Give Yourself the Gift of Movement

Teaching Yoga to Cancer Survivors and Patients

Rita Sambruna, RYT200 and y4c certified

My yoga journey started in January 2001 and has not stopped ever since. In 2014, I became a 200-hrs certified yoga teacher, thinking at first that I was doing it for myself, and soon realizing that I just had to teach. The reason for this is another blog altogether. Here I want to talk about why I became a yoga4cancer (y4c) certified teacher, and what it means to me to teach people touched by cancer.

Cancer has been in my family as a constant companion: my Dad died of lung cancer metastasized to the brain, after a long, protracted illness. My grandparents on both sides had cancer in various parts of their bodies. I have seen the devastation of a cancer diagnosis, and experienced first-hand (although in a smaller way), when I was told I have skin cancer. But it was when my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 that I was really scared. And angry. Why her? Why not me? What can I do to help? Perhaps I can teach her yoga to help her stay stronger, physically and mentally.

And so it was that I googled “yoga for cancer” and found, Tari Prinster’s website and her y4c certification course. I am a scientist, and Tari won me over when I read that everything she teaches is science-based. A breast cancer survivor and master yoga teacher, Tari did a lot of research and designed her yoga practice and course to be safe and effective for those touched by cancer. So I enrolled right away in her 45 hours certification program.

In February 2017, I got my y4c certification and in March I started a brand new y4c class at the studio of my regular practice and training, the Health Advantage Yoga Center in Herndon, VA.  My first class had only one registered student, and I was happy. I could not wait to teach her all the wonderful poses and their benefits. Soon, a few more students joined us and two years later, we have grown into a little, tight-knit community. More on this later.

But first, what is y4c? How is it different from “regular yoga”? And what are the benefits?

As I said, the y4c methodology was created by Tari Prinster and consists in yoga poses and practices that are modified and adapted to be safe and effective for cancer survivors and patients, addressing specific side effects of cancer treatment. One of the most important ingredients of y4c is breathing (“pranayama”): each movement is coordinated with the breath, on the rhythm of inhalations and exhalations. A typical y4c class lasts one hour or more, and consists of four basic units: a few minutes of quiet centering, a warm-up flow practice (“vinyasa”), active movement standing and balancing, and a final cool down with usually seated and lying poses, culminating in Final Relaxation. I also add 5-10 minutes of focused meditation towards the end of the class, as I believe this is an important management tool in the cancer survivor and patient toolkit.

The benefits of y4c are many. In brief:

  • Strengthening the immune system
  • Preventing and reducing the risk of lymphodema
  • Improving cardiovascular circulation
  • Increasing bone mass density
  • Managing weight gain
  • Managing stress, fatigue, depression, and insomnia

Please refer to Tari’s website,, for more information.

Perhaps the most unique aspects of the y4c methodology is that we look at a student holistically – body, mind, and spirit. The practice aims at addressing all aspects of cancer needs – physical but also emotional. I structure my classes on different themes each week: one week we address lymphodema prevention, another time we talk about ways to manage stress, on yet another week the main theme is mental focus. My goal is to offer practical ways for my students to learn life tools, be that a simple lymphatic massage or how to relax in a restorative pose at the end of a busy day or how to calm down during an anxiety attack by simply focusing on breathing. It is also very important to me that they get to leave their worries and anxieties at the studio door, and have 1.5 hours just for them, nurturing their bodies and souls.

We do not avoid the “c” word in class. Everybody is free to talk openly about their cancer, and the repercussions it has on their life. At the same time, there is no obligation to say anything, and no pressure to do so. And each class is focused on a cancer-related theme.

Teaching my y4c class is the highlight of my week. I take pride and joy in seeing my students make progress, and not just in mastering the poses. I love seeing them laugh and smile. I love that we have become a tight-knit group. And this is the best part and my biggest achievement: to have built a little community who cares deeply for one another, and who supports each other in class and outside. Seeing them relaxed and content, and knowing they will walk away stronger and ready to face their fears, is my greatest reward.

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