Enhancing Intimacy: Yoga for Couples After a Cancer Diagnosis
I was a young intern at a top-ten university medical center when I was working with individuals who were hospitalized on a spinal cord injury unit. I was there to perform neurological assessments and individual or family counseling, but I had an additional ambitious goal. My goal was to develop a support group for individuals on the unit.
A topic came up about sex and intimacy after having a spinal cord injury. “Can I have sex,” “how soon” and “how will my partner accept me” were some of the common questions. I responded by meeting with a leading sexologist at the university and since this was prior to current HIPAA regulations, I was handed patient records for the last five years. My objective was to have former patients come back to be a regular part of the monthly support group. We learn and can find support from individuals who overcome or who still may face similar obstacles. Sex and intimacy after any kind of physical injury or change in appearance can lead to anxiety and, all too often, irrational fears.
The group was a success and to this day exists for current and former patients to address not only sexuality, but any important topic of adjustment following injury.
How does this relate to cancer and survivorship you ask? I was researching funding for my Yoga 4 Cancer programming when I was saddened to learn that divorce rates are high for couples following cancer, and especially following breast cancer. The research was suggesting intimacy was a factor which can lead to isolation and eventually separation or divorce.
While I have currently been unable to secure outside funding for my Yoga 4 Cancer programming, I have moved forward with an idea to help couples following a diagnosis of breast cancer. My idea is in working with an individual affected by cancer and then offering couple’s yoga sessions, which support connection, shared breathing based on Tantra techniques and supporting a sense of intimacy, which can support and promote the sensual feelings. I am new to the work, but I am confident that I will develop a program and workshop which will be supportive. I am thankful to the first couple who has stepped forward to help me work on developing such a program with a goal of helping them and many others in the future.
Why Yoga? Yoga is about the union of breath and movement, but with aspects of Tantra and Thai techniques, it can lend to a deeper connection with self and others. Beginning with meditation, couples can learn to relax individually and then move forward to connect with one another in touch and breath and then mindfully to move past personal beliefs and fears.
Men sometimes have a difficult time connecting with emotions, and the yoga sessions can be a way for men to learn allow feelings to surface without having to be overly verbal. They can breathe with the emotions and learn to find their own connection and path to healing in the journey which has likely led to fear and a misconception – “she probably doesn’t want me to touch her.” Women can find connection by feeling that their partner can be a source of support in a private and somewhat sensual way. Their partner can guide them with a peaceful and connected touch, as well as with breath.
While I don’t expect the yoga programming will cure all problems after cancer, I merely hope it will be a guide for couples to address difficult topics, which might be leading to isolation, fear and a lack of connection – even if it’s just temporary. I believe such programming has the potential to improve individual relationships and relationships beyond oneself with a little trust and open-mindedness. While it is currently for cancer survivors, any couple can benefit from couple’s, Thai and Tantra yoga for improved connection.
If you think it is something you want to try, I encourage couples to contact a local yoga studio for classes and discuss the option with the studio owner. Such classes are very popular in some areas, and if not year-round, they seem to be a hit in late January and early February. Think about giving it a try. Then, feel free to share feedback with other cancer survivors, so they might be able to benefit. I will most certainly be relying upon the feedback of the couples I work with to develop what I hope will be a comprehensive workshop that can benefit its participants.