For About and By Caregivers
Pink Ribbon Yoga is for Caregivers, Too

By Cheryl Ellis, Staff Writer


Finding stillness within is a perpetual challenge for caregivers and for their loved ones.  Programs often focus on the individual with the health challenge; and while there are resources available for caregivers, it is special to find one that welcomes both caregiver and patient or loved one.  Pink Ribbon Yoga, created by Corey Becker, RN, encourages patients, caregivers, and their extended support network to come together and de-stress.
Becker has opened Memorial Hospital Cancer Center's Breast Cancer Awareness seminars in South Florida for the past three years with instruction in yoga techniques.  Feedback from participants reached such positive levels that she designed a yoga program to help women undergoing the "journey" of breast cancer recovery, and all those who come "in love and support" of another.
Alleviating caregiver stress and bonding loved ones are her longtime missions.  Having offered programs in Alzheimer's Support that work with caregiver and loved one, Becker strives to create a bridge that strengthens both caregiver and family.
While Pink Ribbon Yoga began with the intent of supporting breast cancer patients, it has expanded to include individuals with a variety of health challenges, from spinal surgery to ovarian cancer.  Some students have been cancer free for more than a decade, while others are just being diagnosed.  Participants find a connection at the most basic human level, human kindness. 
For caregivers of all types, one of the benefits is the fellowship of the class.  "First we do physical," Corey emphasizes.  The basic poses are modified for each group, focusing on restoring energy, rather than burning calories.  A physical and mental relaxation are done near class end, followed by a short group discussion.  The physical warming up allows for the body to relax, and when group discussion or "sharing" begins, emotions may be released as well.
When caregivers and their loved ones attend together, Corey notes that healthy bonding occurs.  Individuals find themselves encouraging one another, and appreciating the yoga poses, as well as laughing about flexibility challenges.  Again, the gap of who is well and who is ill becomes blurred when a patient or loved one may have far more flexibility than the caregiver.
Caregivers and loved ones of all types have new visions and increased understanding during the sharing process.  Voicing feelings and experiences in a positive, non-judgmental environment brings a reward as well.  "Being heard is therapeutic and healing,” states Becker.
For many, yoga has been a practice that appears out of reach, with pretzel-shaped poses suited for a rag doll.  Pink Ribbon Yoga takes the individual into consideration first, concentrating on simple movements, breathing, and awareness of the body.  In the daily world of caregiving, awareness of the body may come last.  Becker encourages students to think about how they are feeling while leaving behind the criticism. 

There are few yoga classes in which an instructor will say “Give your toes some gratitude,” however, this phrase is heard often, and directed toward every body part.  Becker reminds her students that simple awareness of how one is feeling at the moment helps the individual set limitations in and out of yoga class. 
Support persons’ physical responsibilities create tiredness.  Overtaxing of the body with chores without a component to refurbish tired muscles causes tightness of body and mind. 
The body holds unconscious feelings, good and bad, which yoga stretches and breathing can help release.  The pain in a caregiver’s neck may be literal and a metaphor.  When learning gratitude and awareness of how the body moves and sets everyday limits for an individual, caregivers can begin to focus on how they are feeling in the moment, as well as how much is too much.
Since the focus of most illness is upon the individual undergoing the health challenge, caregivers may inadvertently change into caretakers, doing what is necessary but gaining no benefit from what started out as a loving exchange.  Yoga changes this by creating body awareness which evolves into an ability to become aware of one's feelings and mental stresses.  It also gives the individual a method by which to defuse these stresses.
Simple movements such as the gentle rolling of wrists, pointing and flexing feet, and self massage can be done by caregivers and loved ones of many physical levels.  When the day is at its end and both caregiver and loved one are spent by the demands of the illness, one or the other can say “Let’s do a couple of poses.”
Because loved ones and caregivers have other obligations, such as doctor’s appointments, classes are drop-in and casual.  Becker attempts to give enough information in each class to inform newcomers and the student who is only able to attend occasionally.  Learning one or two poses can help the individual have an at home respite, without the demands of a fully memorized program.  “If you’re present in the moment, and aware of your breathing, that’s yoga” is Becker’s affirmation. 
In the world of caregivers, support, society, and self-awareness make up the triad that is the foundation for healthy caregiving.  Programs like Pink Ribbon Yoga, and providers such as Corey Becker, RN, strive to provide a way for caregivers to build a lasting foundation.
Yoga Surprises for Caregivers
Anytime we are focused on our breath and movement, shutting out the noise of the mind (or at least trying to), we are performing yoga.  These two simple poses can help caregivers mend at the end of the day, or can be done at day’s start to recharge.

Savasana (pronounced Sha-vah-sah-nah)  Resurrection Pose
Sometimes called “corpse” pose because of the positioning and stillness, “resurrection” provides a kinder, more apt name, focusing on its restorative effect.
Lie flat on your back, arms about six inches away from your body.  Your legs are relaxed, and the feet will naturally fall to the outer sides of your body line.  Palms face upward, with the intention of receiving healing energy from the heavens. 
In yoga, energy is thought to circulate, not only within the body, but from all points of the universe.  By focusing on receiving energy, caregivers offer themselves the opportunity to relax physically, but also visualize and practice receiving from a source outside them.  This transfers to daily life, where expressing the need for help, and then being willing to accept the help is necessary.
Modified Standing Pose
This standing pose is modified by sitting comfortably erect in a chair that allows the back to be straight, but not stiff.  The hands are folded into a prayer position, over the heart.  Head and neck are relaxed, and the visualization is of the spine being strong, like a tree trunk, while the head gently floats atop, like the sun in the sky.
Prayer position of hands is called a mudra, and in yoga there are many hand positions that signify particular meanings.  This one is called “Namaste,” a Sanskrit word that translates to “My evolved self reaches and connects to the evolved self in everyone.” When one person says it to another, it is as a greeting, thanks, or simple connecting of those forces.

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