Monthly Archives: March 2013

Teaching Yoga To Someone With Cancer

Check out this really beautiful article about teaching yoga to someone with cancer. Tari Prinster, explains important factors to keep in mind when teaching and address the question; is yoga for cancer patients and survivors different?

Each year globally, 12.7 million people learn they have cancer, and 7.6 million people die from the disease.* With cancer affecting so many people it’s more likely than not that someone close to you may be struggling with and fighting for survival against cancer. Thankfully, with western and eastern medicine, treatments, and practices we can help our loved ones remain positive and stay healthy as they heal themselves during and after their brave fight against cancer.

Teaching Yoga To Someone With Cancer
By Tari Prinster, Founding Director of Yoga4Cancer

At first glance, the idea of learning about or teaching yoga to someone with cancer undergoing treatment or to someone in survivorship seems an obvious, logical step. What better way to manage anxiety, to gain strength, to increase flexibility, and to create feelings of well-being? It seems like everyone knows yoga is good for you. Cancer survivors come to yoga classes with high expectations. These expectations are not any different than those of regular students.

So, why would teaching yoga to cancer patients and survivors be any different than teaching yoga to healthy people?

I have some answers to that question based on my personal cancer journey, my yoga experience, my experience teaching yoga to cancer survivors for more than ten years, and on research. During my recovery, I noticed I needed something different from yoga and went looking for it. Observing other yoga classes focused on cancer patients and survivors taught by yoga teachers from various traditions, I discovered important differences.

Safety First

Healing begins with feeling safe. Yoga teachers are trained to teach to a diverse yet general population. Awareness of the limitations imposed by surgeries, chemotherapy, and the many life-long side effects/vulnerabilities of cancer treatments and reconstructions are not covered in most yoga teacher’s training. Conditions for safety start with a teacher’s willingness to learn about cancer, to be properly trained to teach yoga for cancer survivors and patients, and to take the time to understand student particular needs and concerns. Knowledge and training will help you feel confident in understanding the conditions of the wounded body under that baggy t-shirt and will help you to teach yoga that is informed by that knowledge.

Risk Factors

I am asked questions about yoga benefits all the time, but rarely asked about its risks. Survivors and patients expect teachers to understand the effects of cancer treatments on the body, what poses have most benefits, and what poses can be potentially harmful.

The popular notion is that yoga is good for you whatever its style, flavor, or size, but we know that is not true. Just like cancer, yoga is not one size fits all. Everyone’s cancer, treatments, side effects, and body is different; nothing about cancer is static or predictable. As a teacher, you must be ready to adapt your teaching to the changing needs of students. Know that the risks are higher and a teacher should know what those risks are.

Who’s Responsible?

When offering a class for cancer survivors and patients, a teacher is saying, “I am responsible. I know what kind of yoga is best for you and I will protect you from further discomfort and injury plus calm your doubts or fears.” Students expect yoga teachers of cancer patients and survivors to have that expertise.

Most yoga teachers are trained to ask for injuries or concerns as class begins. Cancer survivors and patients may be reluctant or embarrassed to talk about their concerns, like the newly installed expanders, the chemo ports, or the neuropathy in their feet. They may not even know that some conditions, like osteopenia caused by cancer treatments, can put them at risk in certain activities or positions. The yoga teacher needs to know the risks of such conditions and adapt the yoga practice for these life-long conditions and side effects accordingly.

The key is that teachers need to ask the right questions and to gather this important information carefully, often privately, and with great sensitivity.

Facts Motivate

Cancer patients and survivors can have the desire for cultivating awareness and increasing motivation. Survivors and patients want to know why something works for their condition, not just that it is good for them. I find using research about yoga and cancer creates motivation and good public relations. Students listen attentively to every fact and suggestion on how to fight cancer and it’s side-effects using yoga. They feel and see the benefits. They remember and thank me. Then they bring this information and good feelings back to their doctors. This is truly a win/win for survivors and for yoga. Yoga can make a difference.

Feelings Matter

A yoga teacher has so many things to be aware of during a yoga class. The first one should be the fluctuation of emotions; your feelings come first. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with the suffering of others. Inexperienced teachers may be inclined to treat students with hesitation based on unrecognized fears about cancer and dying or a lack of confidence in teaching patients and survivors. Hesitation is neither helpful nor healing to the student. However, in my experience as a survivor, a teacher who was overly compassionate only made me feel more like an invalid. I found hope and well-being in being treated normally without coddling or denying that I had cancer. The difference is that authentic, open teaching starts with recognizing and acknowledging everyone’s emotions, not just the student’s hopes and fears.

How do cancer patients and survivors feel? It may not be obvious. Sometimes they bring fears and doubts about yoga planted by warnings from well-meaning doctors practicing traditional western medicine. But mostly they come with curiosity and a desire to know how and why yoga will help them be healthy and stay cancer-free. They come to yoga as people wanting again to feel whole and normal, not like cancer patients or survivors. They bring life challenges, not just cancer challenges.

Who’s the Teacher?

The reality is that some students will not make it. Teaching yoga to those touched by cancer always has the possibility that someone will not survive. A yoga teacher must be prepared to face that reality of cancer.

There is so much to learn from survivors and patients with a warrior pose. Living with fear helps make a warrior. It is the first lesson cancer teaches a survivor and being prepared for the uncertainty of their new life. Having worn the coat of a life-threatening diagnosis, practicing savasana, final resting pose, is no longer just an idea or an abstraction, but an unavoidable part of daily life. I believe this is the biggest difference in teaching yoga to cancer survivors: a life-threatening illness can help us all learn how to live fearlessly. It can become a shared goal for both the yoga teacher and student. If faced directly, cancer is everyone’s teacher.

The Similarities

The differences are more difficult to describe and, fortunately, fewer than the similarities of teaching yoga to non-survivors and non-patients. What are the similarities? For this yoga teacher, it is the most satisfying job I have ever had. It fills me with joy and gratitude to deliver yoga’s gifts to all students. The similarity is the privilege to witness the rejuvenation of each body, the transformation of stress to relaxation, the unfolding of the sense of well-being, the balancing of mind with body, and to see every one leave with that yoga glow.

Source: Body Local
*Statistic: Center For Disease Control And Prevention

Very Cherry Spring

Newark_cherry_blossomsNothing says spring more than the bud to bloom of the beloved Cherry Blossom Tree – with their elegant arrangement of flowers and endless color, these trees dance when a spring breeze catches their branches. As I found myself daydreaming about these amazing trees and anxiously awaiting their bounty of beauty, just then I realized with a hooray…that I would soon being seeing and walking among these magnificent trees. This year the blossoms are predicted to peak from April 3 – 6 and only lasting a few weeks, with this date fast approaching I penciled it in my calendar with a big exclamation mark. “Cherry Blossoms!! MUST SEE!!” All of sudden, I immediately found myself craving and thinking about my other beloved cherries. Now I know I’m getting ahead of myself as cherries aren’t in season till summer but I just couldn’t resist, and with cherries on my mind, in all forms, I blended up this delicious smoothie to go with my side of cherry blossom daydreaming. This decadent chocolatey smoothie makes the perfect treat to celebrate spring and it’s other “sister” – Cherry Blossom.


Chocolate Cherry Smoothie

1 1/4 cup cherries, frozen or fresh
1 1/2 cup almond milk
2 tsp. cacao powder
1 tsp. coconut nectar or honey
Small handful alfalfa sprouts
Dash of cinnamon

Blend all ingredients until smooth and enjoy.

Twist To Detox

Yoga twists are important poses to help aid the body in detoxification as they stimulate digestion and facilitate the elimination of impurities and waste products from the body. Circulation of blood and of lymph is also promoted. Taking a few minutes a day to yoga twists is extremely beneficial as they cleanse and refresh all our abdominal organs and the associated glands.

Think what happens when you wring out a sponge — the dirty water is forced out, and then the sponge can soak up clean water again. Twists work in a similar way. The abdominal organs are squeezed during twists, stimulating the kidneys and liver, and forcing out blood filled with metabolic by-products and toxins. When the twists are released, then fresh, clean blood enters these organs, bathing the cells in nutrients and oxygen.

Try this pose at any point during your day or evening and you’ll begin to feel the stagnate oxygen and toxins breakdown and release from your body make room for new blood and oxygen to enter the body. And always remember; find length through your spine on your inhale and twist on your exhale.

This week’s featured yoga pose is;

Half Lord Of The Fishes or Ardha Matsyendrasana


Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you, buttocks supported on a folded blanket. Bend your knees, put your feet on the floor, then slide your left foot under your right leg to the outside of your right hip. Lay the outside of the left leg on the floor. Step the right foot over the left leg and stand it on the floor outside your left hip. The right knee will point directly up at the ceiling.

Exhale and twist toward the inside of the right thigh. Press the right hand against the floor just behind your right buttock, and set your left upper arm on the outside of your right thigh near the knee. Pull your front torso and inner right thigh snugly together.

Press the inner right foot very actively into the floor, release the right groin, and lengthen the front torso. Lean the upper torso back slightly, against the shoulder blades, and continue to lengthen the tailbone into the floor.

You can turn your head in one of two directions: Continue the twist of the torso by turning it to the right; or counter the twist of the torso by turning it left and looking over the left shoulder at the right foot.

With every inhalation lift a little more through the sternum, pushing the fingers against the floor to help. Twist a little more with every exhalation. Be sure to distribute the twist evenly throughout the entire length of the spine; don’t concentrate it in the lower back. Stay for 30 seconds to 1 minute, then release with an exhalation, return to the starting position, and repeat to the left for the same length of time.

Directions and Photo: Yoga Journal.

Making Peace With Paradox

“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”
― Lao Tzu

Such a beautiful quote to remember as you move through each day. Where can you find softness and vulnerability in your life? Maybe it’s with a person, situation or possibly yourself? Wherever you may feel or sense rigidness, give in to it – loosen your grip, thoughts and judgements around it and start to find a sense of ease, pleasure and empowerment within this softness. Truth and beauty always come from one’s ability to open up, to truly open and give in to vulnerability. Embrace the paradoxes of life and while you may think of this as having or giving in to breakdown, it’s actually breakthrough.

Happy Passover!

With Passover beginning at sundown this evening, many families will be gathering around the table for their First Seder. This central ritual of Passover refers to the carefully ordered Passover dinner party where friends and family come together to remember and celebrate the exodus of the ancient Israelites from their slavery in Egypt. This dinner celebration, symbolizing freedom, typically involves many traditional foods and dishes such as matza, bitter herbs, gefilte fish, charoses, roasted or hard-bolied eggs, brisket, and of course wine.

With matza taking a central role this week, is typically consumed as custom and we thought it might be nice to share a recipe featuring this cracker-like bread. This recipe will keep your vegan, vegetarian, as well as jewish-italian guests happy at the table. To amp up the nutrition in this dish use whole wheat matza and finish your meal with a side of dried fruit as matza has low levels of fiber.

Vegetable Matzo Pie



  • Extra virgin olive oil (to taste)
  • 2 boxes (about 10 oz. each) matzo (more or less)
  • 2 lbs. cleaned Swiss chard or baby spinach
  • 2 lbs. artichoke hearts (frozen is ok)
  • 2 lbs. asparagus or mushroom, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 2 quarts cold vegetable broth (for soaking the matzo)
  • 3 eggs (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sugo d’arrosto Broth Ingredients

  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Garlic Cloves
  • Rosemary
  • Vegetable broth
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Vegetarian/Vegan Modifications: To make this recipe vegan/pareve, omit the eggs, use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth, and make the roast juice without meat (method appears at the end of this recipe).

  • Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  • Clean the vegetables, discarding the tougher parts of the artichokes and asparagus. Cut the asparagus into small pieces, slice the artichokes very thinly (if using frozen, partially defrost first), and chop the spinach.
  • Blanch the spinach for about 5 minutes in a covered pot with a few tablespoons of water (you can also do this in a covered platter in your microwave). Allow to cool down, then drain and squeeze the liquid out by pressing it into a colander in your sink.
  • Prepare three separate skillets on your stovetop, with at least 2 tablespoons of oil in each. Heat the oil and add 2 whole cloves of garlic to each skillet. Place the artichokes in one skillet, the asparagus or mushrooms in another, and the spinach in another.
  • Add 1/2 cup of white wine each to the artichokes and the asparagus/mushroom skillets and salt to taste. Turn heat on those two skillets to medium. Allow the vegetables to simmer in the wine till it evaporates.
  • Add 1/3 cup of water to the artichokes, and cover both the artichokes and the asparagus. Turn heat to low.
  • Salt the spinach skillet to taste (do not add any wine). Turn heat to low.
  • Cook all 3 vegetables separately on low heat until very moist and tender, adding some water if they start sticking to the skillet, or if they dry out. Cooking times may vary between 15 and 20 minutes.
  • Discard the garlic cloves and set the three vegetables aside. If they feel too dry, add a few tablespoons of broth.
  • Make sure you have some “sugo d’arrosto”* (roast juice) ready, or make some following my instructions at the bottom of this recipe.
  • Soak the matzahs in cold chicken broth. For a prettier result, soak them briefly (about 10 minutes), a few at a time, not allowing them to crumble (if you soak them for a short time, they might still split in 2, but they will be easy to “re-compose” in the pan). For a softer, kugel-like texture, soak the matzahs for at least 40 minutes until very soft, break them down with your hands into a “mush” and then squeeze the liquid out (some people prefer this texture and they don’t mind the fact that it looks less “pretty”).
  • Line the bottom of a baking pan with about ¼ of the soaked matzah. splitting some in ½ or 1/3 as needed to completely fill the perimeter.
  • Brush or drizzle with a little “sugo di arrosto” and with about 1/3 cup broth (if you mush the matzah you will need to use less broth; whole matzahs, more broth), and then layer most of the spinach (reserve about ¼ for the top); follow with a layer of matzah, a little more “sugo d’arrosto” and broth, and the artichokes (set aside ¼ of all the vegetables) ; again matzah, roast juice, broth, and the asparagus. You can just top with the asparagus or make a final layer of matzah and top with roast juice.
  • Break the eggs and whisk them with 1 cup leftover broth. Pour the mix over the pie slowly, trying to cover it evenly and allowing it to penetrate down the sides (if you are serving this dish as a side and prefer a lighter version, or if you are making a vegan modification, you can skip the eggs).
  • Bake for about 40-45 minutes. Half-way through the baking, check the pie, and if it feels too dry, add some more broth, concentrating it on the perimeter of the matzahs. You can also cover it with foil for the second half of the baking.

Be sure to check out The Shiksa In The Kitchen for more Passover and kosher recipes.

Mantra For Transformation

In honor of spring and the birth of a new season let’s take a moment to cultivate a new sense of self, transformation and soul-awakening. Just as mother nature nurses growth and re-birth around us, we too can foster a new beginning.

lord-shiva-PY43_lOm Namah Shivaya

This well-known mantra of the ancient Hindu tradition quite common and a powerful mantra for self transformation. As we repeat this mantra we call on Lord Shiva and our consciousness to free us from a constant tug and duality of our energetic beings and the three gunas – sattva, rajas and tamas. Repeating this mantra during mediation can help us become more clear of our internal truth and the truth that exists around us,  ultimately inviting a new awakening.

Start in a comfortable position, where you can remain quiet and still for a sufficient period of time, perhaps 20-30 minutes. Then, with your eyes closed, start to deepen your breath and invite a well-intentioned inhales and exhales. You can do this by bringing your awareness to the expansion of your belly on your inhales and then feel your belly sink down and in toward your spine on your exhales. Take 10-20 rounds of deep belly breathing like this and once your mind is quiet and body is soft very slowly and silently repeat the mantra to yourself several times, matching the flow of your breathing to the rhythmic phrasing of the mantra, until you’re in your desired meditative state. Once you’ve reached the state in which you wish to dwell, you can either continue repeating the mantra at your own pace, or transition back to your deep belly breathing.

As you move through your day come back to this mantra a few times and say it silently to yourself. Start to notice any subtle changes with your mood, mental state as well as body language and don’t be surprised if any ‘ah-ha’ moments pop up. It’s these delicious heart-opening moments that we seek and strive for throughout our day thus creating a deep connection to your internal truth and the truth and beauty that surrounds you.

Mantra from Spiritual Wisdom And Bhajans

Simple Spring Greens

The simpasparagus-breadcrumbs-lemon-zest-mbd107534_vertlicity of these spring recipes offer the perfect combination of easy-to-make and super deliciousness while perfectly highlighting, just as nature intended, the crisp earthy taste that asparagus and fiddlehead ferns have to offer.

With the change of season and a new abundance of produce at the farmers market this week – I just couldn’t resist both of these recipes. The first, Fiddlehead Fern And Potato Hash is a splendid marriage of winter heartiness from the potatoes combined with a crisp lightness from the ferns. Fiddlehead ferns are quite a delight, not only are they great for adding a touch of whimsy to your plate but they’re packed with vitamin A and C, which is good for our eye health as well as boosting our immune system.  The flavor is somewhere between green beans and asparagus, so I’m sure they’ll appease anyone’s palate.

The other recipe, Asparagus With Breadcrumbs and Lemon Zest says it all, this extremely simple, light, healthy, and fresh dish is all that spring stands for. There’s nothing better than a crisp earthy bite from one of these green spears, and the health benefits to these pretty spears should not be overlooked. Asparagus are rich in vitamin K, which is important for bone health, as well as folate, which helps maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

Fiddlehead Fern And Potato Hash


This makes for a great side dish or a stand alone meal when paired with a poached egg.

  • Coarse salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 pounds small potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 1/2 pound fiddlehead ferns, cleaned and trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced


  1. In a medium pot of salted water, bring potatoes to a boil and cook until knife-tender, about 8 minutes. Add fiddleheads and cook until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat and cook shallot until golden, about 2 minutes. Add potatoes and fiddleheads and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.


Asparagus With Breadcrumbs and Lemon Zest

  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed (about 1 pound)
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Coarse salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup coarse breadcrumbs (from 2 slices whole-wheat bread pulsed in a food processor)
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle asparagus with oil, turning to coat, and season with salt and pepper. Roast, shaking sheet once, until asparagus is crisp-tender and tips are golden, 12 to 14 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, warm butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add breadcrumbs and stir until toasted. Season with salt and stir in lemon zest. To serve, top asparagus with breadcrumbs.


For more healthy spring recipes visit Whole Living.