When dealing with cancer becomes a spiritual practice

One of our favorite public radio shows, on Being, recently shared a heart-breaking but beautifully poignant video about one woman’s spiritual journey in the face of a terminal illness. Created by Ben Depp, a photographer whose sister Martha recently passed away due to an advanced form of ovarian cancer, it speaks volumes to the power of art, spirituality, and relationship to instill peace even in the midst of grave uncertainty.

On her personal blog, Martha once wrote:

When I first found out I had cancer, I had this idea that my spirit could somehow be kind of separate from my body. I thought I could compartmentalize my spirit and prevent the physical stuff from affecting it. Not possible.

The bottom line is that we are integrated beings. Things are all tied together, with bonds that cannot ever be torn loose. All of our parts, our spirits, souls, bodies, minds, wills, emotions—however you choose to define the parts of us—they are all inextricably intertwined.

Wow. Sounds like a yogi to us. In the West, many have an image of yoga as consisting of some set of physical postures that people do on a  yoga mat– usually to burn off a few calories or let off steam after a tough day. However, the core texts of the yogic tradition only rarely (if at all) mention asana practice– yoga is seen through a more expansive perspective, one characterized by integration of the mind, body and spirit.

Image: Defense Mechanism # 5, by Martha Depp, available for purchase here. All proceeds benefit Arts for Life and Doctors Without Borders.

Has illness ever brought you into a deeper place with your yoga practice? Can something like cancer, which is by its very nature life-killing and destructive, actually bring us into greater connection with Life?

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- who has written 43 posts on Yoga Modern.

Chelsea Roff is a writer by day and yoga teacher by night, a weaver of words as well as of asanas. She is Managing Editor at YogaModern.com, and her writing has been featured by Yoga Journal, Elephant Journal, Wanderlust Festival and the Hanuman Festival. Chelsea is passionate about using online media to inspire action that serves a greater cause -- whether it be the expansion of knowledge, support of our global community, or improvement of planetary and personal health. She travels the country teaching yoga in the most non-traditional of spaces, from cocktail parties to public protests to centers for at-risk youth. In Dallas, Chelsea helped start a yoga service organization that brings yoga classes to people in homeless shelters, juvenile detention centers, and prisons. Chelsea currently lives in Santa Monica, CA, where she can be found cartwheeling across the beach, hiking in the mountains, and practicing yoga poses on her little pink scooter.

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