Nina Darlington, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, now teaches a yoga class for other cancer survivors.

Photo by Matt Stensland

Nina Darlington, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago, now teaches a yoga class for other cancer survivors.

Steamboat cancer survivor teaches yoga for inner, outer strength

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Nina Darlington's class focuses on improving lymphatic flow, meditative techniques and reducing stress.

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■ The Yampa Valley Breast Cancer Awareness Project has teamed with the Yoga Center of Steamboat to offer financial support to those in treatment to attend the Yoga for Cancer Support class. Visit www.bustofsteamboat.org for more information.

■ For more information about local restorative yoga classes, visit www.yogacenterofsteamboat.com.

— It was nearing the end of the hour, and yoga therapist Nina Darlington walked over to the sliding door of the Yoga Center of Steamboat and pulled it open.

The gentle rush of the Yampa River floated through the door and the sunlight reflected off the water and danced across the ceiling.

On the floor of the yoga center, focused on being present in that peaceful moment, were three people for whom peace might not come so easy.

“These are heroes,” Darlington said after the yoga class was over. “These are courageous people, to get up in the morning and say, ‘OK, this is what I’m going to do today,’ and to stay strong.”

Every Friday, Darlington leads a small group of people affected by cancer or other diseases in an hourlong restorative yoga class focusing on relieving stress, helping immune function and improving lymphatic flow.

A yogi of 40 years, Darlington said yoga has benefited her in many ways. But 11 years ago, her practice took a turn toward healing.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she said she felt the typical shock, indignation and denial. But she knew that going deeper into her yoga would be a large part of her healing process. Now she’s leading others along similar journeys.

“There’s a difference between curing and healing,” she said. “When we have a life-altering condition, we have to focus on the healing of the body, but even if a condition is incurable, the mind can be healed.”

Mind and body

Friday was the first time Eric Marks had set foot in the Yoga Center of Steamboat.

It was through the Yampa Valley Medical Center infusion center during his second round of chemotherapy that he learned about Darlington’s class and decided to incorporate yoga into his treatment for colon cancer.

Despite two major surgeries since March, Marks said the emotional and mental wear of a cancer diagnosis is equally painful.

“I have a lot of messed up muscles,” he said. “I’m missing a bunch of stuff. I’m trying to strengthen that area but learn how to breathe at the same time. I’ve lost that deep breathing. And also, when you’re breathing, you have to be present. It’s just so important to get out of my head for a little while.”

The class begins with a “check-in,” which had the students in a seated position and taking inventory of how they felt.

They shared personal stories of setbacks and frustrations. Then Darlington, with her gentle lilt and occasional lighthearted giggles led the class through a series of seemingly simple movements that required concentration, balance and presence in the rhythm of the breath.

It wasn’t perfect. The students noted that sometimes they felt their minds wandering away or became dizzy from standing up too quickly.

But Darlington had modifications for those feeling nauseous and encouragement coming from a place of experience.

The ‘yoga zone’

At the end of the class, Marks said he felt wonderful.

“It was one of the best things I could have done for myself,” he said. “I was really surprised at myself that I was able to get through all that, and I felt good the rest of the day,” Marks said.

Two mats over from Marks, Kathy St. George was taking her second class. She had a breast tumor removed in the summer and began practicing yoga on her own at about the same time.

“I found that it was tremendously helpful for what I was going through,” she said. “It calmed me, and it gave me something to look forward to every day. It relaxed and strengthened me. It’s a wonderful thing.”

While the mood after Friday’s class was positive and reflective, Darlington knows as well as her students that those feelings don’t last forever.

“We can’t be positive every day; we just can’t,” she told the class. “But during those times when you can’t, where do you go? Do you go into despair? Depression? So you come back to what’s available. ‘I’m standing here, and it’s good enough. I’m breathing; it’s good enough.’”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204

or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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