Health Benefits of Tai Chi for Breast Cancer Survivors and People with Other Long Term Conditions

by Candy Gulko

People doing Tai Chi outside St Martin in the Fields, London.
People doing Tai Chi outside St Martin in the Fields, London.

Middle-aged and older women with breast cancer often suffer from other conditions, including osteoarthritis, heart failure, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Tai Chi has been shown to be an exercise that helps women with all of these common conditions.

A meta-analysis of 33 studies revealed that Tai Chi tended to improve walking distance and knee extensor strength in people with these conditions, and it also relieved the pain and stiffness associated with osteoarthritis.[1]

How Moving For Life Incorporates Tai Chi

Martha Eddy has incorporated some of the key qualities of movement found in Tai Chi into the Moving For Life DanceExercise™ classes. A simultaneous combination of grounding, sustained flow, spatial awareness and balance are evident in the Eddy’s gentle aerobics cool down.  The section of the class called ‘Tai Chi Ice Skating’ is a time for each mover to find her or his personal dance – like a figure skater enjoying solo time on the ice (but in this case in the company of other appreciative colleagues). The Moving For Life instructors compassionately guide newcomers so they are comfortable ‘doing their own thing’ along with other participants.

Further Reading: WebMD, Tai Chi Might Help People With Long Term Conditions – Link – http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/20150917/tai-chi-might-help-people-with-long-term-health-conditions

[1] Source: Chen YW et al. Br J Sports Med doi:10.1136/bjsports-2014-094388

Candy Gulko is a freelance medical writer.
Candy Gulko is a freelance medical writer.

In case you missed it – Martha Eddy in Dance Teacher Magazine

Moving For Life’s co-founder and program designer, Martha Eddy who is also an Exercise Physiologist. Somatic Movement Therapist, Certified Movement Analyst and Dance Educator wascropped-927738_2152409_14006083761.jpgfeatured in Dance Teacher Magazine.  Learn all about our history and how inspired our teachers are around the country. Thank you Caitlin Sims for writing a thorough and sensitive account of Moving For Life!  She includes quotes from our Bay Area MFL Certified Instructor (MFLCI) Melinda Teustchel and highlights the poignant story of one of our most active New York area MFLCI – Catherine Gross. 

Here is the article:

Dancing to Heal

Posted on March 1, 2014 by
Martha Eddy has created a movement class to counter the side effects of cancer treatment.

Martha Eddy (at center, in orange) leads a Moving For Life class in NYC.

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As Melinda Teutschel begins teaching an early afternoon Moving For Life class in Pleasant Hill, California, the dancers stand in a circle and close their eyes. “We’re going to find our breath,” she says. They move from a gentle warm-up through exercises that isolate and coordinate legs and arms, to a flowy aerobic section focused on balance and strength-building, then scatter to the walls for stretching. It takes a careful eye to realize that the program is created specifically for breast cancer patients, because, well, the participants are having so much fun. But this class is meticulously designed to be therapeutic, as well as invigorating.

It is clear, however, that this has evolved beyond a movement class into a supportive community. When one student, who has had recent foot surgery, needs to elevate her leg, others offer ice, pillows and a blanket. Another who has had recent reconstructive surgery confers with Teutschel and rejoins the class with minor modifications.

Moving For Life is an innovative program for breast cancer patients created by Martha Eddy in 1999. Eddy drew upon her knowledge of physiology, deep understanding of movement science and somatic education and the compassionate soul of an artist in creating MFL, which has spread beyond its New York roots across the U.S. to Japan, Canada and the Netherlands.

The initial concept, not surprisingly, came from a breast cancer patient herself. Dr. Allison (Annie) Stern Rosen was fatigued, depressed and struggling to get off the couch after surgery and radiation. She flipped on the TV and saw exercise guru Richard Simmons. Although she wasn’t strong enough to do many of the exercises, she swayed to the music. After 10 minutes, she was surprised to feel better. From this came an idea: Why not create an exercise DVD for people recovering from breast cancer? Rosen turned to Jan Albert, a friend, television producer and documentary filmmaker. Albert knew Martha Eddy, a certified movement analyst trained in Laban/Bartenieff studies and licensed Body-Mind Centering teacher, who also has an EdD in movement science and education from Columbia University.

Eddy spent hours talking with Rosen about the symptoms of breast cancer treatment, which can include joint pain, peripheral neuropathy and lymphedema. Each symptom impacted how Eddy designed the class. “That’s where my expertise in somatic movement came in really beautifully,” she says. “Annie’d say her joints hurt, and she didn’t want to get down on the floor or do level changes. She also said, ‘I’ve got fire feet,’ which is peripheral neuropathy. From chemotherapy, the nerves in people’s feet become a little numb or overly sensitive. In either case, it throws off balance. The third symptom she had was lymphedema, or swelling particularly of the lymph nodes.”

Eddy drew upon the diverse elements of her own training to design the class. “From my kinetic studies of Body-Mind Centering, I understood how to help lymphatic fluid flow as well as how to calm the nerves. And through my understanding of movement therapy, I was able to design exercises to meet each of those issues. Because of my background in exercise physiology, I could create a program that is gradated and safe. I used the dance education knowledge to parallel the use of the music to the gradation for the aerobic effect, and to make it fun.”

MFL centers around a set “classic” class that progresses through specific exercises set to music. Eddy piloted it at Teachers College, Columbia University, with breast and ovarian cancer patients. When Rosen and Albert realized how expensive creating a video would be, they tabled the idea. But Eddy had already designed the class, so she took it to hospitals and cancer support programs in New York City.

She was ahead of the curve; most other cancer exercise programs then shied away from an aerobic component. For Eddy, it was essential. “The number-one side effect to cancer is fatigue,” she explains. “But exercise combats fatigue. It’s the same way that working with weights strengthens muscles. You tax the muscles, and when they heal they come back stronger. It’s the same with cells. Unless you actually work yourself into the target heart range, they don’t get taxed, so they don’t work to become more efficient.”

The class was successful enough that Eddy soon needed to train other teachers. She had already created her own teacher-training program called Dynamic Embodiment, blending elements of Laban/Bartenieff work and Body-Mind Centering; this program became the initial source of teachers for MFL. As the program has expanded beyond New York City, Eddy has set prerequisites for the teacher-training that can be completed elsewhere. Students then attend 30 MFL classes as apprentice teachers, complete a pedagogical workshop in New York and take an exam. In all, it’s about 100 hours of training.

The training is comprehensive enough to enable teachers to adapt the “classic” class to fit the needs of their students. “We are also trained to be improvisational,” says Teutschel, who completed MFL’s teacher-training program in 2004 and started classes in the Bay Area in 2010. “So we have tons of tools in our basket to address many different students.” Teutschel calls the students in her Pleasant Hill class her rotator-cuff group. “They’ve all either had surgery or are in line to,” she says, “so we do a lot of experiential anatomy, learning how the shoulder girdle works. They soak it up because they know that it’s helping them.” Teutschel thinks this self-knowledge is one of the most valuable lessons of MFL. “The healing process entails education,” she says. “This is highly educational, but it’s accessible.”

As Teutschel’s class in Pleasant Hill comes to a close, one of the dancers turns to a friend. “We all know how important exercise is,” she says. “I’m beating this. Psychologically it’s so empowering.” DT

San Francisco–based Caitlin Sims is a former editor in chief of Dance Teacher.

In August, the initial vision of Rosen, Albert and Eddy was finally realized with a professionally produced DVD, Moving For Life, Dance to Recovery, which includes a 50-minute workout, a seated exercise class, a dance lesson and interviews with participants and doctors, plus health tips. movingforlife.org

From Student to Teacher 

Catherine Gross came to Moving For Life as a participant and was so transformed by her experience that she became a MFL teacher.

Catherine Gross was introduced to Moving For Life while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. “I felt at home right away,” she says. “It was safe; it was organic. The fact that I could move made a huge difference psychologically.” Gross appreciated the fact that the class could adjust to her changing needs during recovery, and that it was tailored specifically for breast cancer patients.

The class buoyed her spirits as well as strengthened her body. “I felt uplifted. The music was fun. And it was a place where we focused on what can we do, as opposed to what are the problems. It was getting back to who we really are, our own essence, our own bodies, our spirits. You can lose that when you are dealing with surgery and chemotherapy.”

She immediately wanted to learn more and eventually trained to become a MFL teacher. “I felt there was so much that was deep within it,” she says. “You learn how to tap into your internal energy through rhythm and music. I thought that was so powerful.”

When asked if she brings something extra to teaching because of her own experience as a patient, she demurs. “I think that all the MFL teachers are very sensitive to students’ needs,” she says. She acknowledges it can be inspiring for students to see the journey she has taken from student to teacher. And that she understands completely the feeling of having the world turned upside down by a cancer diagnosis.

MFL classes can be a respite from all that. “You’re moving, and for a moment you’re really forgetting about it,” she says. “Being able to express how something is feeling nonverbally is so healing. It’s a positive way of getting back into your life and getting back into your body.”

 Photos by Angelida Vanessa, courtesy of MFL

Lets get the swelling down! Nancy Bruning

After my mastectomy, I was bowled over by the extent of the surgery. I worried about restoring my range of motion and strength. That was bad enough. And then I heard about lymphedema—a permanent swelling of the arm, hand, fingers or chest  after breast cancer treatment.  In other words, potential for lifetime of discomfort and diminished use of my arm.

I was lucky to have been physically active before my diagnosis, and was eager to get back to that. Imagine my relief to learn that exercise—at the proper time after healing—was not only possible, but good for me. I never did get lymphedema, and decades after my treatment I have full use of my arm, although it does get a bit tired and achy if I overdo something, like kayaking for hours on end.

Recently, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued new guidelines. The guidelines say exercise will not make the lymphedema worse and could improve well-being. Their experts say that women who suffer swelling following breast cancer treatment should be encouraged to exercise.

I’d never heard of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) before they issued their important new guidelines. NICE is a non-departmental public body of the Department of Health in the United Kingdom that
publishes guidelines in four areas:  The use of health technologies, clinical practice, guidance for public sector workers on health promotion, and guidance for social care services and users. NICE has a high reputation internationally as a role model for the development of clinical guidelines, especially regarding cost–benefit boundaries. So, it behooves us to listen.

The new NICE guidance, recommends that  doctors and nurses discuss with patients how exercise may improve their quality of life—especially the one in five people treated for breast cancer who will go on to develop lymphedema.

Although they say that the current evidence shows “exercise does not prevent, cause or worsen lymphoedema”.

Lymphedema can happen when your body’s lymphatic system becomes damaged –in the case of breast cancer, by surgery or radiation–and is unable to drain fluid in the normal way.

Many people are confused and may be leery of exercise, thinking it could cause or worsen lymphedema.

Jackie Harris, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said  “Lymphoedema can be controlled but will never go away and we know that regular exercise has many benefits for those living with or at risk of lymphedema.”

“Regular movement in everyday life or work can help keep joints supple and aids lymph drainage and extra exercises can also be useful if swelling restricts movement of the arm.”

Moving for Life Dance classes are specifically designed to encourage lymph drainage.
Martha Eddy has studied and taught about the movement flow of lymph and how our own movementnchoices can help in increasing the flow, even after the adversity of surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.  She has created the Lymphatic Warrior Phrase that can be done seated or standing.  Women who have practiced MFL report reduced swelling, less pain, and the ability to fly without swelling worsening when they do the exercises at home or while traveling.   MovingForLife_abstract MovingForLife_Air That I BREATHE X MovingForLife_animated bye

The Unconventional Lecturer

 

Earlier this month, Dr. Martha Eddy invited me to a Moving For Life lecture.

Once at Jacobi Hospital, I sat in a circle with about fifteen other women who came to SHARE’s breast cancer support group in Jacobi Hospital. Dr. Eddy began with a check in: what hurts. Almost unanimously, joints. For some it was back, for some it was the knees. Most were fatigued and unmotivated. In this moment, the women enjoyed unapologetic honesty by airing out the pains they silently suffer day to day. I know it was comforting to hear that none of the ailments were uncommon.

Continuing on, I realized I was misled by the word “lecture”, which implies that one person talks to a group, maybe opening the floor to questions at the end. Instead, Dr. Eddy created a space of dialogue. At any moment, women would speak up for clarification or a quick question. We laughed at some of the stories they were willing to share. And at one point, were brought to tears by one in particular who was stuck at a treatment option crossroads. Fortunately, the other ladies gave honest advice about their own experiences with treatment and recovery.

Dr. Eddy had some of her own advice too. For the joints they complained about earlier: some hand exercises that played with squeezing and pressure. For those joints, we focused on posture and bone alignment. For ab strength, which would relieve back pain, a core strengthening workout that can be done in the chair. “I can feel that one! Woo!” one woman laughed. With each direction, everyone in the room mimicked Dr. Eddy’s move, but also got to hear exactly why and how the movement would benefit them. In this way, the value of movement is no secret.

The information is there, but perhaps never before presented in such an accessible format. I thoroughly enjoyed the relaxed environment. I enjoyed feeling talked to instead of talked at. And I appreciated the genuineness from everyone present, which showed in the eagerness to share what we knew to help the other women in the group.

Lectures like these and classes are available several times a week. Click for a schedule. Each time you go is sure to be different. I will be going to Emblem Health in Harlem today for the 5:30pm DanceExerscise class! Hope to see you there!

Moving your way to a better stronger you!

I was first exposed to Moving For Life (MFL) through my endless late night hours of Internet research, desperately trying to find an organization, institute or even a person that works with cancer patients through exercise. I knewSamara headshot  it existed and I knew the remarkable positive impact movement has on those going through treatment and recovery, but finding the right source was certainly a mission. Till one day Icame across a non-profit organization that was founded by reputable professionals comprised of breastcancersurvivors, movement therapists, psychologists, medical doctors and concerned physicians. Their personal stories initiated the creation of Moving For Life – a healthy exercise program medically endorsed by numerous surgeons, oncologists and social workers (and engaged in research with NYU Langone Medical Center), that uses gentle aerobics, dance and fitness related exercises to help regain immunity, mental and physical strength while fighting all symptoms of treatment such as fatigue, neuropathy, lymphedema and an overall depleted self. I immediately wrote an email to MFL all the way from India, one that could be considered very far from a formal introductory description of my professional capabilities and very close to an informal personal story from the heart. I hardly expected a response, but to my surprise I got it soon after from a woman named Martha. I then learnt in the coming weeks that Dr. Martha Eddy, one of the co-founders of MFL is a reputable Exercise Physiologist, and Registered Movement Therapist (RSMT) with a doctorate from Columbia University in Movement Science and Education and a world-renowned dance educator. She was one of the early founders of the cancer exercise profession. I started to recognize how fortunate I was to be in such distinguished company.

Samara in action at the dance parade 2014
Samara in action at the dance parade!

I now train to be an MFL teacher and attend the free MFL classes that are offered for patients and their loved ones around New York City, (as well as Cincinnati, Canada and Tokyo).  At my first class, what was actually a one-hour session seemed to fly by. The energy in the room was exuberant. Amongst the cancer survivors, there were of course those who were slightly less physically active and some who
if had more energy than usual, but everyon Continue reading Moving your way to a better stronger you!