Yoga & Breast Cancer – One

When I returned to Tokyo to be with my mother who was hospitalized from a stroke, every channel on Japanese TV media seemed to be broadcasting the tragic death of Mao Kobayashi, former TV personality and a celebrity host on a still running, popular TV program. At a young age of 34, mother of young children, married to a handsome, sought after Kabuki actor, she was at the height of happiness just couple of years ago. Above is a photo portraying their much celebrated wedding, one of many images in the media that circulated when these two celebrities tied a knot, creating a gorgeous couple, probably not an exaggeration to say, a couple admired by entire Japan.

So it’s all the more shocking – Her death from breast cancer was so unnerving to many women, especially to mothers, young and old. So unnerving, it is said that many women were prompted to go for breast cancer screening … many, for the first time.

So what do I do ? Upon returning to California, I immediately called for an appointment.

Last week, I went in for my mammogram after my doctor detected a little lump at our morning appointment – she says – it’s probably nothing but why don’t you have it checked out – I am going to order a mammogram and also a sonogram for this region to be sure – oh, there’s couple of appointments open today – they can fit you in she says, trying to sound so casual – she even jokes – maybe you just have a little lumpy breasts – I laugh along, yeah, lumpy breasts!? SO with heavy heart, I make a 3:15pm appointment as having woken up at 5:30am (usually try to practice before teaching) and not sleeping well (super hot bath at bedtime is a no, no). As I am driving home, I get a phone call from … the hospital so I answer it to find myself talking to an unknown caller – who turns out to be a radiologist who suggests coming in earlier … so … I promised her that I will come in earlier, the earliest possible for me at … 2pm. Scared more than ever to have a radiologist suggest an earlier appointment. My mind is numb – is it so bad that I have to be seen right away?

Imagine this. I go in for a “routine” mammogram … then, I am led to have a sonogram while I wait in a more private waiting room with a young woman sobbing away in the seat next next to me. When placed under stress, all kinds of thoughts creep up and swirl through your mind so … I meditated to clear my mind, allowing the debris swirling and muddying the clarity to simply … settle … using my favorite centering mudra to anchor myself. I tried to free myself from the stagnant heavy feelings of dread I was dragged down by. I practiced yoga – yeah, that kind of yoga. You might even call it mindfulness or zen.

A door opens and a woman in a medical uniform appears. She calls out my name – She escorts me into the exam room. I lie down as instructed with a technician and her assistant, both wearing a very stern expressions on their faces – that bedside manner of professionalism mixed with fear, trying to look expression-less expression. The room was darkened and shadows of silhouette of technicians loomed by the wall and right by my side as she operated the computer monitor. The image of my chest is on the screen. I was too scared to make heads and tails out of the grey and black image. Normally I would have been so interested in anatomy but … it’s a complete Greek to me. One of the technicians says with that serious expression face … “The doctor will be in shortly to talk to you.”

The fear was so present, it’s as though one can reach out your hand in the air, touch it, palpitate it. Anxieties was about to hijack my breath as I was in that state of sheer dread and disbelief – this is not happening to me – that feeling of denial pervaded. I felt sick. One tends to hold their breath when anxieties run in the overdrive … here again, I hear the yogi in me – smooth steady breath.

Then the doctor comes in – takes a look at the screen – then says …

“We will see you next year! You are cleared.”


What? Yes ! Life is Good!

Dark, heaviness lifted and the light lit up the entire room. The doctor is smiling. The two technicians are laughing along with me – I might have cracked a joke myself now. I was SO relieved all the sudden I was filled with positive energy. As I was entering the hospital, I was dragging, feeling so drained with exhaustion. As I left the hospital, I was full of vitality and … ENERGY. I felt like dancing whereas only an hour ago, I was having trouble climbing the stairs to my parked car … Our energy level is so connected to our emotions.

While I left with smiles and laughter, I then felt so … sad for the woman who had been sobbing in that small dimly lit waiting room between the mammogram and the sonogram rooms. Yes, in the main waiting room, there’s no woman or man shedding any tears. It’s just a routine check-up they are waiting for. But in these little pockets of waiting between further exam areas … some may, understandably break down.

I left thinking of her, that young lady sobbing in that smaller waiting area, two seats beside mine – almost with a sense of guilt – I am saved this time but she has to suffer that unfortunate stroke of fate? What has become of her? Watching her had taken me back to 5 years ago … when I went through the motions without really being present. To be present – takes courage.

I pray that she regains her strength, mental and physical, all the time, remaining present. Really, truly present.
Some people do all they can to distract and forget the unpleasant – that works too but ultimately, we have to face ourselves and get to know ourselves so well that we may care ourselves as experts. With self-knowledge, we can learn and grow with each struggle, each challenge. A path ridden with thorns can be better mitigated with more protections to conserve ourselves from needless pain – while smelling the roses:)

That woman sobbing two seats away from me – She needs to take care of herself. Forget the past, no regrets, she needs to focus on her mind and body, as it manifests, today, now.

Yoga practice can help as I learned from Lorien’s workshop referred by my cohort at my Yoga Therapist Advance (second year) Training from Niroga Institute. There’s a misunderstanding – it’s not just about making a yoga practice more lukewarm … or easy. It’s not all restorative and gentle … it is so dependent on where you are in that healing journey. As I recommend, Mix & Match – to foster the ability to create that inner peace, no matter … No matter what happens on the external world. Your inner world belongs to you and you can choose your state of mind.

(to be continued)

** Here’s a link to late Mao Kobayashi’s coverage in English.