Stretch Heal Grow

We hosted another wonderful retreat this year for young women living with breast cancer. I have such an incredible team and such generous sponsors that all work together to make the magic happen.

Here is a  little recap via Rethink Breast Cancer and some beautiful pictures taken by Melanie Gordon who really captured the feel of the retreat.

And of course thank you to everyone who donated this year. Take a look to see where your money went and how appreciated it was.

We are doing out best to inspire and support young women living with breast cancer as they navigate through life during, after and in ongoing treatment.

Click on the link below for the recap, post and pics:

Stretch Heal Grow 2016



Stretch Heal Grow 2016


I am thrilled to announce the 4th annual Stretch Heal Grow yoga retreat for young women with breast cancer.

As a survivor I want to be able to give back, to offer some way to help women on their healing journey. So in 2013 I started the Stretch Heal Grow yoga and wellness retreat for young women with breast cancer.

 I have brought together a top notch team of practitioners who will be our guides through a weekend of yoga, healthy eating, meditation, relaxation, exercise, community and healing. I’m also hoping there will be lots of laughter and few new friendships by the time  Sunday rolls around.

Breast cancer diagnosis and treatment changes a young woman’s life in every way. It not only affects her physically but emotionally and mentally as well.

This retreat is a chance to spend time healing their bodies and minds. They will be surrounded by people who understand what they have been through and can share experiences. It will be a safe place to process what it means to live with post cancer treatment or with ongoing treatment.

Going through a year or more of cancer treatment is a huge financial burden and I didn’t want any of the women attending to miss out because it was not  within their budget.  Sometimes getting away from it all for a few days is a perfect prescription for healing.

That is why the cost to attend for the weekend  ( other than transportation) will be covered for the women attending. I am partnering with Rethink Breast Cancer again this year. With their support as well as some fundraising we will make it happen for another group of women!

 If you are interested in finding out more or applying to attend please visit     

This year’s retreat runs from Wednesday August 17 – Friday 19, 2016

Location: Trillium Resort and Spa 

If you know of a young woman (in Canada who is under 45) living with breast cancer that might benefit from attending please pass this post along to her.

Mindfulness can help manage your stress and anxiety

I wrote a guest post for Rethink Breast Cancer’s blog this week. The post offers some tips and info about mindfulness and how it can help with stress and anxiety. Rethink Breast Cancer is a charity that offers support to young women living with breast cancer.

Click here to read the post.

I am a big fan of mindfulness because it is such a powerful self care tool for living with a chronic illness of any kind, stress, fatigue, anxiety and the list goes on. It’s something that you can do for yourself to help your own healing journey.


Be like water

I emailed my long time yoga teacher Amba Stapleton a few weeks back and mentioned to her that I was in cancer treatment. Her response was ” I didn’t know you were having a momentary health crisis. I don’t like to name things. As you know the body is constantly in a fluid state, in balance , off balance, it’s a constant dance.

Those words resonated with me on a deep level and got me thinking. We so often push or pull against what we want to move  towards. We force what we want to have, be it health, love, money, happiness – the list in endless. What if we slow down and remember that we are all made  mostly of water – so our natural state is fluid – like water.  Water moves, sometimes in waves, sometimes in ripples. Even when it seems perfectly still there is always a tiny minutia of movement as the water breathes and holds life within it.

I have been playing with that idea for the past few weeks. When I feel anxious or tight I think ” be like water” and I breathe into it. Its softens me, lets go of the edges. To increase my connection with water I made sure I was around water a lot this summer. Lakes, rivers, ponds whatever I could get near. Even just putting my feet in and feeling the calming energy of the water was enough. Listening to the waves and staring out as far as I could along the edge of the horizon seemed to create a feeling of ease within.  I feel that something has shifted in me since I’ve been consciously incorporating water energy  into all that I do.

Since surgery my spine had been tight and sore and it affected my entire body. I stayed stiff to protect my spine for fear it would fracture again – but I have let go of that fear a little bit . Wow what a difference. I can feel my strength returning just by softening and allowing my body to find it’s fluidity and it’s own organic movement. The “constant dance” as Amba put it.

This idea of being open to movement and change and being fluid applies not only to our physical bodies but to our thoughts and emotions as well. Sometimes we get fixated on things, ideas or ways we want something to be. We get so wrapped up that it’s hard to unravel even it we want to. That is where you can apply the idea of being like water again and finding a flow. Try letting things move and transition in a softer way in your mind and in your daily life. Allow a sense of wonder and possibility, a grey area instead of just black and white. The qualities of water are seamless, flexible, continuous, variable, open and of course life giving.

A few ways to play with the concept of discovering a softer more fluid side of yourself in the everyday:

  • Allow  your breathing be fluid and not sharp, notice when it is getting stuck and give yourself a few moments to just breathe.
  • Allow your movements be fluid – notice it you are grasping your hands, your neck or your jaw.
  • Try and let  your thoughts be fluid and not fixed – discover mindfulness, be in the moment without resisting.
  • Let your meditation and yoga practice not be rigid but instead let it flow in a way that feels good for you.
  • Allow your health goals to  be open to change,movement and all possibility.
  • Allow  your career path to  be open to change and  transformation – even thrive in it!
  • Be near water as often as you can. Lakes, rivers the ocean – they each have their own healing energy.

…….and of course drink water – hydrate your vessel from within.

 “Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall, it will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go, and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.”  – Margaret Atwood from the Penelopiad






The Lymphatic System, Lymphedema and Cancer

This week I want to introduce you to Rebecca Wilkinson. She is an incredible RMT and part of the Stretch Heal Grow yoga retreat team. I asked Rebecca to help shed some light on how the lymphatic system works. She also adds some tips for those of you who have been through breast cancer and are concerned about lymphedema. Feel free to pass this article along to a friend who might need it. Thanks Rebecca!!

The Lymphatic System is a little known system in the body responsible for transporting fluid, known as lymph, from the rest of the body back to the heart.  It is made up of a network of vessels similar in appearance to veins.  These vessels converge on a lymph node.  The body contains approximately 600 lymph nodes; about 160 of these are in the neck.  They can sometimes be felt in the neck when the body is fighting an infection like the common cold.  The rest of the lymph nodes are spread throughout the body and occur in small clusters.

Lymphedema, put simply, is a chronic buildup of protein rich fluid in an area of the body due to a dysfunction of the lymphatic system.  There are 2 types of lymphedema: Primary Lymphedema is a developmental disturbance of the lymphatic vessels and/or lymph nodes.  Secondary Lymphedema is an insufficiency of the lymphatic system as a result of internal or external impairment.  In North America, the leading cause of lymphedema is cancer treatment.

Cancer treatment can take various forms including surgical removal of the cancerous cells, chemotherapy, and radiation.  When surgery is done to remove the tumor, there is usually a sample of lymphatic tissue taken as well, sentinel node biopsy.  Should this tissue come back positive for cancerous cells, more lymphatic tissue is removed.  Removal of some or all of the lymph nodes creates a “break” in the lymphatic system and drainage becomes more difficult.  The body can cope for a certain period of time; eventually an overworked lymphatic system becomes overloaded.  Think of the lymphatic system like our network of roads and highways.  There are small one lane roads, two or three lane main roadways and our highways.  The lymphatic “highways” are the ones that make their way to the lymph nodes.  What would happen if your normal exit on the highway is suddenly removed (or under construction)?   Or even worse, what happens if there is a major accident and the entire highway is blocked?  Some sort of detour happens and it takes longer for you to get to your destination.  The same happens to the lymph fluid, except that sometimes the smaller vessels cannot handle the extra volume and chronic swelling happens.

The good news is that there are preventative measures you can take (although this is not a guarantee) and there are treatment options should lymphedema develop.

Preventative Steps:

Slow Recovery – Research has shown that the risk for lymphedema actually increases if recovery takes place too quickly.  It is recommended that breast cancer patients not raise their arm over their head for at least a month post-surgery.

Self Treatment – Self massage can actually help to repair some of the damaged lymphatic tissue.  Simply stroke up the affected arm and across the chest into the armpit of the opposite arm.  Pressure should mimic that of petting a cat or dog.

Seek the advice of a therapist – Find a therapist in your area who you can talk to and ask questions.

Treatment Options:

Compression – A compression garment will be the most helpful should you develop lymphedema

Therapy – Make an appointment with a qualified therapist as soon as you feel any changes in the arm, including any heaviness.  Often this is the first warning sign, even before any visible signs


Rebecca Wilkinson has been practicing Massage Therapy since she graduated from Sutherland-Chan School and Teaching Clinic in 2007.  She enjoys working with her clients to relieve pain and restore balance.  Her passion is working with cancer patients and using massage and lymphatic drainage to assist with recovery and improve quality of life.

You can find her at:

Easy-Peasy Therapeutic Yoga Practice for Shoulders & Hips

 Next week is our second annual Stretch Heal Grow yoga retreat and I am very excited. We have an incredible team this year including yoga teacher Leo Mowry. This week Leo is my guest blogger and she has some great tips for a short but effective yoga practice. Thanks Leo!


I’ve been teaching yoga for almost 13 years and if there’s one thing I’ve learned about creating a home practice for my students, it’s the importance of keeping it simple. As such, when Jasmin asked me to “guest blog” for The Deva Life, I realized that I had to come up with a super-effective practice that’s so easy that anyone can do it, and in a short period of time.

As a longtime yoga therapist, I’ve also realized the value of suggesting poses that offer the most bang for their buck.  For example, poses that don’t just improve flexibility, but also relieve stress.  To that end, I’ve come up with the simplest possible practice; just 2 poses!  This teeny tiny 10-20 minute practice will substantially soften tight shoulders and hips, leaving you a little easier in your body, and quieter in your mind.  I hope you enjoy it!

1)     Supported Heart Opener: (softens chest, shoulders, arms)

  • Roll a yoga mat tightly (standard size mat, please, or a tightly rolled towel or blanket to simulate the size of a rolled mat) and sit down with your knees bent and feet planted.  Place the bottom of the mat at your bra strap and lie down so it’s aligned along the spine and supporting the head.  Extend the legs straight out in front of you (knees bent with feet planted if the lower back isn’t 100% happy) and relax.  You may feel like the rolled up mat is digging quite aggressively into your back.  This usually signals a tight upper back and these sensations should gradually subside as you relax and breathe.  Focus on the breath as you relax for a few minutes, letting go of tension and clenching as best as you can.  Then, remove the mat and notice how your shoulders connect with the ground.
  •  After a few minutes in position “a”, if the sensations have subsided and you’d like to increase the stretch, grab your tightly rolled mat again. This time, you’re going to lie in a “t” position: legs straight out in front of you, arms straight out at shoulder height with the palms facing up.  The mat should be placed parallel with the arms, at bra strap level, and should be aligned evenly from left to right.  The arms should be extended above the mat, on the floor; not on the mat or below it.  Extend the legs straight out in front of you (knees bent with feet planted if the lower back isn’t happy) and relax.  Focus on the breath as you relax for a few minutes, once again letting go of tension and clenching as best as you can.  Then, remove the mat and notice again how your shoulders connect with the ground.

2)     Legs Up the Wall: (softens hips, lower back, legs)

Lie down with your legs straight up a wall.  If it’s a big leg stretch or your lower back is lifted off the ground, move your buttocks away from the wall until the lower back is on the ground and the spine is neutral.  For comfort, you may need a little softness under the lower back in the form of a folded blanket, small pillow or folded towel. Imagine the thigh bones descending easily into the hip sockets, and bring a slight bend to the knees, taking care not to collapse the pose.  Bring your focus to the hip creases, relaxing and breathing easily for several minutes.

Please remember that yoga should not hurt, and it’s always best to consult a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen.  Moreover, the length of time we can comfortably hold a pose varies from person to person.  If discomfort arises and persists beyond a few breaths, come out of the pose.  Feel free to contact me with any questions!


Leo Mowry, August 2014

Leo owns Village Yoga in Toronto and is the host of A Brand New Day on Rogers TV.  Follow Leo on Facebook at, or contact her at