LISLE – On her fifth anniversary of being breast cancer-free, Winfield resident Liz Lee made sure she went to her yoga class so she could celebrate with her fellow survivors and instructor Amy Merritt.
Lee, 48, had been taking Merritt’s Yoga for Cancer Survivors class at the Cadence Cancer Center in Warrenville during her treatment and recovery, and said the class “definitely” helped her recovery, both physically and emotionally.
“I felt weak when I was going through treatment, but yoga made me feel stronger, both while I was in class and after each class," Lee said. "I was stronger with each experience."
Merritt, 51, now is teaching Yoga for Cancer Survivors from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. every Wednesday at Prairie Yoga Studio in Lisle. It’s open to cancer survivors and their caregivers.
Merritt tailors the class specifically to the needs of that population by modifying the poses and avoiding poses that are too weight-bearing.
“It’s more of a gentle yoga class, and the breathing and meditation can be very centering,” she said. “Yoga is a way for them to reconnect with their bodies, and it’s been proven to lower blood pressure, and it also reduces stress and tension.”
Lori Gaspar, owner of Prairie Yoga, said Merritt has undergone advanced training to work with special populations, so she knows what poses to avoid when working with cancer survivors.
“Sometimes you have to avoid strength training for the upper body, and the instructors won’t push students strength-wise," she said. "They know to slowly build up their strength."
Another important difference in this class is that caregivers are encouraged to attend, Merritt said. She believes they also need to reduce the stress of caring for their sick relative or friend.
“They often don’t take care of themselves. We want to include caregivers and give them the health benefits because if you take care of yourself, you’ll be a better caregiver,” she said.
The most important aspect of a class like this is the psychological benefits the participants receive, Gaspar said.
“This class is a place to go to feel supported, to get a sense of community and to reclaim their body and develop a positive health image,” she said.
Merritt agreed, saying her class was a place where the participants could “find their new normal.”
“They have a connection with others, so they don’t feel so alone,” she said.
Merritt said she’s been interested in working with cancer patients because her brother was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer when she was in middle school. She said the class is “close to her heart,” and she jumped at the opportunity to teach it at Prairie Yoga when Gaspar offered it to her.
“I know what it’s like to be affected by cancer,” Merritt said. “[Cancer patients are] so open to trying new things to make themselves feel better.”
Gaspar had been hoping to offer a class for survivors, and she finally is able to do so because a second studio was recently added to Prairie Yoga, so they now have the space for more classes, she said.
“My family has been affected by cancer, and I’ve seen its effects,” Gaspar said. “This is a service to my community, and we’re helping people who need it. Yoga can help this population at so many levels, and we can now reach more people.”
Lee said for her, the class went far beyond the physical benefits. She was able to look into the eyes of strangers and know they were all caring for each other, she said.
“I had a lot of support from my family, but they still didn’t get it,” Lee said. “In class, I was with people who were going through the same thing, so we had an immediate bond. They got it.”
For more information on Yoga for Cancer Survivors, contact Prairie Yoga at 630-968-3216 or firstname.lastname@example.org.