On yoga and cancer: ‘Correct yoga practice entails a sense of gratitude’

We’ve directed your attention to Robbie Norris before. The simple reason: He’s performing some pretty amazing seva, teaching yoga to people in the jail in Richmond, Va.

Now, in his most recent post, he’s out-done himself, in two clear ways:

  1. He drops some great one-liners about the practice, and my read on them is he does it almost unintentionally. He’s not out to get folks all riled up. (We’ll do that for him.)
  2. The story of Ellen Williams that he shares.

Let’s start with Williams’ story, which absolutely deserves your full attention:

Robbie introduced me to Ashtanga yoga and I began to practice daily and to slowly learn the first series with his help. I also began to attend early morning Mysore self practice. It was a wonderful combination and with perseverance I began to gain more strength and stamina and ability.

How fortunate this was as 6 months later I was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer to the liver. I had surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. In all, I have had 4 different rounds of chemotherapy and a second radiation treatment over the past four years. I am very fortunate and grateful to be here today, managing the disease well both physically and emotionally. And,  of course, I have good doctors and nurses to thank for this too.


Yoga helps the mind as well as the body. I find Ashtanga yoga which I can do anywhere, anytime to be very meditative. The more one knows the poses the more one can practice them without thinking. This engenders more peace of mind and equanimity as well as more self-awareness and spaciousness in mind and body. Even during my rounds of treatment,  I tried to do some part of the practice every day, even if only 15 minutes.

See what I mean? I look for an excuse not to practice if I have a hangnail.

Now a few of the one-liners from his post:

What is obvious to any yoga practitioner is beginning to be formally recognized in Western academia and medicine.

But what isn’t understood by the medical community is this essential truth: the benefits of sustained long-term daily yoga practice are profound in contrast to the limited experience offered by one weekly class over a ten-week period.

So true. More:

For people who take it up as a long-term lifestyle choice of daily mind-body meditation, the Primary Series of Ashtanga Yoga is an extraordinary method of holistic healing.  (Those who consider the practice primarily a “workout” generally quit within a year or two.)

Can I say, “True,” again?

Correct yoga practice entails a sense of gratitude for the direct experience of living, and a deep appreciation of the (often surprising) potential for healing.  We should practice with a patient acceptance of our current state (which is the foundation of future states) while remaining open to the possibility of positive change.  Anxiety breeds anxiety, and calm produces calm.

And finally:

People who know only a little about Ashtanga Yoga (including many who might say they’ve tried it) often characterize it as fast yoga, athletic yoga, yoga for the young and healthy, or a practice that is too strict with no room for innovation.   When you hear someone speak about Ashtanga Yoga in that way, be assured they know virtually nothing about it, and let a red flag go up — because it will be a person who assumes authority about that of which his knowledge is slight.

Go to the post and find out what Tim Miller said years ago that still resonates with Robbie. My bet is it will resonate with you, too.

Posted by Steve

Published by


Two Ashtangis write about their practice and their teachers.

One thought on “On yoga and cancer: ‘Correct yoga practice entails a sense of gratitude’”

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s