Farzaneh Noori teaches Therapeutic Yoga for Cancer
Yoga teacher, Yoga House Pasadena co-founder and co-owner Farzaneh Noori thought the following when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, “I was shocked. I thought, ‘Here I am with a healthful lifestyle, a strict regimen of advanced yoga, daily meditation and a simple, wholesome diet–how could I have cancer?’ Once I got over the disbelief, my attention turned to how I could deal with this and move forward.”
Throughout 2010, Farzaneh Noori was immersed in the process of cancer treatment, which for her included a bilateral mastectomy and a course of radiation. During that time her body went through myriad changes, so much so that she says, “At first I felt like I couldn’t do anything.” The feeling in her arm was affected, it was often numb, and her typical range of motion had decreased dramatically. Yet, practice still offered solace, however modified. “I never stopped doing yoga, but I started working with it differently, incorporating more restorative practices to restore the range of motion. And I used the breathing and pranayama practices to calm myself down.”
The use of simple practices to cultivate equilibrium for people with a cancer diagnosis and/or going through treatment cannot be underestimated. As Farzaneh says, “Until I went through it myself, I didn’t realize just how much fear can come up and just how significant anxiety can be for people going through this kind of dramatic event in their lives.” She sees it in others, too, “When a novice someone comes into a yoga class for the first time, I immediately notice the fear in their eyes,” Farzaneh says, “My family and friends were really present for me, which was a blessing,but yoga was there as a restorative practice beyond medication.” When she was in the hospital throughout her surgeries, even when she couldn’t move her torso at all, she incorporated whatever yoga she could, including meditation, the breath, and even flexing and pointing her feet, to prevent stagnation and move prana, the subtle energy of the body.
When Farzaneh wondered, “How do people who don’t have yoga in their lives deal with this?” she took action. Supported in the idea by Yoga House Pasadena co-founder and co-owner Bruce Schwartz, she introduced weekly Therapeutic Yoga for Cancer classes at the studio with six students in February 2012.
In the beginning, she put up flyers at cancer treatment centers in the Pasadena area. Now, between 25-30 students consistently attend the free weekly class, students who are often referred by their oncologists or surgeons. In fact, Farzaneh says that her medical team was so impressed with the speed and quality of her own recovery as a result of yoga that they now send their patients to the class. The Wednesday 11am class is offered free-of-charge in recognition of their increased individual and family financial burden.
One way to lift this burden (even energetically) is through a practice that, as Farzaneh says, allows people a breath of fresh air—literally. She frequently begins class with a long restorative pose accompanied by instructions in pranayama or breathing techniques. The idea is to encourage people to connect to an internal peaceful rhythm rather than ending up being pushed around by anxiety and fear. Through the breath practice, Farzaneh’s intention is to guide people to find the place of internal equanimity, loving-kindness, joy, and compassion. This experience allows people to feel the truth of their being, that they are more than their physical body, although that is also an important part of Farzaneh’s practice. Her sequencing of yoga poses is designed to address the effects of lymphedema and neuropathy. Farzaneh’s hope is that during class students can reach within themselves and find the serenity that will give them strength throughout their course of treatment.
The serenity and strength can also come from the opportunity to be in community with people going through a similar experience who are able to support each other in the process of healing.
Yoga can also help people who are going through cancer treatment manage their own energy. At best, people may be fatigued; more likely, they are exhausted. Farzaneh says that after receiving radiation, her energy would be sapped, and she would find herself laying down in savasana (supine relaxation) and meditating on the energy within herself. Even with yoga, Farzaneh said it took her two years for her energy to come back to the level it was before cancer treatment. She encourages people to do what they can and to be present to what is.
Something happens when people are in the present moment. At the end of class, Farzaneh notes the calm in the eyes that were once fearful. It is a present-moment experience that she says is her greatest reward as a teacher.
Farzaneh reports that students plan their week around the class. For her, she says teaching this on an ongoing basis is both a tangible reflection of her gratitude as well as a rewarding practice that helps her to grow as a teacher.
When Farzeneh speaks both about being cancer-free and the community at Yoga House, she often repeats the word “gratitude.”
Her love of introducing people to the practice in moments that are meaningful for them stems in part from the impact yoga made in her own life. She took her very first yoga class at what was at the time Center for Yoga on Larchmont Avenue in Los Angeles, and she laughs when she says it was, “so many years ago” when she was pregnant with her daughter.
Her daughter is now 27 and Farzaneh remains hooked on the practice. Yoga not only helped her during her pregnancy; Farzaneh says that yoga helped her find a sense of her own balance, particularly straddling two cultures as a Persian woman living in Los Angeles. And, whatever her students’ stories, whatever they are seeking to find within themselves that they may not even know they are seeking, Farzaneh serves as a compassionate guide.
For more information on Farzaneh Noori and the Therapeutic Yoga for Cancer program at Yoga House in Pasadena, visit yogahouse.com.