How Yoga and Meditation Build Resilience

Claire Petretti Marti has been practicing, studying, and teaching yoga since 1999. Like many fitness enthusiasts, she was initially drawn to yoga for the physical benefits of strength, balance, and flexibility. Once she realized that serenity, peace of mind, and a general sense of happiness were predominant results of the practice, she was hooked.

Over the years, Claire faced several health challenges, including a diagnosis of breast cancer in January 2010. Yoga aided her healing throughout surgeries. chemotherapy, and radiation. Learning to live with cancer inspired her to earn her Yoga for Cancer Therapy certification and she now teaches classes specifically for people living with cancer. Learn more at

Resilience is the ability to stay strong through times of adversity, to prevent obstacles from destroying your spirit. Bouncing back after you hear the words, “you’ve got cancer,” isn’t always easy. No, that life-altering diagnosis rocks your world and places you on a different path, one you didn’t choose or foresee.

If you’re lucky, after a long arduous road of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments, you go into remission or are pronounced cancer-free. Just when you think you’re leaving cancer in the rear-view, your arm or your breast or your shoulder swells up and dread fills your heart because you know you’ve developed lymphedema and it’s like luggage: yours for life.

Lymphedema is a constant reminder of cancer––even after your hair has grown back, your life is moving forward and you feel invincible because of what you’ve handled. I thought I was going to cruise through radiation and sail off into the sunset, but I developed lymphedema after my sixth and final round of chemo. Spending three months bandaging the arm and going to a therapist who yelled at me to stop crying and accept I’d be in a sleeve forever almost broke me.

Around this time, I trained to teach yoga to cancer survivors, and began to implement all the tools of my longtime yoga teaching experience in a new way. Yoga and meditation helped me and many of my students surmount many side effects from cancer treatment, including lymphedema. It helped me bounce back and find not just my physical strength, but also tap into my inner well of emotional resilience.

One of my regular students, Tori, summed up how much a regular yoga practice means to her:

I feel there is a strong body- mind connection when it comes to illness and health. My oncologist can take care of the damaged plasma cells in my body thru chemo but it is up to me to take care of the rest of me and that includes the mind as well as the body. One can go down a dark road when given a diagnosis of cancer with no cure at present but I refuse to take that route. Exercise helps me be my physical best and yoga adds the additional component of improving my thoughts. It keeps me positive and so appreciative of what I still can do.

How can yoga help you? Yoga takes a three-pronged approach and addresses the entire person: body, mind, and spirit. These practices empower women to take part in their own health and recovery by being proactive. Here’s what a well-rounded yoga for cancer recovery practice can do for you:

  • Minimize physical and emotional side effects.
  • Restore mobility to surgery sites and help scar tissue.
  • Boost energy and improve mood.
  • Combat fatigue, stress, and insomnia with relaxation and breath techniques.
  • Restore flexibility, strength, range of motion.
  • Help with neuropathy and bone/muscle loss.
  • Enhance lymphatic flow, digestion and circulation.

  • Yoga and exercise can stimulate the lymphatic system by stretching the lymphatic vessel system. Flexibility exercises for the axillary area and chest wall are vital because tight muscles can cause congestion in the remaining lymph nodes. Compression sleeves are a must for maintenance, but I believe a regular yoga, meditation, and general exercise program helps keep the condition as dormant as possible. So, why not try yoga today and see how resilient and powerful you can feel!

    You can try one of my Yoga for Cancer Recovery Classes on or check out my Yoga for Cancer Recovery DVD on my website, Another great resource is, where you can find a book on Yoga 4 cancer, by Tari Prinster.