Featuring Marget Braun, a teacher of yoga for cancer survivors.
For many people, finishing medical treatment for cancer isn’t so much a return to the old life as the beginning of a new one.
“It’s almost like you die and you’re reborn,” says Marget Braun, a yoga teacher, cancer education activist, and cancer survivor. “There’s a sense of celebration, and there’s also a sense of ‘What now? How do I support this new person that I am?’”
Marget’s answer is: yoga. She calls it “cancer rehab.” “I believe yoga gives people the skills, the hope, and the social support to function at their highest level,” she says. “Yoga was central to my healing after cancer.”
Soon after she began practicing yoga at age 19, Marget was diagnosed with a cancer caused by in-utero exposure to DES, a synthetic hormone prescribed to millions of pregnant women in the U.S. and Europe. After successfully completing her treatment, Marget cofounded and directed the national DES Cancer Network, a cancer education organization, and wrote a book, DES Stories, about those affected by the drug. She also consulted on medical research and outreach for the National Cancer Institute, while simultaneously training as a yoga teacher and life coach.
Marget has been teaching yoga for 25 years now, and has found ways to combine her passions. Last year she was the yoga consultant to an NIH grant, investigating the effect of yoga on cancer survivors with sleep disturbances. Last year she was awarded a Teaching for Diversity grant from Kripalu that supported a 23-week program of classes at Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, where Marget teaches yoga to college students. Her Kripalu-funded program targeted cancer survivorsor, as Marget calls them, “cancer surpassers.”
Her yoga program for this population focuses on fundamental postures and breathing. “It’s about ‘How can I function at my highest level of health after cancer? What are the tools at my disposal, and how can I come home to my body?’” Marget says.
Teaching modifications is essential, she says, so students can practice a pose to the best of their ability. Some students have lost organs and functioning to cancer; others deal with limited range of motion, pain, or fatigue. Secondary effects are often a consequence of cancer treatment. “Yoga is therapy,” Marget says, “The pumping and squeezing effect of yoga and the inversions are excellent for stimulating lymphatics and healing adhesions from scar tissue.” Marget also includes a coaching element in her classes, with a talking circle in which students can reflect on what’s working for them.
Marget got the word out about her series for cancer survivors through classified ads, press releases, website postings, and flyers donated by a local graphic artist. “It’s an honor to receive this grant and to be given the trust of carrying it out,” Marget says. “I felt a responsibility to publicize the program as much as possible so the grant money would be well used, and also to let people know about Kripalu and the Teaching for Diversity grants.” Two local television stations picked up the story and taped footage of her classes for the evening news.
Two dozen students attended the series, ranging in age from 22 to 78; only a quarter of them had practiced yoga before. After the first class, a quiet woman in her seventies said, “For the first time since I had cancer I let myself soften and feel the grief.” One woman in her fifties who had undergone chemo and radiation therapy for breast cancer said, “The physicality of the yoga pushed my boundaries and I gained confidence and strength.” “Yoga draws me into my center so I get in touch with what’s going on inside,” said a man in his thirties recovering from blood cancer. Another student’s comment had everyone laughing in agreement. “This yoga is for cancer survivors who don't identify ourselves as cancer survivors,” he said.
“After cancer you know you’ve got to take good care of yourself,” says Marget, “but how? You’re on your own, graduated from medical treatment and the people who took care of you. You’ve got to build your own life support system, and yoga is the perfect system because it’s a technology of carea practice of long-term care.”
Learn more about Marget online at www.yogacara.org.
The Teaching for Diversity Program provides grants and scholarships to members of the Kripalu Yoga Teachers Association (KYTA) and the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT). Members receive grants and scholarships to teach in disadvantaged schools or to diverse populations such as ethnic minorities and those who are socially, economically, or physically challenged. Through the Rachel Greene Memorial Fund, established in memory of yoga teacher Rachel Greene, scholarships are awarded to yoga teachers or elementary school classroom teachers for curriculum designed to bring yoga into disadvantaged public schools.
For information and an application form for grants to bring yoga to diverse populations, click here.
For information and an application form for a scholarship to take yoga into disadvantaged schools, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with "RGMF-Scholarships" in the subject line.
To donate to these programs, click here.