Two new services for cancer patients and survivors will soon be available through the Jewish Community Center.
“So much of a cancer journey is dictated by the medical community but these are two complementary services they can control and they can own and do for themselves,” said Debbi Braunstein, Sharsheret Program Director at the J.
Starting Monday, a six-week yoga class specifically aimed at those who have or are recovering from cancer will get underway. A separate program offering massage services geared toward the same population has already been up and running since late last year.
Braunstein said both initiatives grew out of her work with Sharsheret, a group that helps women with breast and ovarian cancer. She notes that the idea is to ensure that services can be provided while keeping in mind the possible limitations and physical difficulties an individual with cancer might face. For instance, surgery or chemotherapy can create challenges in mobility or strength.
“With oncology massage, really what you are getting is a massage from people that are trained to know what questions to ask and make the appropriate modifications for the individual so it is a safe massage,” she said.
She said that her own mother received massage during the latter stages of her life with cancer and indicated that the treatment was rewarding.
Braunstein said that the services have the potential to help decrease fatigue, improve sleep and reduce pain, stress, nausea and anxiety.
“It just improves [a person’s] overall wellbeing because they are feeling more in control,” she said.
Braunstein said the classes are also open to those who have recovered from the illness.
“When you go through a cancer treatment, you are getting both short-term and long-term effects,” she said. “Even though you may be done with your treatment, you are still feeling the ramifications of everything your body has gone through.”
She feels the educational component is about more than just yoga.
“Not only is it teaching them a practice but it is also a community for these individuals,” she said. “They can walk into a room and everyone there gets it. Everyone there understands it. It is almost like a support group in a way.”
Emily Steinberg, who has taught yoga at the J since 2007, agrees.
“Probably what’s most valuable is creating community,” said Steinberg, one of two instructors who will be leading the classes. “Being able to do the physical practice of yoga has an incredible amount of benefit for anyone but definitely for someone going through cancer.”
While Steinberg has not had the disease herself, she is a carrier of a BRCA1 gene mutation, which prompted her to opt for preventative surgery to lower her risk. She supported her mother through five bouts of cancer over the course of two decades.
She feels that the practice of yoga can support the lymphatic and immune systems.
“There are the emotional benefits which are equally important, calming the nervous system down, helping to manage anxiety, depression, helping improve sleep,” she said.
Steinberg said that effects from cancer and its treatments may mean the modification or avoidance of certain yoga poses. Those with fragile bones, for instance, may wish to eliminate exercises that flex the spine or use caution with inversions.
Yoga4Cancer, the methodology in which the program’s instructors are trained, was developed by Tari Prinster, a cancer survivor and master yoga teacher who authored a book on the technique.
“It’s a softer practice, a slower practice, a more mindful practice,” Steinberg said. “There are more modifications because we’re going to understand people are dealing with a lot more physical issues.”
Participants will be able to engage with the classes at whatever level they are able.
“There is an understanding that you come and just do what you can,” Steinberg said.
She said that she thinks people are already hearing about the new offerings.
“I think this is already out there and I think it is just one more way we can be supporting people that are going through really challenging times,” Steinberg said. “I’m excited to see this grow and be of service to people in this way.”
The yoga classes are $75 for a six-week session but the rate drops to $50 for J members. The national Sharsheret organization may provide subsidies for qualifying individuals.
Oncology massages are available for $70 an hour.
To learn more, contact Debbi Braunstein at 314-442-3266 or visit jccstl.com/fitness-recreation/fitness/oncology-massage-yoga.