We were so fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Michelle Robbins from YogaBear.org last week. She is the founder of the Yoga Healing Project; a program that expands yoga programs in hospitals across the U.S. to help cancer patients. Here she discusses all of the benefits of yoga and the importance of involving restorative yoga in the lives of patients.
Transcript: Yoga for the Cancer Patient
Rachel Gilner: We would like to thank Michelle Robbins from the YogaBear.org website. She's here with us to talk a little bit today about the program she founded: The Healing Yoga Project. Hi, Michelle. Can you tell us a little bit about the healing yoga project and why you started it?
Michelle Robbins: The healing yoga project is pretty simple. It's bringing yoga classes to the people who need it the most in the cancer society. Survivors are important but what about those who are getting treatment? Those who can't make it outside those cancer facilities to go out in the public? So we decided to bring yoga classes directly to the cancer centers at their convenience. The reason I started it was because I moved to New York City in 2006 to help take care of my aunt who was dying of cancer, and she was actually really into yoga and wanted to partake in yoga at the hospital she was getting treated at. But they were charging $25 per class, and I just thought that was ludicrous. So I wanted to create a program that would enable people to come to these classes for free, because this should be an alternative therapy that should be offered for free.
Rachel: So there is no charge for patients at any of the hospitals or cancer centers?
Michelle: For patients, no. We do, however, charge hospitals for having this program, because we provide supplies and we also provide highly trained instructors.
Rachel: As per instructor training, is there any specific qualifications or training they do have to undergo to be certified for your program?
Michelle: That's a very good question. So most instructors have a 200-hour certificate that you can get in most yoga studios. And on top of that, they would have to do an additional training that certifies them to work specifically with cancer patients.
Rachel: And how do the instructors get placed or matched up into the different centers?
Michelle: One of our advisors at YogaBear, her name is Tari Prinster, she is actually the lead instructor for the Cancer Survivor training class. So I go straight to the source of the women is training all these instructors and after they graduate she refers them to me than we do placements that way.
Rachel: Now for hospitals that might be interested in bringing in the healing project, what are some things that they would look for in any type of program involving yoga or breathing for their patients?
Michelle: You really have to take into count the population. That's really important, because a lot of hospitals in certain areas will not even go for it because they will think the population won't want it. Hospitals should really look into all different kinds of programs. They have aerobic programs, they have cooking classes. You can have yoga, you can have Reiki. There are so many different types. Hospitals should try really all different kinds and see what their specific population is into and then go invest their money that way.
Rachel: So for people who are interested in investing in Yoga realm of the treatment and therapy, what are some of the benefits of yoga and breathing for the cancer patients themselves?
Michelle: There is such a tremendous list, so I'll try to make it more or less short. I'm a nurse , so from a health perspective it can decrease your blood pressure, slow your pulse rate, improve your circulation, improve your respiratory rate by lowering it, making your lungs work more efficiently. It improves your cardiovascular endurance. When you do yoga, you are massaging your organs. You're increasing your GI motility. It's great for your immune system. And then on the outside it helps with aging. Yoga has been known to be a detoxification process and improves strength and energy, decreases weight. There are just so many a different benefit to it. And then obviously psychologically it improves your mood, it reduces stress and anxiety and depression, and the benefits are endless.
Rachel: Michelle, I have to ask: I have done yoga before and it is a pretty big risk. What type of changes are made for this restorative type of yoga to make it more therapeutic for the cancer patients?
Michelle: Most people will assume that yoga for cancer patients is really gentle, and you sit in a chair and you lift your arm up a little bit and you're not really moving or breaking a sweat. That is actually incorrect. The way that this is designed is to get these people on the ground up and down again. She has them do all different kinds of positions that you would do in a normal yoga class. Of course, these instructors are privy to all the information on all these patients and what they are going through what treatments they have, if they have ports, if they have scars. If they have limitations obviously we will obey by those. But they try to get them moving as much as possible. The instructors don't want them feeling like this is a special class to slow them down because they are sick. This is more of an empowerment class, in a safe way to get them to do as much movement as possible in order to help them recover.
Rachel: So if they do have physical limitations, they are still able to still able to participate in some other manner?
Michelle: Absolutely. The yoga instructors will provide other types of positions that they can do in place of maybe what the rest of the class is doing.
Rachel: Can you tell me the average class and what goes on during a normal class?
Michelle: In most of our hospital centers, we have about 15 to about 30 people. It just depends on the day or the hospital. When you come in, there is a sense of community right away. People are getting together, they're talking, they are sharing stories. The instructor will come in. It's not just a class where you just start practicing yoga. They discuss what's going on in their life. They discuss the cancer discuss all these other issues. They bring it to the table. It's not a class where they escape. It's where they all come together to share each other's stories and grow together and practice yoga as their own small community.
Rachel: What type of feedback have you gotten from patients?
Michelle: We've heard amazing stories. People have said they have gotten their grove back. They are able to stretch in ways they haven't been able to stretch before. They have even been able to start running, some people. Emotionally, a lot of them have felt a lot less anxious a lot less depressed. They have a better outlook on life. They feel that yoga is giving them something to do in a positive light despite all the other bad things that may be going on with treatment. Physically it's helped, psychologically it's helped and emotionally it's helped. So I think we are doing our job.
Rachel: Now for any hospitals that want to be involved in this program, how would you recommend they go about it?
Michelle: The best way for a hospital to get involved would be to contact me. I'm on the Yoga Bear website, and there is a link for the Healing Yoga Project and easy access. I'm than happy to give any hospital more information about our program.
Rachel: Thank you so much for all of your time. It was very informative for every patient out there. We look forward to working with you in the future.