things. It can be incorporated in many practices: yoga, a spiritual and/or philosophical routine, a tool for stimulating healing and creativity, a way to deal with difficult emotions, and part of a holy religious ceremony with others or in your own personal shrine of yourself. Meditation can’t do anything but enhance the activities we already partake in.

Jessica Natale is an artist and yoga teacher in Palatka, FL. teaches a variety of gentle yoga for cancer patients, chair yoga and meditation classes. See her on facebook at

Chair Yoga at Work

Research out of Australia, reported on in Yoga International, studies Chair Yoga at Work. These researchers found both chair yoga and guided meditation beneficial. In Lifespan Yoga® Chair classes we combine the 2, which is the norm in a yoga studio.

Double Chair Yoga

Double Chair Yoga

“Frazzled workers take heed — a short, intention-filled break can offer significant health benefits.  Alarmed by the up to 50 percent higher risk for heart attack associated with chronic work stress, researchers in Australia assessed the impact of just 15 minutes of in-office yoga or meditation.  While participants did either chair yoga, guided meditation, or went about work as usual, the researchers measured such health variables as perceived stress, blood pressure, respiration rate, and heart rate variability (HRV — a predictor of cardiac and overall health).  Compared with those who took no break, the yoga and meditation groups showed significant improvements in each of these variables.  Chair yoga and meditation produced similar improvements in HRV, respiration, and perceived stress, while meditation had a greater impact on blood pressure.”

The abstract for the study is at:

This type of research is really interesting because it compares chair yoga and guided meditation. I think it is important for researchers to pull apart the 8 limbs in academic and clinical trials. If a study just says they compared yoga and a control group, we need to figure our what they mean by yoga.

Lifespan Yoga for Kids (and Art)

I have been adding little art projects on to the end of Kids Yoga classes for a few years. I began with just a little coloring before the mothers came to pick up. When the children first started yoga they could not make it the whole hour and I ended up serving a snack and coloring, then making murals, then sewing, then it got crazy. Now projects have taken on a life of their own and I can not stop taking pictures of the art the kids dream up. Right now they are working on art journals and up-cycling old frames and canvas art. I always insert positive yoga themes and character education to the projects and eventually will have a full yamas and niyamas project.

Drawing a Pig

Drawing a Pig

Kids Art Class

Kids Art Class

Research is Positive (Also posted at my Blogger Blog)

I love to read research about the positive impact of a good yoga practice. A blog posting on the Yoga Journal site outlined the following:

In an interview on the CBS show This Morning, P. Murali Doraiswamy, M.D., professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University said that studies have shown yoga practice to produce a relaxation response that mimics the best anti-anxiety drugs on the market today, and that it can also help people with mild depression, insomnia, and ADHD.

We need to know exactly what they mean by “practice”.  Did the study participants do a special style of yoga? What about breathing? Were they taught to meditate?

Dr. Doraiswamy says, “Studies have shown that yoga affects perhaps more than 200 different processes in our body and in our brain. It affects virtually every tissue and every system in our body.”

Soon studies will compare styles of yoga, yoga teachers, length of classes, length of savasana and compare long term yogis to newbies. That is all possible and cheaper than drug trials. It is fascinating. You can read the whole post here.