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The coronavirus has brought me home, literally and figuratively. What is it teaching you?

“Illness is a shortcut”, my yoga teacher told me, one day.

I am seeing how much Aline was right as the pandemic–and the lockdown that has gone along with it—makes many of us re-consider the things that are not quite working for us—whether it’s our health, a job, a relationship, or just the way we deal with a specific situation.

I have been affected by the coronavirus, too.

Mid-March, shortly before Georgians were told to “shelter-in-place”, my boyfriend at the time convinced me to leave my apartment in Atlanta where I live and to drive to stay with him in North Georgia. Love, six acres of land and a vegetable garden motivated me to pack and go.

There was another deeper motivation—the need to be heard and accepted, to find a nest where I could feel safe and secure. Something that I have longed for, all my life.

In short, that day in March, I was driving to paradise.

In the course of three weeks, I realized that, as beautiful as this paradise was, it was his paradise. I felt who I was didn’t fit in. I caught myself saying“yes” when really my soul meant “no”, too often. I was compromising my integrity.

In the end, I chose to say “no”. I chose to confront my fear of being rejected. That’s quite an accomplishment for someone who has constantly tried to meet the expectations and desires of others. 

I also chose to confront the fear of driving through a locked down Georgia and Atlanta, in the midst of the pandemic.

I drove back home feeling peaceful. “Safe in integrity”, said my friend Roy.

Since then, I have been doing something I have never done before. I have been busy creating my own paradise.

Whether it’s practicing yoga, re-arranging my office, re-planting, bonding with family and friends in new ways, teaching French and yoga therapy, occupying my blog again, cooking, you name it, I am rooting in my own nest. Feeling safe. What I have been searching outside of myself for decades, has been inside all along.

I live in integrity. I feel it in my body. What better thing could I do to protect myself from a life-threatening disease?


The Wounded Healer

Doctors, therapists… we’re all “wounded healers” since Greek mythology. I personally relate to those words as I feel both intimately as a wounded person and a healer.

My friend Randy Spiers, an astrologer, was the first to tell me about the idea of the “wounded healer”.

The psychologist Carl C. Jung, who looked into archetypes, came up with the concept of the “wounded healer” to describe a phenomenon that may take place between a physician and his patient, a healer and his client. Jung went back to Greek mythology to find its origin.

Chiron was a god, a centaur, a half-man horse. He was knowledgeable, peaceful and gentle. He was also a revered teacher, known for his skill in medicine. The myth says Chiron was wounded accidentally by Heracles’s poisoned arrow. Chiron didn’t die. Instead, he suffered excruciating pain for the rest of his life. He continued to heal the sickly and the injured until he was given the opportunity to become mortal, and died. It was because of Chiron’s wound that he became known as a legendary healer.

As a cancer survivor and a yoga therapist, I am a wounded healer too.

Five years ago, I started exploring my wound. I was coming out of my second breast cancer. I needed to understand the disease. What was it saying to me? In the process I searched my childhood years. My mother was in a depression that doctors thought they could “cure” with Valium. My father was unavailable, working hard pulling his family out of financial distress. Meanwhile, I was left unseen and unheard.

An Irrepressible Need To Be Seen

That left a powerful footprint in me. Just like any other human being, I had an irrepressible need to be seen, to be heard. I realized that, in order to be seen, I had developed a strategy–I gave abundantly. I gave to classmates, family, life partners, friends, clients, whomever. I gave to the point of exhaustion, of illness.

That’s how two breast cancers broke into my life, ten years apart. The first one immerged after I put an end to an abusive relationship of ten years.

Then, I crossed the ocean to start anew.

Because I believed—and still do—in a life together, I got married. There again, I was unseen. I had the immense courage to leave the relationship.

I gave up an established career as a corporate journalist to create my own yoga therapy practice. I poured everything that I had learned from my own healing journey into my practice. For once, I felt seen.

The way has been marked with other losses.

Since my first cancer, it’s been a gigantic healing journey. Every step of this voyage has had, and still has, one purpose—to be seen and heard. It’s my commitment, it’s my journey as a human and a healer.

Sources:
The Wounded Healer as Cultural Archetype (Purdue University)
The Wounded Healer: A Jugian Perspective (jungatlanta.com)



The Five-Year Mark

Time to reflect on how the past five years, since my second cancer, have left their footprint in my life. With one big lesson learned—my own needs are as valuable as others’.

Five years ago, I was diagnosed with my second breast cancer. Once again, I was terrified, face to face with my mortality. Thank God, life, the universe or whatever you want to call that higher power, I have been in remission ever since.

This second time, cancer has changed me in a deeper way than the first time. The change didn’t occur in my lifestyle habits. I changed the way I ate, relaxed, exercised, and lived fifteen years ago after my first cancer, and I have maintained these habits ever since. Instead, this recurrence has transformed me at the soul level.

Looking back at these five years, I see a long, devious road of learning something that I have discovered to be crucial to my wellbeing—the immense power of valuing my needs. There is a reason for that. I used to put others’ needs before mine—always. As a matter of fact, to me, cancer people have that common characteristic–they put others’ needs before their own.

Back to my long, devious road.

In 2014, I realized I had helped my husband to fulfill his dream—to buy a house—which had nothing to do with my own—to be seen by the man I loved. We ended up with a house and unable to connect. We divorced. Two years later, I gave up my 25-year career as a corporate journalist. Having a “title” and a good professional status were actually my father’s need, not mine. Then, the time came when I said “no” for the first time to friends who were used to me being present for them and saying “yes” whatever my circumstances. The time also came to say “yes” to more play. I started dancing–a life-long dream–and have brought contra dance, zydeco, salsa and blues into my life since then.

This past year, I have stepped in a new relationship. More than anything, this relationship has tested my ability to value my needs, not only my lover’s. I’m getting there. The next step will—hopefully, maybe–be to find a balance between the two of us.

Several things have been vital to walk this long, devious road, like listening to myself thanks to my own yoga practice, and people who see me and who listen–I mean who really listen like those in my Non-Violent Communication group. Cheers to the next five years.

What Does Your Resurrection Look Like?

I asked a question to my students at the end of my weekly 105 min-yoga therapy class, the other day. It was right after the week-end of Easter and Passover.

I’m asking you the same question–What does your resurrection look like after these winter months?

In other words, what are you emerging from? What has changed in you? What have you learned about yourself? What have you left behind? What have you picked up? Who is the new “you”, who are you becoming and how do you feel about this new version of you?

It may be worth to stop everything you do right now, to pause and reflect. At the very least, you’ll become aware of what and how much you have experienced. I bet it’s huge.

My Life As A Yoga Therapist In A Cancer Conference

I cruised a 3-day nationwide conference for psychologists and social workers who help cancer people get better spiritually, emotionally, socially and financially. Yoga therapy fits in.

Last month, a couple therapist talked at the annual conference of the American Psychosocial Oncology Society (APOS) that was hosted in Atlanta, about how a gay couple addressed cancer. “Go on with your life. Find someone who is not damaged and broken,” said the prostate cancer patient to his partner. The disease brought them together and they ended up getting married.

I registered at the conference as a yoga therapist who is also a two-time cancer survivor. The experience was eye-opening.

I was with 200 psychologists, social workers, nurses and researchers from around the country who work with cancer people. Their goal is to answer one question–“How do we help people with cancer?”

I believe I was the only yoga therapist at the conference. “It’s good to be the first one,” a psychologist from Vermont told me.

Probably. Hopefully.

I learned that I’m one of 15.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. I also learned that a “tsunami of cancer is about to confront us” according to Richard Wender, MD from the American Cancer Society, mainly due to the aging of the population.

More cancer patients mean more cancer survivors—thanks partly to progress in medical treatments. Depression, anxiety and fatigue are real and persistent among survivors. So, wellness matters to them.

Great. That’s where I can help.

Fifteen years ago, medical doctors started inviting psychologists and social workers at the table. Today, these psychologists and social workers want to engage with and bring other healthcare and wellness providers at the table like… yoga therapists.

So they say, anyway.

A presenter’s slide featured this quote tagged on a wall in Jerusalem: “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.”

Well, I have a vision. I visualize Yoga for Renewal classes offered in a cancer wellness center, maybe several centers, as part of a program “to help patients re-engage back into their lives,” as Barbara Jones, Ph.D., MSW, the closing keynote speaker, said. I may have found the right people to talk to.

Lisa Shea, art therapist (left) and Pat Eden, music therapist (center), work for the Psychosocial Oncology Program at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, OH. Lisa and Pat guide the cancer patients who choose to, to make art or sing during their chemo sessions. I asked them what does this change in a patient’s experience. “Everything,” answered Lisa.

A Place To Be Reborn

Atlanta has one of the best cancer wellness centers in the country. As a survivor, I have attended their classes and been blown away by the patients’ creativity and aliveness.

I found out about the Piedmont Cancer Wellness Center in Atlanta, this past autumn, while I was looking to teach yoga therapy to cancer patients. With that goal in mind, I met the manager, Carolyn Helmer. She suggested that I, as a survivor myself, start by attending classes and workshops to get a vibe of the place, the people who look to the center for support, as well as the healers and the teachers in the support team.

I was a little annoyed by the idea. I was passionate about teaching yoga therapy to anyone affected by cancer. Nevertheless, I wanted nothing else to do with people looking like zombies.

I met people who were dealing or had dealt with breast cancer, lung cancer, brain cancer, pancreatic cancer. You name it.

I also came across something I didn’t expect—aliveness.

I attended soul collage sessions, yoga classes and personal development workshops. We all shared a common experience–The experience of facing or of having faced, at some point in our lives, the effects of a life-threatening disease.

During a lunch break, I talked with Cookie, a woman who had had pancreatic cancer seven years before, now in full remission. I had noticed her witty look and remarks during the class. “If it wasn’t for this place, I wouldn’t be alive today,” she told me.

During a workshop on how to cultivate self-care, the counselor asked us to come together in groups of three and brainstorm to write our own quote on self-care. Adele, Elizabeth and I were ecstatic with our quote: “Drop the mask of perfection and replace it with authenticity. Allow the development of creativity and reach for the unknown”.

After the workshop, I left the center and took the elevator to the building’s lobby. Suddenly, I stopped walking. I became aware that people I came across—employees, visitors, etc.–looked dull and drained. A thought came to my mind. I had just spent three hours with a bunch of cancer people who looked more alive than the “healthy” people. I smiled while realizing that, after all, I liked the zombies.


The visual at the top of the page is a card I created during a soul collage session at the center on Jan. 5, 2019. The card is titled “I See You”.