Thursday, October 30, 2008

Donna Karan Sponsors Yoga Program at Hospital

Donna Karan has sponsored a major project at a NYC hospital to clinically prove that yoga, meditation and aromatherapy can enhance regimens of chemotherapy and radiation in treating cancer. Karan, founder of the DKNY line of clothing and a yoga enthusiast, has donated $850,000, through her Urban Zen Foundation, for a year-long experiment combining Eastern and Western healing methods at the Beth Israel Medical Centre in Manhattan.

Overseen by Karan’s yoga masters, Rodney and Colleen Saidman Yee, 15 yoga teachers will be sent to the hospital’s cancer ward starting January next to work with non-terminal patients, and nurses will be trained in relaxation techniques, the New York Times reported Thursday.

Karan hopes to prove that the yoga and meditation regime can reduce classic symptoms of cancer and its treatment, like pain, nausea and anxiety and serve as a model for replication elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Insomnia, Breast Cancer, and Yoga

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine has linked a disruption in heart rate regulation with insomnia in women with breast cancer. Insomnia symptoms were shown to be associated with a lower baseline of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), an important marker of the function of the parasympathetic nervous system. RSA is a naturally occurring variation in heart rate that occurs during a breathing cycle. The parasympathetic nervous system is a division of the autonomic nervous system, which acts as a control system that maintains a constant, stable condition in the body.

Lower RSA is associated with decreased parasympathetic functioning in insomniacs, which is in turn associated with increased stress and decreased emotional regulation. Diminished RSA has been associated with poor medical and psychiatric health.

Cortisol is a hormone often referred to as the “stress hormone” because it is involved in the response to stress. Cortisol levels normally peak early in the morning, while the lowest levels are present three to five hours after the onset of sleep. In one to two-thirds of women with metastatic breast cancer, cortisol levels are constant, go up and down throughout the day, or are elevated at the end of the day. Past research has linked insomnia to activation of the stress-response system, which results in an increased level of cortisol. Results of this study confirmed a relationship between frequent awakenings and abnormal cortisol rhythms in metastatic breast cancer. Lower RSA is associated with an increase in stress, which causes an increase in cortisol, which is linked to insomnia.

The activities of the autonomic nervous system are usually done without conscious control or sensation, but one, breathing, is done in connection with the conscious mind. One of the best ways to combat low RSA and regulate autonomic function is diaphragmatic breathing or breathing deeply into the lungs by flexing the diaphragm. Pranayama (translated as lengthening of the breath) breathing techniques learned through hatha yoga have been cited as treating stress related disorders and improving autonomic function.

Sleep disruption is two to three times more common in cancer patients than in the general population. These disturbances may exacerbate concurrent cancer and/or treatment related symptoms such as fatigue, mood disturbance, and gastrointestinal distress. They may also affect psychiatric illness and may lead to a reduction in quality of life and overall health, so it is especially important to treat insomnia in cancer patients.

- Science Daily Article summarized by Jasan Zimmerman

Monday, October 27, 2008

True or false? Myths about Cancer

True or false? Underwire bras can cause cancer.

Although many people believe this to be true, it's actually false. When it comes to our knowledge of what causes cancer, fear and rumors often replace facts and science. Many Americans believe many unproven claims about cancer--claims that often needlessly change the way they live.

To find out how much we know about cancer risk and prevention, the American Cancer Society surveyed nearly 1,000 U.S. adults asking them if 12 common cancer myths were true or false.

According to the ACS, all of the following myths are false. But look how many people think they are true!

1. The risk of dying from cancer in the United States is increasing.
True: 67.7 percent
False: 22.5 percent
Don't know: 9.8 percent

2. Living in a polluted city is a greater risk for lung cancer than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.
True: 38.7 percent
False: 42.5 percent
Don't know: 18.8 percent

3. Some injuries can cause cancer later in life.
True: 37.2 percent
False: 41.9 percent
Don't know: 20.9 percent

4. Electronic devices, like cell phones, can cause cancer in the people who use them.
True: 29.7 percent
False: 45.6 percent
Don't know: 24.7 percent

5. What someone does as a young adult has little effect on his or her chance of getting cancer later in life.
True: 24.8 percent
False: 68.1 percent
Don't know: 7.1 percent

6. Long-time smokers cannot reduce their cancer risk by quitting smoking.
True: 16.2 percent
False: 78.1 percent
Don't know: 5.7 percent

7. People who smoke low-tar cigarettes have less chance of developing lung cancer than people who smoke regular cigarettes.
True: 14.7 percent
False: 74.5 percent
Don't know: 10.8 percent

8. Personal hygiene products, like shampoo, deodorant and antiperspirants, can cause cancer.
True: 13.7 percent
False: 71 percent
Don't know: 15.3 percent

9. Getting a mammogram, or using a special X-ray machine to detect breast cancer, can cause cancer of the breast.
True: 10.2 percent
False: 73.7 percent
Don't know: 16.1 percent

10. Getting a base tan or base coat at a tanning salon will provide protection from skin cancer when you go outside in the sun.
True: 8.4 percent
False: 78.4 percent
Don't know: 13.2 percent

11. Underwire bras can cause breast cancer.
True: 6.2 percent
False: 62.9 percent
Don't know: 30.9 percent

12. You cannot get skin cancer from using a tanning booth.
True: 6.2 percent
False: 75.5 percent
Don't know: 18.3 percent

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

New Partner Studios!

There’s a movement brewing in the cancer world. It’s a focus on quality of life and survivorship. As survival rates continue to increase, organizations are starting to recognize the needs of the 11 million cancer survivors living in the United States. These needs include emotional, financial, and physical burdens as survivors resume their lives after months of treatment.

The goal of Yoga Bear is to bring the opportunity of yoga to cancer survivors, through donated passes from our generous partner studios. The fact that our organization has grown from 4 partner studios to over 70 in under two years is a true, humbling testament of the yoga community’s commitment to the yogic principle of seva (sanskrit for selfless service).
As our community continues to grow stronger, we thank you for being part of this movement!

SF Bay Area
Yoga At Change
Kiki Yo
Alameda Yoga Station
Elevation Pilates

Yoga Loft, Manhattan Beach
Yoga Works

Castlehill Fitness

See our full list of partner studios here.

Healthcare Disparities: Breast Cancer Deaths for Chicago blacks double that of whites

From the Chicago Tribune:
In 1980, black women and white women in Chicago with breast cancer were equally likely to die.

Since then, death rates for white patients have improved dramatically. But that is not the case for their African-American counterparts, who are now dying at a rate 116 percent higher than whites, according to data released Wednesday by the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force.
How can we explain this sickening disparity? Experts say genetics or biology alone cannot explain the difference. The culprit is our broken health care system, which favors those with lots of money and information. Fact is, black women are less likely to get mammograms. And when they do, the article states, the mammograms are likely to be of inferior quality. Furthermore, diagnosis usually occurs in a later stage, often when it is too late. Couple that with lower quality treatment, and we end up with this awful racial disparity.

So what can we do? Educate everyone-- all races, languages, and neighborhoods-- about the importance of screening. And advocate for better health coverage, eliminating co-pays and deductibles for cancer screening and treatment.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Review: "Living Proof"

This weekend I watched the Lifetime premiere of "Living Proof," the TV docudrama about Dr. Dennis Slamon and the development of the drug Herceptin, which has had great success in extending the lives of women with a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer.

Overall the movie is moving because the anyone affected by breast cancer cannot help but be touched by what Dr. Slamon did for the history of the disease.

From the L.A. Times:

"It is not that science can't be thrilling. Indeed, Connick is best when Slamon is talking about his work, as in the opening scene, explaining to new assistant Amanda Bynes just what he's trying to do. He catches the excitement of a person whose special technical knowledge has found a fresh audience, and he
sells his expository dialogue ("I want to be clear: 200,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer") with a geeky enthusiasm.

"As a device for consciousness-raising and fundraising, 'Living Proof' might still be effective in spite of its faults, might usefully inspire viewers in a way that a documentary might not. There are people who need a face put on these things, even -- or especially -- if it's the face of an actor."

Friday, October 17, 2008

How you can help (without spending a dime!)

We're always getting questions about how to support Yoga Bear and the movement we're creating. This speaks volumes of our community and followers.

Like us, many of you probably want to help but are strapped for cash. That's okay, there are still several ways you can help Yoga Bear!

1. Write a review of Yoga Bear on Yelp. Yelp is a website where users review restaurants, organizations, stores, etc.. By writing a review of YB, it gets the word out when someone searches for "yoga" or "charities".

2. Write a review on Great Nonprofits. This site is like Yelp for non-profits. Donors, grantors, and foundations read these comments to get a better feel for the organization.

3. Donate gently used yoga goods... we promise to find them a good home!

4. Tell your yoga studio about our program and encourage them to become a partner studio. Instructions for studios to sign up are here.

5. Join our Facebook Group.

6. Come to one of our monthly charity events, generously put on by our volunteers and studios. Classes are donation based, and 100% of the proceeds fund our program. There's one in Berkeley this Sunday!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Yoga Bear in Austin!

You likely know Austin as the Live Music Capital of the World or the home of the University of Texas Longhorns. What you may not know is that in addition to music and football, many Austinites are involved in Yoga practice and training. Their interest goes beyond the traditional asana practice and extends to spiritual development through the Eight Limbs of Yoga. This progressive and compassionate approach to life in Austin is what motivated Kelly Hollis to depart beautiful San Francisco in February of this year.

Kelly came to Yoga Bear a month ago through 3 clicks online. She was researching Breath Awareness techniques for pain management so she could share those with a woman she assists who is undergoing breast cancer treatment. After landing on Kelly McGonigal's site, she was intrigued by the name, Yoga Bear, listed under Kelly M.'s bio; so, she clicked through to the Yoga Bear Home Page and within 5 minutes of reading Yoga Bear's Mission, Kelly sent off an email to find out more information about the organization. A well timed trip two weeks later to San Francisco led to a lunch meeting with Halle. Austin's Yoga Bear Chapter was formed then and there!

When Kelly is not working with the Care Communities (cancer and HIV/Aids support organization) and Yoga Bear, she offers consulting services to both small and large companies who operate in the online media space (video content monetization, distribution and syndication). To round out her time, she studies and practices Yoga and Pilates.

If you are interested in becoming involved with Yoga Bear Austin or simply want to share ideas with Kelly, you can reach her at

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Blog Action Day: Yoga for Everyone

Today is Blog Action Day, an annual event challenging bloggers, podcasters, and videobloggers the world over to blog about a specific issue on the same day. This years' challenge focused on poverty.

How does Yoga Bear fit in with the issue of poverty? Quite simply, we believe yoga and other are for everyone, not just those that can afford to attend classes at a yoga studio or fancy gym memberships. In particular, people diagnosed with cancer or other chronic illnesses are often faced with expensive treatment options and limited healthcare coverage that can place additional financial burdens. Frequently paying for treatment alone is a challenge, much less affording yoga classes.

To that end, we hope to facilitate connections between yoga studios generously offering up class spaces and cancer patients and survivors to experience what benefits yoga can offer. We regularly offer yoga classes by donation open to everyone in the community (be sure to check out our upcoming benefit class). In addition, we hope to connect healthcare providers, caregivers, yoga teachers, and interested volunteers in ways that can help bring the Yoga Bear vision of accessible wellness opportunities for everyone a reality.

Caregiver Appreciation Event

Join us as we celebrate our Caregivers!

Sunday November 16th, 2008
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM
66 Sanchez, San Francisco, CA
In the Castro, a block from the Church/Market MUNI

Thank your caregiver and spend a special afternoon with YOGABEAR.

> Participate in a partner yoga class with your caregiver (beginners level)
Join together through conscious breathing, movement, touch and partnership

> Enjoy afternoon tea and snacks

$20 for you and your caregiver.

Think your caregiver is extra special? We are giving away 10 free passes, so nominate your caregiver for a spot!

Click here to RSVP and nominate your caregiver.

Questions? contact

The Cue--A New Product in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

Did you hear about this?

From a press release issued by Avie Products:

Avie Products today announced the introduction of a unique new product in the fight against breast cancer called "Cue."

The waterproof electronic device, which reminds women, in the privacy of their showers, to perform regular breast self-exams, is being fully launched in the US this month to coincide with National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Cue stands alone in the marketplace today as a breast self-exam reminder product for use in the shower. It can help women remember to perform their breast self-exams at the optimal time in their menstrual cycles.

Cue tells the user, through a lighted display screen, to perform her breast self-exam seven days after her period begins.

"A woman's breasts are likely to be the least tender, and hormones that can cause swelling are at their lowest point around this time in a woman's cycle. For those women who no longer have periods, Cue can easily be set to issue monthly reminders," said Beverly Smith, President of Avie Products.

Cue, with its polished, round, white face, is small enough to hold in your hand, and has a large suction cup base. It works by asking the user a series of questions on an attractive, bright blue display screen, and then using the answers to determine when breast self-exam reminders should be displayed. With two large input buttons, which function as either YES or NO to answer questions such as "Are your periods regular?" or as UP or DOWN to scrollthrough dates, Cue remains remarkably easy to use. In addition to issuing breast self-exam reminders, Cue reminds women to make regular doctor's appointments, and it has a shower timer for conditioners and hair removal cremes, as well as a clock display and time tracker. Cue can be used by up to four women sharing the same bathroom by issuing personalized alerts displaying each user's name.

"While breast self-exams are not an excuse to skip the doctor's visit, they are one thing women can do between visits to take charge of their own health care. By becoming familiar with the landscape of her breasts through regular breast self-exams, a woman will be more likely to notice any changes,which she
can then discuss with her doctor. Cue makes it easy to remember to perform regular breast self-exams and to schedule regular doctor's appointments," said Smith.

This sounds kind of cool. What do you think?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Greetings from the Being Yoga Conference in New York City!

I'm here at the Being Yoga Conference with Yoga Bear Advisors Kelly & Megan. Kelly is leading the Mind + Body Tracks, and Megan and I are assisting. Today was an all day intensive for Yoga Therapy, led by Kelly and Matthew Taylor.

The class explored the mind-body relationship and awareness through yogic practices like asana, visualization, mudras, mantras, and meditation. Through experiential learning, we sampled healing methods and practices for individual issues like anxiety, pain, and fear. My favorite part was creating my own custom practice, where I rid my mind of fears of rejection through a sequence I created myself.

Each mental state impacts the body's systems (repeat: the mind is the body). Yoga Therapy aims to change the mind instead of targeting the body in order to heal. Visit the International Association of Yoga Therapists to learn more.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


October, as most of us know, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is the time of year that pumpkins burst onto grocery store shelves and pink ribbons become fashion accessories. This story on, wonderfully explored one's reason for joining in the fight against breast cancer.

"All of us have our reasons for raising money and awareness for women’s cancers … and it’s not just for the free t-shirt.

My reason is I am a breast cancer survivor. I’ve never had the disease—though men can get it—but I am the son of a breast cancer survivor, my mother Linda. And I, and the rest of our family, feel we survived it with her. The battle against cancer isn’t to be fought only by those who have it."

Happy Reading.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

One Breath at a Time, One Asana at a Time

Although our focus has been on the benefits of yoga for people living with cancer, we acknowledge and promote yoga as a way to lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain positive well-being for anyone. The following is a deeply personal story shared by one of our beloved volunteers, as she describes her first acknowledgments of a disease, and how she hopes to use yoga on her healing path.

Hi. I have volunteered for Yoga Bear in the capacity of teaching yoga and doing a little blogging. In these pursuits, I have been dedicated to Yoga Bear’s cause, in particular, my strong belief that yoga can greatly aid in the healing process. Because Yoga Bear is dedicated to bringing yoga to survivors, amongst other things, we mostly focus yoga and cancer.

My father died from lung cancer, although he had not been a smoker for over 30 years. He dealt with the stigma of people assuming he developed lung cancer because he was a smoker, therefore had somehow brought this disease upon himself; he deserved lung cancer. I watched him struggle with being stigmatized, a changed identity from healthy individual to cancer patient, to a prognosis of decreased life-span, his struggles to change his lifestyle, etc. With compassion and empathy, I stood by him.

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with serious myelin sheath damage, nerve, and every symptom associated with axonal and neuronal changes. Many diseases fit this criterion, but mine is called Wernicke’s encephalopathy (WE). Over time a person can lose all control of their limbs, develop dementia, and eventually end up in a coma, etc. I was told most likely, because my own nerve damage was so severe, I’d likely develop dementia in two years. WE is associated with alcoholics. There’s the stigma--I must have been an alcoholic (I am not). However, WE is also associated with eating disorders. There are actually many neuronal/axonal diseases are associated with eating disorders, and many carry the same symptoms, outcomes and treatments of WE.

I have suffered on and off for the past 22 years, quietly, with anorexia, which morphed into bulimia. I have also used my sugar addiction (yes, addiction) to cope with emotional distress. I am suddenly faced with questions and thoughts such as, how can I value myself and my body, and do this? How can I teach yoga, practice the eight-limb path, infuse my teaching with the yoga sutras when I myself am a seemingly, living contradiction of all I have preached? Do I really want to live? Would dementia be such a bad thing? What are my goals now? Can I, should I date anyone, because why bring this to any relationship if I can’t even love myself, let alone, possibly die soon?

How did it get so bad? Years of being a ballet dancer, starving myself, having to give up ballet, and subsequently dealing with gaining weight as my body changed did not help. I didn’t want to lose my identity as a ballet dancer, so I wanted to stay thin. I began compulsively exercising (incidentally, a form of purging) kept my body fat, and weight, low. Sugar became my way of dealing with my emotions. Eating sugar meant gaining weight. So I exercised more. Then I discovered yoga. As I did more yoga, eating sugar became less of a problem, and I eventually stopped exercising compulsively.

Unfortunately, when I moved to San Francisco 14 months ago, I was alone, the city was more expensive than I thought, and I told myself I couldn’t afford yoga. I couldn’t find a job teaching yoga, either. I lost my job. Twice. My practice faltered. Gradually, I ate more sugar, and cookies became lunch. I began compulsively running so as not to gain weight. I began purging when running wasn’t enough.

As an alcoholic is addicted to alcohol, I am addicted to sugar. Seriously. I cannot exercise discipline with sugar, and anyone who knows me will verify that. However, eating healthy is the only way to halt further progression of WE. This also means ending the purging. Purging on healthy food isn’t any better than purging on junk-my body still won’t get the nutrients it needs.

Here I am, with a stigmatized disease, questioning my identity and beliefs, facing my own mortality and wondering if I can make the lifestyle changes.

One thing I know for sure, when I was practicing yoga regularly, and teaching, I never purged. I believe yoga helped strengthen my mind-body connection, strengthened my appreciation for my soul, and what my physical body could do.

My therapist tells me that yoga is not a valid treatment for an eating disorder. I told my therapist yoga healed me once before. He says try something different—like new medication, seeing an eating disorder specialist, but doesn’t believe yoga will help much. This seems to be the traditional approach to healing in this country.

I say, try the known path to home, to the heart. For me that is yoga. And I will do whatever it takes to practice daily and to heal myself. Two things we have to do in this life are to breathe in, and breathe out. I will get through this. One breath at a time, one asana at a time.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Yogi Book Review: Road Trip Guide to the Soul

In her book, Road Trip Guide to the Soul, Sadie Nardini applies holistic principles to revolutionizing one's life. She combines eastern wisdom and yogic principles with her pragmatic and straightforward advice.

“Have you noticed that a yoga class is easier to skip out on then, say, a doctor or dentist appointment? Most of us think that time for ourselves can wait, which means we’re undervaluing our alone time and, therefore, ourselves at a deep level.”

In recognizing common issues in our lives, Sadie takes the reader through a metaphorical roadtrip to finding happiness and avoiding roadblocks. She sprinkles her advice with personal anecdotes that are down-to-earth and very real, speaking more as a wise friend than a self-help consultant.

The pieces I found most useful were the perfectly woven explanations of meditation and breathing exercises. I loved this hands-on experience as I put the book down and began my own exercise. Overall, her flawless use of yoga philosophy added a deeper element to the read.

Sadie leaves the reader feeling confident and charged to be living. Yogi Bears believe that a loving, positive attitude is essential to a healthy life, and the Road Trip Guide to the Soul exemplifies that spirit.