Yoga Instructor Gayl Walder Helps Women with Breast Cancer Take Control

Less than a month after 11 hours of surgery, Gayl Walder stood strong on her mat.

Like Virahbhadra, the eponymous warrior of the powerful yoga pose, Walder chose to confront her challenges head on and she’s now helping others do the same.

After learning her mother had breast cancer, and her subsequent positive genetic test result for the BRCA gene (as a carrier, a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer can increase as much as 90 percent), Walder, a Deerfield resident and the mother of 4 school-age children, elected to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy.

Practicing yoga for 11 years and teaching for 5 years to both corporate clients and at North Shore studios including Healing Power Yoga in Highland Park, Walder found the calm and clarity through her practice to make the difficult choice of elective surgery. “Yoga literally saved my life,” she says.


“It was so overwhelming, and no one could give me the answers I needed,” Walder says about her difficult medical decisions. “But when I stepped on my yoga mat, the chitta (mind-stuff) stopped. I felt a sense of tranquility.”

The combination of both the physical and the spiritual benefits of yoga aided Walder through her difficult recovery. In turn, her yoga practice has risen to a new level. “I’ve gotten rid of anything bad in my bod. I move better and I’m more flexible,” she says.

This life-changing experience empowered Walder to take an intensive training at Om Yoga Center in New York and become certified to teach yoga for cancer survivors. She began offering these classes on the North Shore last month and the classes continue through December at North Suburban Wellness Center (1732 First St., Highland Park) and Niyama Yoga (742 12th St., Wilmette).

Walder’s classes are open to all, not just cancer survivors, but relatives, friends and especially women who are carriers of the BRCA gene. No prior experience is needed for the healing yoga sequence that incorporates breathing, slow arm stretches, balance and strength building postures.

As in her own practice, Walder wants the benefits of yoga to transcend the physical body. She’s trying to create a safe space to bond with women who share similar experiences and to learn from their journeys. “Above all, I’m trying to find ways to empower women,” Walder says.

The cost of each class is $25 and a percentage will be donated to Susan G. Komen—Chicagoland Area. For a full yoga schedule and more information about Gayl Walder, click here.