Picture an incredible flower growing tenaciously in the most impossible of places, a crack in the sun baked red Alabama clay. That is what Edward Health & Fitness yoga instructor Adrienne Ann Ilseman pictured when she started going through treatment for stage 2 breast cancer. While others may choose to say they “battled” against cancer, Adrienne Ann chose the healing powers of yoga to help put her on the path to recovery.
Here’s Adrienne Ann’s story:
Q: How did you react upon receiving your cancer diagnosis?
A: I received the news of my cancer diagnosis in May. For the month leading up to this news, I directed my energies towards believing that I would be in a rarified group of 5% whose tumors are benign. To say this news was difficult would be an understatement. Here I was in my 40’s with a mom who is a breast cancer survivor and twin 16 year old daughters who must be doomed as well. The questions that nagged me those first weeks I'm sure must be echoed by all women. ‘Why me?’, ‘How can this be happening?’, and ‘Did I do something wrong to cause this cancer?’
Q: How are you feeling now?
A:Those first weeks seem like a lifetime ago. Now I am 3 1/2 months out of surgery and my questions have shifted. ‘What unexpected gift will bless me today?’, ‘How can I bring peace or joy to someone else today?’, ‘Am I living as fully and authentically as I can in this moment?’ I have heard others say that receiving a cancer diagnosis has been a catalyst for positive change in their lives. I now fully understand what they meant.
Q: Why did you start teaching yoga?
A: I am an ordained United Methodist minister of Healing Arts who began teaching yoga in 2006. In 2007, I joined the Edward Health & Fitness staff as a yoga teacher.
Q: How did yoga help you on your road to recovery?
A:I used the tools of yoga to visualize something beautiful growing up and out of the space that cancer once occupied. Even in the midst of something so awful, something beautiful can bloom. Yoga's tools have helped me tap fully into the healing power of this imagery.
Yoga also companioned me through surgery and that first phase of healing. I began practicing Yoga's breath work (Pranayama) upon awaking in the recovery room. That first week, I practiced this breath work three times a day to channel the flow of healing energy into my chest. At the beginning of week two, I began to incorporate gentle yoga movements so my body would stay open and flexible. Even though I had limited range of motion in my arms, it was truly incredible how my body responded. At the beginning of week three, I moved through a gentle Sun Salute series with supportive adaptations.
By taking small steps each day, I regained strength and mobility. After 12 weeks I have returned to my full practice and teaching schedule. I give all the credit to yoga and my persistence in showing up each day, three times a day, for a gentle practice.
Q: What are some of the other possible health benefits to yoga?
A: Yoga's benefits are so numerous and that's one reason why yoga has such a wide and diverse audience. Benefits include: stress relief; improved overall physical and mental health; improved sleep; improved concentration and mental focus; improved breath capacity; increased flexibility; increased strength; improved sport's performance, and pain management.
Q: Yoga can sometimes be intimidating for people who haven’t tried it before. What would you tell these people?
A: Practicing yoga can be intimidating because, in the United States, the focus is largely on only one part of yoga, the physical forms or Asana. In reality, yoga has eight branches that include other even more subtle, yet challenging, aspects like how we relate to others (Yamas); how we live and behave in the world (Niyamas); how we deepen and expand the breath (Pranayama); how we develop focus and concentration (Pratyahara & Dharana); how we meditate (Dhyana) and; finally, how we experience union (Samadhi). There's so much to explore in yoga! The physical forms become a gateway to experiencing the fullness of yoga but it's important to not get stuck there. My best advice would be to find a teacher who guides students into this fuller expression of yoga and who is truly adept in adapting the physical forms to meet any special needs.
Edward Health & Fitness Centers offers yoga when you need it! So whether you're looking for a sunrise class to start the day, a mid-day class to energize you or an evening class to help you unwind, we have a yoga class for you. That's one of the beautiful aspects about being a part of the Edward Health & Fitness Centers community!