How Yoga Nidra and Yin Yoga Helped Me Thrive After Ovarian Cancer
Mar 29, 2015
We connected to Audrey DeLong through Instagram and have been enjoying getting to know this vivacious spirit, with her limitless curiosity and passion for life! We are honored to share with you her journey with you.
To become the 13-year ovarian cancer survivor that I am today, I had to go through some extensive suffering, to say the least. Just a few of the traumatic events that began when I was 24 include: 12 weeks of IV chemotherapy, usually for eight hours a day, with every third week providing a week’s ‘vacation’ at the ICU; loss of all my body hair; weight loss and gain of 60 pounds in each direction; five abdominal surgeries including the removal of a five pound tumor that had bones, teeth and hair; early menopause caused by a hysterectomy; shingles; and parts of my liver, stomach, bladder, and intestine removed.
I have a lot to not only recover from, but also to face and reface as I continue to live and move on with my life because the truth is, no matter what dis-ease we may experience, it doesn’t just suddenly appear. Cancer doesn’t just happen. Cancer can take years and months to develop into a tumor - especially a five pound tumor. All those years and months that it took to get there the body was whispering and saying: “Hey, something isn’t right in here.”
We are more than our physical body. We our more than our brain and mind. We are spiritual beings. Because of the spiritual nature of our being, there are subtle aspects of our selves that are important to nurture. These subtle aspects can get pushed to the side and trampled upon in the name of education, taking care of others, traveling, eating, sleeping, that movie we really want to watch, the dog that needs walking, etc. I can be painful and difficult to stop and think - to be present - and it takes work when we do. Most of us haven’t been taught to do this work nor is it modeled in our culture. What we think of as “normal” and what we think to be more true is to keep pushing through, toughing it out, because we are all too familiar with the “no pain, no gain!” mentality. In reality, it is harder on our self to stay in these old and unhealthy patterns, beliefs, and thought processes. It is the kinder, gentler, grace-filled and softer techniques that can be the most profound and beneficial for us.
When I finally knew that I would live (and I was told three times that I wouldn’t!), I resolved to face my fears, to go out and do things that I had always wanted to. I moved out of town and across the country. I became a summer camp director, a ski patroller, a triathlete, an ocean lifeguard, a California State Park Ranger candidate, a ministry school student, and among many other things health, wellness, and yoga followed me. I am now a trained yoga instructor and I’m advancing my studies to become a Professional Yoga Therapist. This experience in yoga and my personal health and wellness journey has been instrumental in my healing and recovery from cancer and life. Particularly powerful have been the slower and gentler practices of yin yoga and yoga nidra.
What is Yoga Nidra?
Yoga nidra is a deep relaxation technique that balances the nervous system by reducing stress on the sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight response). Yoga nidra is a restful, regenerative, and restorative healing technique that reduces stress-related dis-eases. Yoga nidra is sometimes referred to as yogic sleep and although many people do fall asleep during yoga nidra, it is not necessarily the goal. Yoga nidra works on the subconscious mind: whether someone stays alert and awake, drifts in and out of sleep, or is fast asleep the entire time, the benefits of yoga nidra are still felt. Yoga nidra improves body/mind/spirit awareness and strengthens the connection between the three.
My favorite part about yoga nidra is that it feels incredible and is so easy! In a yoga nidra session, you create your own personal “yoga nidra nest” with props and blankets. You lay on the mat, listen, and maybe nod off into that place between sleep and wakefulness and then begin to access the intuitive self.
My yoga nidra practice is typically a 30-minute guided journey. Like savasana, yoga nidra includes an initial relaxation but then it goes beyond relaxation and uses present tense, personal affirmations and intentions. Yoga nidra leads the practitioner into their subconscious to gain a deeper understanding of the self from a non-judgemental, true, and honest place. Yoga nidra opens the mind and invokes emotions from the unconscious through story and trust.
Sometimes I leave a yoga nidra session feeling raw and vulnerable, sometimes I feel like I’m sleeping beauty who’s just awoken from a decade of sleep, I always feel like heaven has touched earth and even if the session challenges me in ways that I can’t always describe, I know deep, profound, and good work has been done. It’s unlike anything I have ever done or experienced before and it is lovely.
My training with Integrative Yoga Therapy has taught me that 30 minutes of yoga nidra is equal to two hours of regular sleep!
Just as much as yoga nidra has been beneficial, the softer and slower practice of Yin Yoga has also been integral in my life and healing journey. What I’ve enjoyed about my yin yoga practice is that it’s not about pushing myself like an active (or yang) yoga class or really, like the rest of my life. Instead, the yin style accesses a quiet power from within and this helps to facilitate a deep release within my entire being. The immediate response after a yin pose is a feeling of fragility and vulnerability; one can literally feel life, or prana, returning to the body after being bound.
What is Yin Yoga?
Yin Yoga has the same goals and objectives as any other yoga style; however, it directs the asana practice into the connective tissues, ligaments, and joints that are not exercised very much in an active yang style. Yang activity is needed and necessary but in our western culture, there isn’t much emphasis on the gentler and softer aspects of ourselves (body tissues, spirit) and thus, we struggle to be whole.
Yin yoga has therefore been a beautiful complement to my dynamic and muscular yang yoga practice and life. The yang part of our self builds, it conquers, it pushes through. In yang exercise, internal heat, alignment, and lengthening and contracting of muscles are emphasized. The yin side of our self can seem boring or passive, feminine, but it’s here that we pause and listen to that still, small voice, whispering to us. It’s here that we feel, sense, and have the opportunity to accept healing love and grace, in our entirety: body, mind, and spirit.
Yin Yoga can actually be quite challenging due to the long holding of poses (2-20 minutes) and the quiet depth that is explored inside the body and mind. Joints and myofacial tissue become strengthened and rehabilitated with yin yoga and this style is more meditative and spiritual, subtle and regenerative. The body’s tissues can hold past emotions and literally trap and hold us in familiar patterns, thoughts, and actions. Yin yoga allows for the release and restoration of our body’s tissues, releasing these emotions, and bringing balance to our whole self.
At times my yoga nidra and yin yoga practices have been daily, at times once a week, and at other times just once a year. These two skillful practices give me the space, opportunity, and courage to face things that in my cognitive state, I may be afraid to face or don’t have the time to face. Sometimes this awareness manifests during these yoga sessions (as sweat, laughter, 'icky' feelings, annoyance, fear, an urge to run, anger, frustration, etc.), sometimes this awareness comes moments or days after. Other times I am unaware of any change at all - I simply finish the practice feeling well-rested, with more tranquility, more energy, and a deeper awareness of me, of self.
I’ve been able to handle/ be present in increasingly stressful situations and interactions with greater ease and less fear. I’ve felt more at peace and less judgmental, happier, calmer, and more present than I ever have. I give a lot of credit for these changes to my yoga nidra and yin yoga practices.
Yin yoga and yoga nidra have given me structure and permission to slow down and heal. My hope is that my life and this moment, serve not only as an inspiration for change in you and those you love, but as a sign and encouragement to stop, listen, and honor the entire self: body, mind, and spirit. Our body is divinely and intelligently designed and works masterfully together to provide the best home for our mind and spirit here on earth. You may find yoga nidra and/or yin yoga to help make your home on this planet more enjoyable. I sure have!
So, what say you: have you tried yoga nidra and yin yoga? What has your experience been like? If you haven’t, try it and let me know what you think. You are always welcome to come and join with me for a class. I’d like that.
Explore and learn more about Audrey at www.AudreyDeLongYoga.com or visit her on Instagram: @audreydlong and Facebook: @OnWaterYoga
Audrey DeLong teaches SUP Yoga, yoga classes, workshops, & retreats world-wide and is currently working on her first yoga nidra CD and yin yoga DVD. Audrey consults with those experiencing health challenges and finds the variety of yoga styles, roles, and locations she works with to be both inspiring and refreshing. Audrey's yoga experience began in 2000, just before being diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer, and has included an eclectic array of styles and teachers. She is currently studying to become a Professional Yoga Therapist (1000-hours) and received her 200-hour yoga teacher certification in Bali with Awakened Life School of Yoga. She has been a lifeguard since 2005 at lakes, pools, and the ocean and is a trained SUP and SUP Yoga instructor after several years of EMT work in the ER and on ambulances. Audrey earned her Bachelor's of Science degree in Education from Ohio University.
Besides consulting, traveling, teaching, and writing, Audrey's favorite things include hammocks, kombucha, the outdoors, documentaries, a passion for learning, time with friends and family, and dreaming of heaven invading earth. She is thankful for the varied and adventurous life she's been able to live thus far and looks forward to many more globe trotting and loving exploits!