Body: Connection

A cancer diagnosis is simply heart-wrenching. Besides dealing with the disease itself, the fear and apprehension of treatment—in addition to the usual chaos of life—can be overwhelming.

In a non-descript conference room on the first floor of the Center for Advanced Care at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, cancer patients and survivors find comfort and help dealing with their diagnosis. The room’s tables are pushed to the walls, rectangular sticky mats line the floor, nubby wool blankets are piled high and chairs are scattered about. At the center of it all is yoga instructor Alison Faith, welcoming her students—men and women—who are going through treatment or have survived cancer.

“My students are coping with fear, anxiety and sometimes depression, on top of all of the physical things that they are going through,” says Faith, a Glencoe resident who’s been teaching the class for over a year through a partnership with the Cancer Wellness Center in Northbrook. “They come to class in various degrees of health, sometimes just before a surgery. This is a safe place to get back in touch with their very core and leave behind their anxieties.”

The wellness connection between yoga and cancer has gotten a big boost in recent years, with the National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic and oncologists studying the correlation between a regular yoga practice and reduced sleep interruption, fatigue and dependence on sleep medication for patients. Not to mention the stress-relief that yoga students report.

Breast-cancer survivor Deedee Chesley of Winnetka is a true believer. “Going to yoga was a reprieve. It allowed me to feel good, even for a short time.”

Faith circles the room, making personalized adjustments for students. Rehabilitative yoga takes years to learn; Alison, a certified teacher since 2004, has been studying the intricacies of instruction through her seven-year apprenticeship with renowned Yoga Circle director Gabriel Halpern. A busy mom to two teenage boys and a teen daughter, Faith’s prior professional background was as a lawyer.

According to CWC program coordinator Debbie Kronenberger, Faith’s class is a popular one: “She’s really an exceptional teacher.”

“These classes are the most exciting part of my teaching,” according to Faith, who also leads sessions at the Glencoe Park District. “My students are all terrific people; they’re lovely souls. And that I am helping them find peace—even if it’s only for an hour. It’s always a good feeling when you can be of real service.“