What if Movement Was the Answer?

Odd Question, I know. But what if it was that simple?

This is the story of my journey surviving breast cancer. I’m not going to go into the details of my surgeries and treatment — that’s for another time — but I am going to share with you how a serious illness and mindful movement led me to my passion. It’s why I’m still here… and why I believe mindful movement should be a part of everyone’s life.

Getting diagnosed with breast cancer was never on my bucket list. There is nothing more heart-stopping than hearing those three little words: “you have cancer.”

I was diagnosed with advanced stage IIIC breast cancer with poor odds of survival. In just a few seconds I knew exactly what I was going do to. I chose traditional treatment, a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. There aren’t a lot of things you can control during treatment, but the one thing I knew I had control over was staying alive.

After treatment, you are basically told to have a nice life but aren’t given any real direction. The problem is that there aren’t any programs available to breast cancer patients. You might find a yoga program, but I couldn’t do most of the poses. I have been active all my life, swimming, cycling and practicing Pilates – so I created a recovery program for myself.

The easiest thing to do was to walk. Due to the surgeries and treatments, I had no balance. So, I pulled out my trek poles and used them as I would cross-country ski poles. I started by walking one block and gradually increased my distance. I plotted distances from my home, remembering that if I walked a mile, I still had a mile to walk back.

Those walks eventually became three-mile runs.

Finding Mindful Movement in Recovery

I’ve had more surgeries than I care to remember. Depending on which group of doctors I listened to, I was given different guidelines. Also, my lymph nodes were removed from my left arm, which created a whole new set of challenges.

If you lift weights with your left arm you might develop lymphedema (swelling of the arm due to fluid buildup). Lymphedema is very painful and the arm swells to three times its size. Once you have it, you’ll always have it. The other issue was if I didn’t move, I could end up with stiff shoulder. Also, my posture had disintegrated, my shoulders were rounded, I had forward head posture and I held my arm across my stomach. I call this protective mode and not very attractive.

In addition to the surgical issues, there were two chemotherapy drugs I took: the first four rounds attack soft tissue, the second four attack bone marrow. The side effects of the second drug were the worst. Imagine you have the flu times 100. I ached everywhere. The crazy thing was, I couldn’t tolerate the pain while sitting around, but I could when I was moving, walking or riding my bike.

I needed to keep moving.

The first thing I needed to do was regain mobility and range of motion. The next was stretching and addressing all of my issues. To do this, there were about 12 Pilates exercises I did every day, twice a day. It was pretty painful in the beginning, but I was starting to see results — what a motivator to continue! I still do these exercises to this day.     

While I was increasing my range of motion, I still didn’t have much strength. As I mentioned before, had been practicing Pilates for several years before my diagnosis. Through my research I found that STOTT PILATES® had just released two DVD’s for breast cancer rehabilitation. I was finally back doing Pilates.

This wasn’t just a once in a while thing. My day started with half an hour of stretching – shoulders, chest, back, legs and abs. After breakfast I completed a three-mile run and did 30 to 60 minutes of mat Pilates in the afternoon. I was seeing amazing results: my posture improved, I was able to stand upright, my overall strength and stamina were increasing, and I was regaining my confidence. 

In 2009, one year after my initial diagnosis and one week before Christmas, I had to have latissimus dorsi flap reconstruction due to complications from radiation. Known as a lat flap surgery, during this procedure your lat muscle on your back is moved to your chest, making recovery very difficult. After the surgery, I was told I would probably not be able to swim, ride a bike uphill or cross-country ski.

I was devastated.

Five days later I was back on my bike. It would be months before I would know if I could still swim.

In March, I was allowed back in the pool. I swam 72 laps — one mile — and I didn’t swim like Nemo. I immediately called my surgeon and told him I was going to do a triathlon. I registered for the Tinman Triathlon, an Olympic-distance race in Hawaii. The problem was I had only three months to train. My training consisted of my usual stretches and an hour of Pilates in the morning. In the afternoon, I either rode my bike or swam – increasing my distance each day. I set a goal to finish in 3 hours 30 minutes: I smashed that goal and finished the triathlon in 3 hours 20 minutes… I was back!

The next day I returned home for my final surgery.

Don’t tell my surgeon, but the day after each surgery I would get on my bike trainer and ride. I couldn’t touch the handlebars so I sat upright. The first day I rode for five minutes. I added five minutes each day, and by the time I went back for my six-week follow up, I was riding for two hours every day.

Those Three Little Words

I knew my life would be forever changed after being diagnosed with breast cancer. I also knew that if I wasn’t going to be around long, I was at least going to do something I loved.

During my recovery journey, I fell in love with Pilates and knew I wanted to share what I had learned with others. So, in September I moved to Toronto, Canada, and spent the next year training at the Toronto Corporate Training Center to become a STOTT PILATES® Certified Pilates Instructor. 

It may sound crazy, but I am forever grateful and humbled by this experience because it led me to my passion. It’s been 12 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I am still here against all odds. Recently, I heard three little words I never thought I would hear: “you are cured.”

So, what if movement is the answer? I whole-heartedly believe it is. And that is why I resolve to move every day!

STOTT PILATES® is a contemporary approach to the original exercise method pioneered by the late Joseph Pilates. Lindsay and Moira Merrithew, along with a team of physical therapists, sports medicine and fitness professionals, have spent over three decades refining the acclaimed STOTT PILATES® method of exercise. The refined method resulted in the inclusion of modern principles of exercise science and rehabilitation — making it one of the safest and most effective methods available. Samantha Fox is the owner and instructor at Studio F Pilates. Her studio is located in the Bank Block Building at 2 South Main Street in Heber City. For more information: 435.901.3699 or @studio_f_pilates.

Hypnotherapy is the application of the relaxed, yet highly focused state known as hypnosis for the purpose of achieving goals and creating lifelong transformation. Hypnosis is a natural state of mind with numerous beneficial characteristics.

In this natural state, our subconscious mind is open and receptive to powerful, positive healing ideas and imagery. In this state, we can learn to manage chronic pain, reduce stress, and change unwanted behaviors. But how and why does our subconscious work? Why can’t we just use our willpower to relax or reduce pain, eat healthier, or stop smoking? To answer these questions and more, consider the story of Chicken Little!

Chicken Little And The Flight Or Fight State

One fine morning, Chicken Little can be seen happily eating tasty corn in the barnyard, when an acorn suddenly falls on her head. Believing the sky is falling, she starts frantically running around, shouting, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” Chicken Little’s belief that the sky was falling was so strong that she convinced her emotions, which affected her behaviors and even her physiology. Her little chicken heart started to beat rapidly, her blood pressure went up, her cortisol levels increased, her immune system responses became suppressed, and her perception of pain increased. Chicken Little effectively, “stressed herself out.” What this story demonstrates is that our perceptions influence our autonomic nervous system. In the stress state, also known as the fight or flight state, the sympathetic nervous system is activated. Higher cognitive thinking decreases, and rational thought ceases. Our stress response is natural and designed to protect us from acute threats, but it becomes harmful when we live in that state 24/7. Sadly, many people are living today as if the sky is continuously falling. They are in a state of chronic, underlying stress, which puts them at increased risk of anxiety, depression, weight gain, sleep problems, and more.1

The Subconscious Mind Is Literal, So It Can’t Tell The Difference Between Fact And Fiction.

Living in a constant state of stress, predicting doom and gloom at every turn, means we are effectively saturating our subconscious mind with negative limiting beliefs or false truths. As Chicken Little shows us, this false truth can become our reality. Unlike our conscious mind, which is logical and analytical, the subconscious mind thinks in pictures and is literal. It can’t discern between fact and fiction and so believes what we tell and show it. This is especially true when experiencing a heightened state of emotion, such as fear. The subconscious mind is also the storehouse for all of our memories and beliefs, whether positive or negative. Although we like to think of ourselves as rational beings who make logical decisions, that’s not usually the case. It is our beliefs behind our emotions that drive our behaviors. That is why our conscious mind or willpower never wins over the subconscious.

Hypnotherapy Helps To Clear False Truths And Negative Imagery So You Can Achieve Your Goals.

Hypnotherapy is so effective for people because it works at the subconscious level. During a hypnotherapy session, we quiet the conscious mind so that we can speak directly to the subconscious mind. In the relaxed, yet highly focused state of hypnosis, we can effectively clear false truths and saturate the subconscious mind with healing imagery and positive healing ideas, also known as affirmations or suggestions. Hypnosis is a powerful state. On a physiological level during hypnosis, we shift from the fight or flight state (the sympathetic nervous system) to the resting or safe state, where the parasympathetic nervous system is activated. When the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, the perception of pain decreases (that’s how people learn to control and potentially even eliminate pain naturally). The immune and digestive systems get a boost, and higher mind problem-solving functions are supported.

What False Truths Have Resulted From Past Emotional And Physical Trauma?

People learn to rewire the brain to support their goals and to achieve transformation. Until we clear the negative beliefs and imagery that frequently result from past emotional and physical traumas, problems can remain or take a very long time to resolve. Pain worsens, self-worth suffers, unhealthy habits continue, and so on. Integral hypnotherapy does not involve reliving or talking through the details of past emotional or physical trauma. Integral hypnotherapists only need to understand what false truths resulted from a past trauma that may block a person’s ability to achieve their goals. They then work with the individual, using evidence-based protocols to reverse those limiting beliefs and saturate their subconscious mind with positive healing ideas and imagery that support their desired transformation.

You May Not Know It, But You Are Already Experienced At Self-Hypnosis!

Many people wonder if hypnotherapy will work for them or if they can be hypnotized. Although hypnotherapy is not appropriate for everyone, the vast majority of the population can learn to use their mind to achieve a state of hypnosis. Most people are surprised to learn that hypnosis is a natural state of mind that we all experience twice daily, upon waking and just before falling asleep. During these times, your brainwaves are predominantly in the alpha state – actually in the lower end of alpha and the top of theta. Experiencing the therapeutic benefits of self-hypnosis is grounded in science and human physiology, not magical or wishful thinking. To get the most benefit from a hypnotherapy session, you must be highly motivated to achieve your goals, have an open and receptive mind, and be willing to do the self-care work between sessions. A good imagination helps, too, as visualization techniques are heavily used.

All Hypnosis Is Self-Hypnosis.

No one can control your mind during hypnosis or make you do silly things or act in ways that are against your moral code. That’s a Hollywood myth that makes for a scary movie or entertaining stage act, but it is patently untrue. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. You are responsible for your own mind and how you use it. People can learn to control their pain in hypnosis. That’s more control, not less. Learning self-hypnosis is a re-education process and a skill. A good hypnotherapist teaches you to fish; they don’t just give you the fish. In only a few sessions, people can learn the lifelong skills they need to achieve their goals. Changing the beliefs that are behind the emotions and behaviors is the key to creating lasting transformation!

Is Hypnotherapy Right For Me?

For help with pain and other ailments, your medical provider’s or mental health provider’s approval is required to add hypnotherapy to your treatment plan. While hypnotherapy may have many beneficial effects, it is not a substitute for medical treatment or psychotherapy.

Audrey Holocher is a Certified Medical Support Clinical Hypnotherapist specializing in evidence-based protocols for natural, safe pain control, stress reduction, and behavioral change. she has an M.S. degree in Environmental Science and Engineering, a B.S. degree in Food Science and Technology, and is a Certified Narrative Consultant and Master Practitioner in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). more information at wasatchhypnotherapy.com.