Deeply honoured to guide this lady in her practice.
When her daughter contacted me for class, I was so touched that she thought of a yoga practice as a gift to her mum who is living with cancer, a stoma and weekly hospital visits.
What is a stoma? A stoma is an opening on the abdomen that can be connected to either your digestive or urinary system to allow waste to be diverted out of your body.
What kind of yoga does one teach to a student with a stoma?
These words from Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen should be read by every yoga teacher, physiotherapist and body worker. She writes:
"The first thing for me when I put my hands on someone
Is to forget everything I know.
If I know something,
That is what I'm going to find
And I might miss
What is actually there."
Although my student was seeking relief from a stiff neck, shoulders and back - common issues that I've worked with - I have to be extra careful with her. The area around her stoma is tender: any stretch that is too much may cause it to tear. Even seemingly gentle movements like raising her arms overhead have to be done with care. At every moment, I am attending to her breathing, her energy, looking out for any signs of tension or discomfort as we ease her body into different shapes.
In the second picture, you can see I placed a Pound Puppy on her abdomen. We were practising in her living room and I'd taken apart her couch to use as yoga props. I had spied the Pound Puppy earlier. Its logo was threadbare, its long ears faded from years of sitting in a sunny spot. I decided it would be the perfect size and weight to place on her body (my Manduka blocks which I'd brought were too hard and angular). As her breathing tends to be shallow, the light pressure of the Puppy kept her awareness on the movement of her breath in and out of her body.
In the third picture, you can see I fastened a strap around her mid-thighs. The reason was because I had noticed that whenever she was on her back, she tended to keep her knees bent. I surmised that this position felt safer for her as straightening her legs was likely stretching her stoma in a painful way. After some time, I also noticed that as she progressively relaxed, she had to "catch" her knees from falling outward - as one might catch oneself from nodding off to sleep. When I looped the strap around her legs, I told her to relax her legs outward into the strap. The support of the strap holding her legs would allow her lower body muscles - including her belly - to soften and relax.
Before I touch my student or place a prop on them, I say what I am going to do, so that the touch will not upset their nervous system. This also gives them the chance to say: "No, I don't want that," or to ask any questions they might have. When I showed her the Pound Puppy, she broke into a soft smile.
Thank you to my student who teaches me to forget everything I know and lets me be guided by the wisdom of her body.