Emmy-winning TV host and bestselling author Samantha Harris has teamed up with Susan G. Komen to offer the first-ever yoga program specialized for the breast cancer community, which launched Jan. 14. In these classes, YogaWorks instructors deliver intentional practices and sessions for the breast cancer community by providing them with direct access to highly beneficial yoga activities and resources.
As a breast cancer survivor and yoga aficionado herself, Harris is thrilled to be part of it all. Ahead of the launch, she caught up with Modern Luxury to tell us all about the power of yoga, the importance of prioritizing mind-body connection and what to expect from Yogaworks Pink.
Out of all forms of exercise, why is yoga a good choice for the breast cancer community?
For a multitude of reasons. First, its trifecta of movement, breathwork and mindfulness is the epitome of what we need to thrive after a diagnosis.
The movement component enables us to build strength in our legs, core and (eventually) upper body. That will allow us to aid recovery faster, gain mobility more effectively, as well as reclaim our body and gain confidence again.
The breathwork portion activates the parasympathetic nervous system to alleviate the stress response, reduce anxiety and bring about a sense of calm at a time when we can be overwhelmed with fear and worry.
Breathwork also is one of my Your Healthiest Healthy essential tools to keep continual high levels of cortisol at bay in order to reduce inflammation that can often be a precursor to all chronic diseases. Deep belly breaths also can help maintain a strong immune system, which is paramount when undergoing chemotherapy. Additionally, it can lower blood pressure and improve cardio response due to the influx of oxygenation as well as improve muscle function during exercise and precent strain.
That brings us to mindfulness. Although building strength and flexibility brought me to yoga, it’s the breathwork and mindfulness areas of the practice that kept me coming back for more. Learning how to slow down, tune inward and focus on one movement at a time can often be the toughest part for many (me, included!). It’s a skill that takes consistency and the yoga practice reinforces it each time you hit the mat.
When we are in the midst of an onslaught of what I call “cancerversity” (A.K.A. cancer university), it’s nearly impossible to think of anything else. While in yoga, the helpful and continual reminders from expert instructors to stay present helps us to guide our minds back to the moment and (ideally) forget all the other worrisome or busy thoughts flooding our minds. This tool has helped me in so many ways, off the mat now, to alleviate stress and maintain focus.
How is this yoga program specialized for the breast cancer community?
The practice and poses, as part of the YogaWorks Pink program from Susan G. Komen and YogaWorks, is adapted to the mobility restrictions, limitations and challenges, as well as the emotional and mental health concerns we often have coming out of surgery or undergoing treatment.
The lessons shared within the Pink collection will be offered to all levels with simple, accessible, basic moves that level up as our ability (physically and mentally) allow for it. What’s especially wonderful is that the moves we learn within the program can be utilized to branch out to take any of the more than 1,300 on-demand and more than 15-plus live classes per week within the entire YogaWorks platform.
I love taking the 9:30am PST Vinyasa class on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays with Vinnie for 75 minutes!
Is YogaWorks Pink for people in the middle of treatment?
Absolutely! It’s actually extra-wonderful to partake while in treatment. Truly, even if you join a class, breathe and remain in child’s pose for the entire time …THAT is yoga. So often, we think of yoga as this scary thing that forces us into pretzel-like positions or requires the ability to do a handstand. Nothing could be further from the truth. This Pink program is for all stages of treatment and recovery, all levels and all ages!
We know there are classes, but there are also other activities and resources! Can you tell us more about the program and why it’s important to also prioritize wellness and mind-body connection in one’s health journey?
Yes, offerings from the program go beyond the many dedicated breast cancer-focused live and on-demand YogaWorks Pink classes.The wonderful information and resources from Susan G. Komen will be offered here as well.
The breast cancer community as a whole (which includes patients, survivors, those in treatment, those living with metastatic breast cancer, but also family members, caregivers and practitioners who all are an important part of our cancer journey) will learn how and when to get screenings, how to access care, gain mental health tools, as well as discover methods to acquire other tools to help with recovery and life “on the other side”.
In terms of the essential importance of the mind-body connection, when we are more in tune with our bodies, we have the ability to notice small changes that could literally save our life. That’s what it did for me.
Just eleven days after a clean mammogram, I found a lump while changing after a workout. The mind-body connection played a two-part role here. First, being in tune with and knowing my body because I exercised regularly allowed me to notice this lump. Second, and possibly even more important, I listened to my inner voice (A.K.A. my gut instinct) after two doctors told me the lump was “nothing”. They saw me a month apart and sent me on my way with a “if you are concerned, we will keep an eye on it” throw-away parting phrase.
Yet, that nagging lump still reared it’s pestering head four months later — never going away — so that I finally listened to the whispers of my inner voice as it shouted now at me, yelling: “GET THIS CHECKED…by someone who looks at breasts every day as their job, who knows what to look for in case it’s something worrisome”.
That’s when I truly flew into action to pursue the expertise of an oncologist. Yup, not “nothing”:
age 40 with invasive, stage II breast cancer. Our daughters were just ages three and six at the time. So, ladies, get your annual exams, know your body and don’t stick your head in the sand. Get answers.
You are a self-described breast cancer thriver. How do you think YogaWorks Pink could have helped your recovery?
Oh my gosh, this would have been the exact thing I could have used while recovering and regaining my strength and range of motion! I felt so lost when trying to figure out how to move my body in a safe and effective way after my three surgeries in 2014. I felt so lost…and I am a certified fitness trainer! So, I can only imagine how challenging this must be for those without a fitness background.
Now we have access to this first-ever program that provides a safe, expert-guided environment to offer movements, poses and options for all of us. What’s extra cool is the live-class factor, so if we want to ask a question or raise a concern about a pose to our instructor after class, we have that opportunity. Then we get to carry on those adaptations to the next level of movement within or outside of the program!
What words of wisdom would you offer to someone newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
Please take a deep breath. You do NOT need to learn it all in a day. You do NOT need to make drastic changes overnight to take even better control of your wellbeing (but I will be here for you when you are ready to take small-step action!).
Move your body every day. In any way that feels comfortable. Talk to someone. Anyone who you feel safe with to share your fears, concerns, cry with, laugh with and who can help create a plan for action with you. Nourish yourself. Mentally and nutritionally. (Again, I am here to help! I share a lot on my Instagram and Facebook — both @SamanthaHarrisTV — and I aim to respond to each of you who reach out).
Breathe. Yup, I said it again.
After undergoing treatment and/or surgery for breast cancer, it can take some time to feel comfortable in your body again. How would you suggest someone in this period of recovery stay motivated and optimistic?
Keep trying. There will be days you just don’t feel up to it and want to crawl in a hole and wallow. I get it. Been there.
Movement, exercise and sunshine are all mood lifters, even on those days where you don’t want to get out of bed. Do it! Get up (as much as recovery will allow). Open the curtains. Stretch as much as is comfortable. The more we move, the more our body wants to move. You know the saying, “A body at rest…”— you know the rest. So be that body in motion. ANY motion will do. Just move. Another effective tool I used during my recovery: Positive self-talk. It’s a pillar of my Your Healthiest Healthy lifestyle that I share with others through my private wellness group, retreats and courses (launching soon!).
When we continually think negatively, our whole body feels it. It’s imperative to change our brain and we can re-train it to think positively. So the next time you focus on all the “bad” of a diagnosis, I would like to invite you to flip your POV, as I did. Focus on the good things that are happening in your life, what your body allows you to do and can do for you and tap into gratitude for the people and things that make your life full and happy.
What are you most proud of about teaming up with YogaWorks Pink?
I am most proud that we get to give access at no-cost for three months to all in the breast cancer community to help with recovery in ways that have never been available before now. It’s also fantastic that for those who want to continue membership, 25% of all proceeds go directly back to Komen AND with a guaranteed minimum $100,000 donation from YogaWorks.
The work that Komen does for awareness, access to care, advocacy, assistance and research carries with it tremendous importance, so that our own children (and I have two teen daughters, so this hits home!) will hopefully never have to worry about this diagnosis in their lifetime.
How has your life evolved since your 2014 diagnosis?
After my diagnosis, the trajectory of my career pivoted. Yes, I still do my work as a TV host (my current show, Tug of Words, airs every weekday on Game Show Network), but my passion became my purpose.
I went back to school in my 40's to become a certified health coach, wrote my book (Your Healthiest Healthy, which debuted at #1 on Amazon!) and now guide others on how to reduce toxins in, on and around their bodies and integrate other wellness tools to reduce their risk of chronic disease.
Today, at 49, I am more fit, energetic, vibrant and happier than I have ever been! I am grateful to my family for all the love and support they continue to give me daily so that I may continue to thrive.
Photography by: Courtesy of Samantha Harris