talkhealth meets... Vicky Fox
On October 20th, people across the UK will be wearing pink to raise awareness of breast cancer and to ensure people are checking for lumps, bumps and changes. Vicky Fox has dedicated her career to educating people in breast cancer and as a qualified yoga teacher, creates a safe, nurturing and happy atmosphere in her cancer yoga classes. Not only are there loads of physical health benefits (think balance, better sleep and circulation) of yoga, her classes are also designed to increase comfort and camaraderie for cancer-survivors.
Before her Expert Interview, we wanted to learn more about why yoga is so important...
You have written a book, 'Time to Repair' which is a guide to five minute yoga for supporting healing. How can yoga help in such a short time?
Five minutes seems like a manageable time for most people to take out of their busy day and focus on their health. After writing a support book for people living with cancer I wanted to take some of the tools that I use in my cancer classes to help people to repair and restore post illness or surgery.
Time is often a limiting factor so I have created some 5 minute sequences that can be done on their own or combined with other 5 minute sequences to make a longer practice. I have always been amazed how much you can actually do in 5 minutes to change how you feel and to take your body from a place of “fight and flight” into a place of “rest and digest” where the body can naturally go about healing and repairing which is what we want to help it to do especially when recovering from illness. I really hope this book will be a support to anyone who just feels they don’t know where to start and explore how little and often can start to create a habit which might grow into a practice.
When did you first get into yoga teaching?
I started teaching in 2008 but specialised in teaching yoga for those impacted by cancer in 2013. Yoga is so important to me because it can be both the toughest place and the most rewarding place to be at the same time. I always feel better after doing yoga, which says it all.
What are the main benefits of yoga?
Yoga gives us a chance to connect with our ever changing bodies on so many levels, even when we feel like it is letting us down the most. Yoga gives us a chance to breathe and move in a kind and non-judgemental way. It helps us to release tension held in the physical body caused by scar tissue, inactivity or muscle weakness.
Yoga also helps us to stay in touch with our breath and explore it properly, something that lots of us don’t do properly. Breathing brings us into the present moment, allowing us to really be in the ‘here and now’. This gives us a break from our sometimes scary imagination.
Why is yoga so good for people living with cancer?
There are two sides to yoga that I think are important when living with cancer - movement and rest. Treatment for cancer has lots of side effects, some obvious, others hidden. One of the biggest side effects of treatment is fatigue, a kind of tiredness that can’t be fixed with a good night's sleep. Although people might not feel like exercising when they are fatigued, movement strengthens muscles which makes everyday life easier. This also helps your bones too, which lose density due to treatment.
The rest that comes with yoga is just as important because when we calm down using breath and supported poses we stimulate the parasympathetic side of the nervous system. This is the ‘rest and digest’ response which allows our body to nourish, nurture and repair.
You offer group and one-to-one sessions, why is this so important?
Group classes create a community and give people the chance to meet other people impacted by cancer. Everyone is unique but we all feel better when we are supported, these classes give people a chance to connect with other people who offer a certain kind of support. One-to-one sessions are great for anyone who’s needs can’t be met in a group situation. They could be recently recovering from surgery and might need a more tailored practice.
Which styles of yoga do you teach and why are they good for people with cancer?
I teach (and train teachers to teach) a specific “Yoga for Cancer” class. It is a way of teaching that helps ease side effects of treatment, not make them worse. The most important thing is that the class is safe for everyone to attend. This means that, for example, anyone with a risk of lymphoedema will not be pushed into strength poses too early, we work to build motion and strength. I also ensure poses are adapted to bring more movement into chest and armpits avoiding positions that might be challenging to anyone with a stoma, port or recent surgeries. My classes are designed to be as inclusive as possible. It is my job to ensure that everyone who attends can do the whole class, use time to rest or work with me to make it easier.
How do you ensure that everyone in your classes is comfortable and safe?
I always catch up with people at the beginning of class to learn about how they are feeling so that I can work with them safely. I encourage the use of lots of props like blankets, chairs, walls, straps and cushions and I try to champion the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ policy in yoga. If something doesn’t feel good, I encourage people to ease out of the poses because the range of motion should be pain free. I also ensure that everyone believes they are the best teacher in the room, I am just the guide.
What are your top tips for someone who has a chronic health condition who is looking to start yoga?
Find a teacher that has experience and training working with people living with health conditions, they are more likely to know what your body is going through. It can also be helpful to contact the teacher before the class to let them know what you are going through, they can then let you know if the class is suitable. Wear comfortable clothes and have an open mind, ask the teacher if they have lots of props or if you need to bring props to the class.
Why are props so important?
Props are there to support you. Yoga Bricks help to elevate the floor so that it is not such a strain to reach with your hands. Straps help to lengthen your arms so you can reach parts of the body that might not be easy to reach and then blankets and bolsters make supported poses much more comfortable.
What's your favourite thing about teaching yoga?
My students. I meet the most amazing and inspiring people every day.
Information contained in this Articles page has been written by talkhealth based on available medical evidence. The content however should never be considered a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek medical advice before changing your treatment routine. talkhealth does not endorse any specific products, brands or treatments.
Information written by the talkhealth team
Last revised: 19 October 2023
Next review: 19 October 2026