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Tue, Sept. 17

Yoga class strives to help cancer patients



Sherrill Prideaux Smith believes in the healing power of yoga.

A survivor of thyroid cancer, Smith, 53, said yoga helped her get through treatment. Smith, the director of the Arizona chapter of Yoga Bear, a nonprofit organization, is seeking yoga studios in Prescott, Flagstaff and Sedona to participate.

Halle Tecco founded Yoga Bear in San Francisco in 2006 to help cancer patients and survivors. Since then it's spread to about 200 studios nationwide, including 15 in Arizona, that participate by providing free beginning yoga classes to those battling cancer.

Tecco said she's gotten "great feedback from the men and women who have taken yoga through Yoga Bear partner studios."

Studies show that yoga can help manage symptoms of cancer treatment such as fatigue, anxiety and depression, she said.

"Becoming a partner in the Share a Mat program is an easy way for studios to give back to their local community," Tecco said. And it can "make a huge impact on the life of a survivor."

Smith, a Chandler resident, said that participants are required to get their doctor's permission first. She has four patients in Prescott who have asked to take classes and is seeking studios here to become Yoga Bear partners. Yoga often helps ease insomnia, depression and pain that can plague cancer patients, Smith said.

"I'm a cancer survivor myself," Smith said. "My family has been stricken with cancer several times. I began yoga practice just prior to my diagnosis with thyroid cancer in May 2008. It helped me maintain a sense of peace."

Cancer survivors have been through "physical pain and heartache" and often financial loss, too.

The sort of class offered to patients would depend upon "where they're at in treatment or cancer journey," Smith said. All ages, all stages and both men and women can benefit, she said. "The majority of breast cancer survivors start in a restorative class, or 'yen' class, that's focused on a lot of breathing, not a lot of postures," Smith said.

Shortly after Smith was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, her mother, Sharon Prideaux, 75, learned that she had breast cancer. Prideaux, of Peoria, who is now free of cancer, began yoga several years ago. The yoga exercises aided with arm and back problems.

"It really helped and now I'm back (practicing yoga) full-time," Prideaux said. "You have to do some sort of exercise during the time you're being treated. Yoga is so relaxing and it really helped. It gets you out, too. It just tends to help you both emotionally and physically."

Cancer patients can go to the Yoga Bear website and be matched with a free yoga class, Smith said. For more information, visit

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