On My Mat
Mindfulness: A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.
My cancer diagnosis, and the months and years that followed, have taught me the incredible value of mindfulness, particularly for combating the emotional roller coaster of cancer treatment and survivorship. In many ways, it has saved me and restored my emotional well-being!
Exercise – in almost any form – is a great way to achieve mindfulness, and thus it can help with the anxiety, depression, and fatigue that often accompany a cancer diagnosis. And, as a bonus, physical activity combats so many side effects – for me it has helped loosen up tight tissue resulting from radiation and surgery, increase bone density and muscle mass lost during chemotherapy, and improve balance and brain fog caused by chemo and worry.
I have found that I can often achieve a state of mindfulness through exercise, whether I’m focusing on form and muscles during a barre class, on rhythm and dance steps in a cardio exercise class, or, most effectively, on flow and breath in a yoga class. Staying ON MY MAT is a lesson I have learned after many years of yoga practice, and most of the time I can forget about the grocery list, appointments, or fear of recurrence (!) and stay in the moment when I’m on my mat.
I can also achieve mindful meditation while walking, by focusing only on putting one foot in front of the other. One-step-at-a-time provides an ideal metaphor for the one-day-at-a-time and one-phase-at-a-time approach to cancer treatment. I can even find my mindful state when jogging. The thump-thump of my feet hitting the pavement keeps my mind only on the step ahead of me. And in that way my mat is my-feet-hitting-the-pavement, and nothing else.
“Cancer is known to cause high levels of anxiety and depression in patients and survivors, and mindfulness is a proven method for combating these emotional states.”
What does this really mean?
Anxiety is defined as worrying about the future, and it’s hard not to do this when you’re thinking about where a cancer diagnosis might take you.
Depression is associated with looking back at the past, and it’s also hard not to go there when wondering what caused the cancer in the first place, reliving when it was discovered, and grieving for what life was like BEFORE.
Mindfulness reminds us to stay in the present moment … on our mats, on the pavement, or in our breath, where we are still very much alive, taking care of our bodies, doing everything we can to improve our outcomes and our quality of life … right now.
So … when your mind wanders ahead of you, or strays behind you … bring it back to your mat, whatever that mat looks like for you. Find your mat … your favorite form of movement … and stay with me, right here, right now. I’ll meet you there.
Michelle Stravitz is the co-founder of 2Unstoppable, a Sharsheret partner resource and a non-profit organization which helps women with a cancer diagnosis incorporate exercise into their lives. Michelle was diagnosed with stage 2 Triple-Negative Breast Cancer in June 2015 and serves as a Sharsheret peer supporter. For more information about 2Unstoppable, please visit www.2unstoppable.org