When yoga instructor Christina Phipps was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, she found that yoga helped her with her chemotherapy.
She soon began teaching classes to try to help other cancer patients, and after she died in June 2010, her family continued her mission, helping other yoga instructors learn to teach yoga to cancer patients. On July 8, AdventHealth Daytona Beach hosted an oncology yoga training class with the Christina Phipps Foundation, certifying 15 yoga instructors.
Ben Phipps, Christina's father, created the foundation in Jacksonville in 2010.
“After she had her first PET scan after her treatment, and it came back clean, she offered her first class free to yoga students,” said Jarrett Phipps, president of the foundation and Christina Phipps’ sister. “While my father came up with the idea of the foundation, he totally took this idea from what Christina was already doing.”
Research shows that yoga "can help reduce stress and fatigue, and improve flexibility, circulation, strength, breathing, sleep, mood, balance, and overall well-being," according to a news release from AdventHealth.
“From an AdventHealth initiative, we go at it from a team approach — so you have medical oncology, surgery, radiation, but we also look at the yoga team as part of our team," said Jody Sullivan, director of radiation oncology at AdventHealth Daytona Beach and AdventHealth Palm Coast. "We look at it as part of the journey the patients go through, and at them [yoga instructors] as a helping hand."
The yoga classes offer modifications for every pose and stretch to make sure cancer patients do not stress their bodies. The classes are offered in person and on Zoom.
“When someone goes through cancer treatments, and they experience fatigue, or they have pain or mobility issues, yoga helps restore that or maintain the function they already have," said Andria Roberts, a cancer care navigator at AdventHealth Daytona Beach. "It can also help them calm any anxiety or depression."
Kim Friedman, a member of the Christina Phipps Foundation board and a yoga teacher at AdventHealth, said instructors aim to help bring a "body awareness" to the students.
“If yoga can bring body awareness to them, which we try to focus on, hopefully they’re in touch with their bodies enough so when the body is speaking to them about a pain that is not going away, that they don’t ignore it anymore,” she said.
During the July 8 training class at AdventHealth Daytona Beach, AdventHealth physical therapists and certified lymphedema therapists Melanie Muller and Maria Dulay spoke to the upcoming instructors about oncology, treatment and things to look for in their patients.
“We see them initially, then when they’re finished with us, they know how to manage their diagnosis for the rest of their life, and they can continue with yoga classes to help that,” Muller said.
Dulay said that yoga can help prevent secondary complications like stiffness and limited range of motion.
LuAnn Henry became a certified yoga instructor in 2017, but has been doing yoga her whole life. At the recent training event, she earned her certification for oncology yoga treatment.
"Being able to connect with their [patients'] spiritual side will help them mentally," she said.
"I want to help," she said.
Michele Jain has had her yoga certification since 2001 and began teaching at AdventHealth in 2016.
“Doing these classes is kind of a way of me giving back," Jain said. "I know the benefits of yoga classes for people undergoing cancer treatments pre-, post- and during. I know that yoga has been helpful to everyone I have taught."
Sherrill Crotts, one of Jain’s current students, has been doing yoga at AdventHealth since 2017.
She did yoga before her cancer diagnosis but began participating in AdventHealth’s yoga classes during treatment.
“When I walked in the room with all of these people that are in the same place I am, it just felt so good to be around people that understood,” Crotts said.
She said yoga helped her body and spirit, and helped her find camaraderie with other patients.
“It would be entirely their choice, but I encourage everyone to at least try it, because it really does help,” Crotts said.
The classes are held at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays at AdventHealth Palm Coast and at 9:30 a.m. on Thursdays at AdventHealth Daytona Beach. There is also a class at 7 p.m. Thursdays held via Zoom.