Have you ever wanted to learn the ways of meditation and relaxation before, but perhaps you’ve already tried to do so once or twice, and it just “didn’t work?” Maybe you sat down, closed your eyes, and tried to clear your mind, but thoughts just kept racing by? Well I’ll admit that this scenario has happened to me one too many times, leaving me frustrated and a bit more agitated than before, clearly not what I was intending. However, this time was completely different. “Why?” you may ask. Well I’d like to attribute it to the peacefulness of the audience, the calm atmosphere in the room, and mostly to the amazing, passionate yoga therapist Michelle Stortz who taught and led a wonderful hour-long yoga session at Cancervention.
Michelle Stortz is certified in Yoga Therapy for Cancer and Chronic Illness, and focuses her classes on mind-body wellness exercises. Understanding the limitations of people who are undergoing treatment and recovering, Stortz makes adaptations to classic yoga poses, altering them to be done while seated. We started off the session in chairs, learning some postures and gentle movements, all the while focusing on our breathing techniques – in particular diaphragmatic breathing or better known as belly breathing. As we learned different poses, Stortz interjected with a discussion of the physiological mechanisms and benefits of yoga, such as decreased pain and anxiety.
A beautiful moment occurred when we all together rose to assume the warrior pose, a strong and powerful one – everyone’s hands extended like blades in opposing directions as if to conquer the challenges that lie ahead like those challenges we’ve conquered before. Shortly after, we concluded the session with what was perhaps the most soothing and tranquil yoga experience I’ve had. After exerting our body through the many poses, we ended our time together assuming shavasana, an asana meaning, “posture” or “seat.” As we sat still, focusing on counting our breaths in and out, our bodies were given the chance to regroup and reset. I found myself slowly beginning to lose count of my breaths, entering the most peaceful 3 minutes I’ve had in a long time – it was a sensation I hadn’t really experienced before, it was a silencing of my thoughts, and a stillness of my mind that was to say the least, refreshing and very welcoming.
Our session was the perfect mix of physical strength exercise and meditation – emphasizing the mind-body connection, which Stortz strives to pass on. Perhaps you feel like you missed out and can’t wait to experience the benefits of yoga? Well, don’t worry, Michelle Stortz teaches a variety of classes throughout the Philly area (Fox Chase Cancer Center, Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, The Cancer Support Community of Philadelphia, Old Pine Community Center, and Jefferson University Hospital) and even offers private classes. For more information check out her website, www.michellestortz.com.
–Workshop recounted by Sarah Mann