In yoga practice, you are asked to set an intention for each session. It can be a word, like “breathe” or “strength”, or a phrase, such as “be grateful” or “honor your body.” When you find your mind drifting away from your practice, this is the word or phrase you remember to re-focus on what you are doing on your mat.

Today, I somehow landed on the word “stretch” as my focus. At first, I meant it in the physical sense. As a returning runner off the heels of almost a year’s worth of cancer treatments, my hamstrings are perennially tight. And, having recently added weight training into my workout regime, my arms are often sore as well. So, for today’s warm vinyasa class, I was all about remembering to stretch out my arms and legs, as many poses, when done properly, are as much about pushing one way as they are about pulling the other way, thereby maximizing your stretch. Whenever I felt like I was “done” with a pose, I remembered my intention and reached a little higher, bent a little farther, and dug a little deeper. Since some poses are downright painful due to the neuropathy in my feet (thank you, Chemo!), I sometimes have to do a modified version of a pose.

And although I am quite competitive outside of the yoga studio, I have learned that when you are on your mat, you do what you can do, and that is a gift to yourself–even if you can’t contort yourself into a pretzel like the gal next to you.

Usually, I pick “breathe” as my intention and then promptly forget it until I am huffing and puffing and near-death. But for some reason, “stretch” stayed at the forefront of my thoughts, which never drifted too far away from my mat this particular day.

Later, as my yogi sweat was drying, I thought more about the concept of stretching and how it was so fitting for me at this moment in my life.

Pretty much my entire adult life has been spent as an educator. Due to complications with chemo, I ended up resigning my job as the Dean of Instruction at an inner city high school. BC (Before Cancer), I was planning on taking a year off to figure out what exactly I wanted to be when I “grew up.” God and my body had other plans in the form of a completely unexpected cancer diagnosis. About a month before I completed chemo, by referral, I was approached by a tech company to do some marketing. I told them my skill set and work experience and said that if they were still interested after hearing how unqualified I might be for the job, we could meet for lunch. Maybe they were desperate or saw something in me I did not, but I was offered a job at that lunch and after a few short weeks was awarded with the fancy title of Marketing Director (still a bit of a misnomer—I do a whole host of things!).

Working at the Chevron Houston Marathon Expo for my then-new gig
Working at the Chevron Houston Marathon Expo for my then-new gig

They quickly plastered my picture and bio on their website which prompted me to question myself. Who the heck did I think I was working for a company that specialized in online event and club solutions? I was a liberal arts major, for crying out loud, who has thrown her iPhone on more than one occasion out of frustration at not being able to get something to work on it. But, I needed to do something to bring in a little money and to keep from going brain dead, and this job allowed me to work from home at hours mostly of my choosing, so it was a great set up as I completed my chemo treatments and attempted to find my new post-cancer normal.

In the last seven months of working for The Driven, I have asked more questions about how to do something or what something means (tech companies rival education with their jargon) than I did in 15+ years of education. But, I keep stretching and reaching, and I have learned things I never thought I would and done things I never thought I could. I can actually explain what I-framing is and how you might utilize it on a website. Who’d-a-thunk-it? Certainly not me!

Two of my resolutions for my life are to be my own problem-solver and to learn how to do things I don’t really want to do—like work the Apple TV or change a flat tire on my bicycle. These intentions force me to stretch my capacities and remind me that I am smarter, better, and stronger than I give myself credit for being. As I continue to struggle with side effects from treatments long ago ended, I must be both kind to myself and yet not allow myself to back down from challenges. 

I’m going to hold onto “Stretch” as a mantra for yoga and for life. Breathing is important, especially in yoga, but I am going to do that anyway…until I don’t. But stretching ourselves beyond self-imposed limits isn’t involuntary and will make the time that we are gifted on this earth that much sweeter. Namaste.

You can follow the author’s cancer-and-beyond journey here.

An island I swam to not far off the coast of Little Cayman Island during a break between rounds of chemo.
An island I swam to not far off the coast of Little Cayman Island during a break between rounds of chemo.

Rebecca Wells

Rebecca Wells is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. In addition to being a mom and a wife, she has been a teacher, instructional coach, and most recently, the dean of instruction at an inner city high school in Houston, Texas. Due to factors surrounding her treatment for stage 3 colorectal cancer, she has traded a career in education to pursue other passions and interests. When she gets all done with chemo, she will return to running, cycling, swimming, yoga and soccer. Rebecca lives in Cypress, a small suburban community just outside of Houston, where there are fields of donkeys and llamas right down the street from the grocery store, and small trailer parks nestled in between subdivisions featuring homes valued at half a million dollars (she doesn’t live in either one!). She shares her home with her husband, daughter, son, and two crazy, crazy dogs.