Deep Breaths: Harnessing the power of yoga to recover from breast cancer


Flora Migyanka in the crow pose

Flora Migyanka is standing on her hands, lifting her feet off the ground to complete the crow pose, or bakasana.

Just over a year earlier, she had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery after being diagnosed with stage 1 breast cancer. Her surgery was seven hours long and involved around 500 stitches.

She went through physical therapy and occupational therapy, rehabilitating her arms and back all through the summer of 2012, and she still continues with occupational therapy today.

But she prefers to talk about the intensive 12-week yoga training course she’s in the middle of right now.

“Yoga has given me the tools to navigate through the physical and emotional pain and learn to breathe and live through it. It’s such an important thing – whether you meditate or exercise – everyone needs some outlet,” Flora says.

“We don’t have control of what the future has in store for us but we can control what we eat, what we breathe and the stress we take on in our life,” she says.

Since her surgery, Flora has had issues with her arm and back, some muscle wasting in her back and some painful scar tissue. She has lymphedema or swelling in her arm, from having 11 lymph nodes removed.

“Yoga has taught me to really know my body, know my strengths and know when to back off. I’m so much more in touch with that than I ever was before,” she says.

Flora has gotten her whole family involved in yoga. Her husband practices and so does her 6-year-old daughter. “You have to teach them young to be mindful, to breathe and to be present,” Flora says.

Today, Flora continues taking tamoxifen to prevent a cancer recurrence but is cancer-free. She still gets tired easily and her arm can bother her at times.

“There are days when cancer creeps up on me and stares me in the face. I’m trying to just breathe and let go. I can’t control it, and that’s really the hardest part,” she says. “Cancer is part of my life. It’s part of me, part of my soul and part of my journey. I have to accept it. Having cancer taught me to have wisdom and to live with integrity.”

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