Letting Go

Tonight was a big night. It started out pretty routine. After coming out of my last round of treatment pretty wiped out and wimpy, I have been happy to see myself rebound with unexpected strength and energy. Maybe it’s the sun that has finally blessed our dear Portland town with it’s beautiful and spirit lifting rays.

Meet Bill...

In any case, tonight I rallied enough to get myself to a class taught by beloved instructor Bill at Sellwood Yoga, just a few short blocks from my house. This is a flow class that I’ve privately called “Big Girl Yoga” since downshifting. In my past life it would have been challenging but in my current state is a pretty major push. But I did it and not only that, MY FEET WERE FLAT during downward dog. Might seem small but this is something I’ve been trying to accomplish for years. And ironically, what got me here is the need to offset treatment with a more dedicated yoga practice.

I try to make it to class at least a few times a week depending on how I’m doing. Every treatment, as the chemo gets harder, the yoga also seems to get a bit tougher for me. It’s an odd feeling to be working on something and not have it get easier. But, it is such a welcoming environment that I feel good just showing up and my approach is to just adapt to how I’m feeling that day. One of the biggest challenges is a side effect called neuropathy. Basically this means nerve damage caused by the chemo drugs. In my case, my feet feel like they are slightly numb or like they are on “pins and needles” all the time. Kind of hard to get a rock solid yoga stance when you can’t feel your feet!

Sellwood Yoga studio. My safe haven.

But my biggest problem now seems to be my head. I rocked a handkerchief Harley style for a while but that got too hot and weird (a little too Bret Michaels for my taste). Now I just go bald and it feels great except… did you realize how much sweat stays out of your eyes by having hair? I think I might have to resort to a sweatband, LeBron style.

...and Rosey.

Because of my unsteady state, I also have opened myself to new kinds of yoga that I might not have tried before. One of my best discoveries is the wonder of restorative and yin practices. Rosey, another of my yoga angels, teaches a restorative class on Sunday nights that has pulled me through a chemo haze more than once. Using blocks, blankets, straps and bolsters, she guides us through restful poses of 5 minutes each or more. When I first went, I thought, wow… this is like an hour and half nap that you get to take together in a beautiful room! But what I realized after committing to the practice, is that while it is about guided relaxation, this is much different than just a gentle sleep. These specific resting poses uniquely allow a body to renew and heal.

What I’ve since learned is that restorative (and all yoga), helps to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system, called the PSNS. This is what brings balance to the body and results in the SNS (sympathetic nervous system, or our fight or flight response) being turned off. The PSNS is the neurological part of the brain that functions when calmness and peace of mind is felt. The release of the stress hormone is reduced and the functions of the body and mind stabilize. As a result, heart rate and blood pressure are lowered and, most critical for me right now, the immune system is bolstered. While it’s great for someone who’s recovering from an injury or sickness, it’s also a secret weapon for people just coping with the everyday stresses of life.

As often as I can I also hit Savonn’s candlight Yin class on Wednesday nights. . . Savonn is the final angel in my yoga triad of saviors. Also characterized by holding poses for long periods, the Yin class is great for stretching joints and meditation. I find it a profound experience every time I go (helped by the beautiful candlight that graces the space around each student). I leave not only renewed physically but also emotionally stretched and mentally much more focused.

And Savonn.

One of the hardest parts of yoga, no matter what my physical state, is the dedication to breathe with intent and clear my mind. Try as hard as I might, I just can’t stop the mental check list of  “must do laundry, forgot to pay the utility bill, I need to finally hem those curtains, what should we have for dinner…” Largely because I am in slow-mo, I’ve gotten much better at this lately. But I think a lot of it is retraining myself through the experience of going to this new blend of yoga classes.

Savonn always has great commentary on life in her Yin Candlelight class.  Either through a poem, a story or a quote, she finds a way to share in a gentle but fascinating way and then relates the words back to the class and the poses that we are doing.

She recently told a tale that really hit home for me and made me rethink about the excess baggage we all seem to be burdened down with in today’s world. I share it with you here:

There were two Buddhist monks walking along the bank of a river, making their way back to the temple.

As they were walking, they came across a beautiful lady standing at the side of the river. She stopped them and asked if they were willing to help her across the river. The junior monk did not budge but the senior monk, without any hesitation, carried her on his back and across the river. The senior monk put her down on the other side and she thanked him profusely and hurried off. The junior monk was taken aback by the gesture but kept to himself. The senior monk returned and they carried on with the journey.

As they walked, the junior monk kept brooding about the incident until it was unbearable and broke the silence, “why did you carry that woman across the river?  You know that our religion forbids us to touch women!”

The senior monk replied peacefully, “I put her down a long time ago. . . Why are you still carrying her?”

I am learning so much these days. And learning to let go is one of the biggest lessons of all.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Robert
    Posted July 14, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    Feet flat on floor! Amazing.

    I was interested to hear about the ‘scientific’ effects of yoga. I had no idea. Now that I think about it, fight-or-flight does release a lot of adrenaline and if adrenaline is really not good for us, it makes sense that turning off f-or-f should be good for us. Thank you for the enlightenment!

  2. Erin
    Posted July 10, 2010 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    Thank you Kerri! I really really like the story at the end. I have been telling myself for months that I need to go to yoga again- so because of you I will try next week! Sophia is coming over to babysit Adam! Love love your writing and you seem to be doing great!

  3. Amy
    Posted July 9, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    You are incredible.

  4. Posted July 7, 2010 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Couple of things KHP.

    First of all You made me feel terribly guitly – sometimes I skip yoga when I have a bad day at work. At the same time, you are an inspiration.

    Secondly, I used to be pretty bald and it’s rubbish for channelling sweat. The only way to manage it is to take a mop down break have half a dozen of asanas.

    Finally, there ain’t too big or small girl yoga, there’s only your kinda yoga.


  5. Anna C
    Posted July 7, 2010 at 7:26 am | Permalink

    Thank you for the reminder of why yoga is so amazing and congrats on getting your feet flat in downward dog, that is an accomplishment!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>