How Can You Move Your Body to Heal Your Mind?

“How can you move your body to heal your mind?”  Leading trauma researcher, Bessel Van der Kolk, began with this question at a workshop I attended many years ago.

And it’s a question I’ve experimented with my adult professional life in helping people with anxiety, depression, and trauma.

Are there particular practices that get you out of your head and quickly bring relief and comfort and even an integration of difficult experiences?

The answer is a resounding yes!

In modern psychology, body based practices are only becoming more influential as the research shows their benefits:

EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, Trauma Conscious Yoga Therapy, Bioenergetics…just to name a few.

In JoyBoots practice, I’ve identified 5 ways to move the body, shift your nervous system and have a better ability to tolerate frustration, stress and discomfort:

Bilateral stimulation


Linking breath to movement

Getting grounded

Breathing into physical resistance


What’s  the goal?


To interrupt your automatic ways of thinking and moving.


The interruption creates a space where you have a moment of freedom and neutrality to breathe deeply,

come into the present moment, 

choose your responses

to what life brings,

and be open to possibilities.


When Cancer Dominates Your Life

For the second time over the last 16 years, I recently had the sensation as I was going about my daily life: “I feel like I have my life back.”

The first time was a few years after finishing active treatment for stage 3 breast cancer.  It had taken me several years to feel that I could return to what felt like normalcy, where I had choices on how to focus my attention and could trust in the future.

Again, things have shifted a lot for me personally and it feels like all of a sudden!

Many of you know that my husband of almost 30 years was diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer 5 years ago.  After grueling treatments which included months in the hospital during the pandemic (for cancer reasons, not covid), he has reached a place of relative stability.

By stability, I mean we are still living between 3 month scans but he’s on a break from treatment for 9 months now. Gotta love these breaks from treatment where you start to feel your energy come back! And then he surprised me by going back to work after being retired for almost 2 years.

It happened after I had spent a month away over the summer.

My daughter Alima, who is 16 now, and I spent a month in Spain this summer visiting relatives. She attended a 10 day camp and I spent 7 blissful days by myself on the island off Menorca.  Read about how free I felt in Menorca:

This fall, my daughter is in 10th grade at Westlake High School and works part time, while my husband was recruited back to his field and is enjoying himself.

And here I am asking myself a question I have asked before: “How do you connect with your identity after cancer has dominated your life for years?”

I feel a bit distracted as I turn back towards the work I love, with people who seek to make meaning of their lives, increase their vitality, and heal emotional wounds.

I’m grateful to the JoyBoots Inner Circle Group for keeping me devoted to our work together. They have continued meeting for 4 years through hell and high water, since initially meeting in yoga classes and my online course, Healing Well: Reconnect with Your Life after Cancer.

Together we have celebrated the life milestone of one member selling her house and building her dream cottage out in the country with her best friends. We have celebrated times of stability in treatment and good family news.

We have supported each other through recurrences and even through the heartbreaking passing of a beloved member, Jane.  In group, we ask each other: “What do you think Jane would say to that?” And the answer is always something irreverent, brutally honest, and empowering. Her spirit and wisdom live on in us.

In the past few months, I have grieved the losses of a dear friend and a of a dear client, both age 41, both irreplaceable and  leaving behind 2 children and heartbroken families.

I continue to grieve the losses of all these friends.

Sometimes people wonder how I work with people who are facing cancer. I admit, I have to pay attention to my own self care and make sure I’m exercising, and socializing and now…traveling!

But for me, it’s not a burden to meet with JoyBooters, it’s an honor and it’s often super fun.  Being with people who recognize the fragility of life, who love deeply and care so much for their loved ones, makes my life more vivid. I am reminded that time is shorter than we think, and each moment more beautiful.  For me, it’s an honor to have this deep level of connection.  It helps me make meaning of my own life.

Quite frankly, JoyBooters always end up inspiring me.

So, this fall, I have turned much more determinedly towards revamping my signature program which shares my 6 Steps for Emotional Recovery from the Trauma of Cancer. You can listen to this podcast interview I gave about my ideas.

In early 2024, the course will open for people who are newly diagnosed and for cancer survivors who have finished active treatment.  A version for people living with metastatic cancer and a caregiver version will come soon after.

As I work on the course, this question continues to guide me: “How do I connect to my identity after cancer has dominated my life?”  Does this resonate for you?



Shift of Temperature

The heat has been oppressive and sometimes it feels like it’s all you can do just to make it through the day. And if you or your loved one is in treatment for cancer, the stress and fatigue can magnify.

Recently, I listened to a podcast about the comparison trap and how we often measure our success, happiness, or status by seeing how we compare to others. 

Is she still working through treatment and I’m not? Should I be on a vegan diet like certain influencers? Am I living my best life and enjoying every moment like the people I follow on social media who also have cancer?

Comparison isn’t always bad. It can be a tool for growth where you get new ideas, learn new skills, or access resources.


But  it can also create misery, depending on whether you can hold onto your own worthiness no matter what it looks like others are doing and enjoying.

One takeaway for me was how as humans we have always needed one another to survive, but also how painful it can be when you don’t feel like you belong somewhere.  

The amygdala, the primitive brain of fight/flight/freeze in response to perceived threat, gets so activated that you can end up in a state of constant anxiety and stress, even during the phases or moments in life where there is a break from difficulty.

A cancer diagnosis creates a fight/flight/freeze response in everyone it affects, from the patient to loved ones, doctors, or acquaintances.

The fight/flight/freeze response is automatic but you don’t want to get stuck there.

Last weekend, my JoyBoots Inner Circle Group, that has been meeting for years, got together for our first in person retreat.  Talk about having so many activities that helped us relax out of fight/flight, stress, and anxiety!

We enjoyed the first bit of beautiful weather for practicing yoga and meditation outside, swimming, and looking at the stars.  Our view was bucolic country farms and we breathed in the peaceful natural beauty and sounds. Our delicious, healthy meals were beautifully prepared and served.

We shared our feelings and goals, tears and memories. We acknowledged our weariness. We left with greater tenderness for one another and for ourselves.

We felt safe and nurtured and, I believe, a sense of belonging and understanding.

These are the rare antidotes to chronic stress, especially among cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers.

What are the ways you are showing tenderness this week, especially towards yourself? Can you reach out for more support if needed?

How DO You Heal Emotionally after the Trauma of Cancer? The 6 Principles

Over the years, I’ve received many messages from people who heard an interview I did with Dr. Ann Kelly (shared below) at Therapist Uncensored about how hard it is to heal after the trauma of having cancer.  And I explain the six keys to unlocking the healing process.

In September, 2023, new classes, therapy groups, and an online course will begin to help you learn and practice skills based on these principles.

Be sure you are on the JoyBoots community mailing list so you know when they open up!


Cancer sucks, no way around it. If you have it, had it or are supporting someone who does, this episode will be nourishment for you by bringing your mind and body into the healing and recovery process for cancer and trauma is so important.

Fighting cancer is often traumatic physically, emotionally and relationally. Podcast host Dr. Ann Kelley joins therapist and Yoga Instructor Kelly Inselmann (LCSW, C-IAYT,CGP) as she shares her personal journey through cancer recovery and describes her passion and process in supporting others to find hope and healing while in this compromised state.

They discuss how modifying the six principles of emotional recovery into the basic principles of yoga can have an immense impact on well-being and recovery.

Befriending Discomfort and Each Other

The cancer experience almost invariably brings discomfort. From initial diagnosis through treatment and after, physical and emotional discomfort can be a side effect.

I’ve been invited to present on my work at the International Yoga Therapy Conference and plan to share 3 healing elements from trauma psychology (which derived them from eastern mindfulness practices) to address working with discomfort. I teach these in every class and group to address side effects, anxiety and depression, and PTSD.

These Elements of Befriending Discomfort are:

Getting “Grounded”

Becoming the Observer.

Allowing Everything to Be (just as it is in this moment).

All of this is easier said than done. That’s why we need places to practice!

How can you learn these practices with me?

  1. Join the JoyBoots Community List and receive a free weekly Monday newsletter with meditations and inspiration for emotional recovery after cancer.
  2. Try the Tuesday online LIVE JoyBoots Sanctuary Community from the comfort of your own home.
  3. Attend the Wellness Warrior Yoga class on Wednesdays at noon at YogaYoga Westgate (open to women and men)
  4. Schedule an individual session with me at Cancer Rehab and Integrative Medicines. Office hours are Thursdays or
  5. Get on the preregistration list for my 6 week online course, Healing Well: Reconnect with Your Life After Cancer which begins again in

My groups and classes are lively and full of smart women who have made strong friendships and support one another as well as welcome newcomers. All programs are open to women who have experienced any type of cancer.

Befriending discomfort is an ongoing practice of bringing light and compassion to yourself and your human experience.  It’s also allowing others to connect with you, even through the pain.  Sharing the burden can mitigate the pain.


Can I get a Witness?

When I was in the middle of chemo, I looked in the mirror with great curiosity. Sometimes shocked. Sometimes incredulous.

“This is me?”

No hair, no eyebrows, deep pain and fatigue. But also beauty, depth, surviving against the odds, making it through each day even when there was fear or suffering.

I hadn’t spent much time in front of the mirror before, barely wearing makeup, and not interested in the latest fashions. But now I did.

And I could see my soul.

I had no outer defenses. Sometimes I would cry at how changed I was on the outside. Deep lines had appeared out of nowhere and there were dark circles under my eyes.

But I also felt great empathy and love for this Self I was looking at. How amazing her life experience was and how hard she was trying.


You go through cancer alone.

Even if you have supportive community around you, which I did, there are still many moments that you feel profound aloneness. Everyone else’s life is going on around you. But you are going through uncertainty, procedures, tests, waiting for results, blood draws, infusions, surgery, radiation, medications, hiding your fear and fatigue so you can still participate in parts of your life.

After treatment, when the “emergency” is over for everyone else, you move forward with side effects, both physical and emotional.

And if you are in ongoing treatment? My understanding is that your aloneness can become a companion.

You feel most alone when you feel marginalized. When you are trying to hide your anger, feelings of loss at “what was,” and fear of death, so as not to make others feel uncomfortable.

In my online Winter Sanctuary Series session, I shared that when trauma occurs, you feel fragmented.

Fragmentation happens when feelings get pushed aside in favor of survival. Parts of your experience are forgotten, the changes in your body create unfamiliar and unwelcome sensations. Your identity shifts as well as your sense of who you are.

As uncomfortable as it is, fragmentation is a normal response to a traumatic, life threatening experience.

The problem is that you don’t always re-integrate.

And Integration = Healing


What does “integrated” feel like?

Settled. You have access to your emotions ( don’t feel numb). You are more in charge of how you act and react. You can talk about your experience in a coherent way.

What creates a feeling of integration?

Feeling truly seen, heard and witnessed by a caring other person is one way. Personal reflection through meditation is another. Both of these invite “the witness.” When you include others, they are your witness. When you are meditating and/or being the observer of your own experience, you are your own witness.

A feeling of compassion, either from another human or from yourself, are key ingredients of Integration.

This may be controversial, but I would submit that you cannot truly recover emotionally and feel whole and integrated UNLESS you are seen and heard and feel cared about and understood.

You can survive, yes. But we are social creatures and to really thrive, you need people and places to be yourself and connect more deeply.

Who is this new person you are becoming? How will you integrate the different parts of yourself? Where can you open and be witnessed in your pain and joy, change and growth?

Treasure in the Clay Pot

“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

Joseph Campbell


Leslie had the next 5 years planned out.

She had quit the large law firm in order to stay home with her kids. Her plan was to eventually move into flexible part time practice for more time home and less pressure to make billable hours.

Leslie was an organized woman. Vacations and visits to relatives were scheduled in advance. Babysitters and grandparents were on call to help as needed. Her house was clean and orderly, even with young kids. She volunteered, gave money to good causes, and had good friends.

Leslie felt competent and in control much of the time. This was very important to her. Like any young mother she was sleep deprived, but things were working out well and she had a strong belief that with correct planning, life would get better and better.

And then one day, she discovered a lump in her breast.

You can guess where this is headed…

To put it bluntly, all of Leslie’s expectations came to a grinding halt and things changed forever.

Though she had good insurance and lots of support from family and community, it was still excruciatingly difficult to undergo aggressive medical treatments for the better part of a year. She felt lonely and confused. She also felt depressed and scared. Sometimes she felt angry.

And when the active treatment was over, she was left with many side effects, especially chemobrain and lymphedema of the arm and torso, both of which caused her much frustration and grief.


This past weekend, I visited my mother in Houston. As we were sitting in her church on Sunday morning, I was struck by one of the verses and thought of Leslie and what it takes to recover emotionally from cancer:

For it is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness”…But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed…

2 Corinthians 4:5-12

You may feel all of this as you go through treatment or recovery from it: afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, struck down. And I would venture to say that many of us also feel crushed, despairing, forsaken, and destroyed at times.

The key to freedom is the treasure in the clay pot that lifts you out of these dark places of isolation, fear, and feelings of abandonment. It’s the light inside of you, the clay pot being your body…

In my view, the Light is your experience of the Infinite, and a power greater than yourself, however you imagine that to be. While parts of you are finite and your body is vulnerable and limited (especially as you go through or recover from cancer), the Light is also there, just beneath the surface.

Remembering this Light, connecting to it is, is part of yoga and meditation practice.  A favorite element of kundalini yoga practice is the song we end with in class:

May the longtime sun shine upon you

All love surround you

and the pure light within you

guide your way on




My Favorite Thing After Cancer Part 1

I change in the locker room, slip into my flipflops, grab my towel and walk expectantly over to the dressing room door. Opening my way into the lap pool area, I am hit with the smell of chlorine and then a moment of delight. The pool is empty! This is one of my favorite things, especially after cancer.

I remember the moment 9 years ago when I was finally released by my doctor to swim. Submerged in the empty pool, my body released its constriction and stretched, weightless and pushing against the water. It was bliss, and also deeply emotional as I cried under water feeling relief, gratitude, and joy, releasing some of the great sorrow from my recent mastectomy and lymph node removal. To feel pleasure in my body, to move freely and know I had survived thus far, this moment was mine to revel in.

I jumped and curled into a somersault like the thousands I did as a child in Houston, Texas during the summer.

These days, I swim at least once a week at my neighborhood Gold’s Gym. Sometimes the pool is crowded and I have to avoid classes and aggressive men with flippers and paddles who, without awareness, could injure my arm or chest.

My speed is steady, not fast. Swimming (especially backstroke) has been the most effective therapy for my lymphedema. Afterwards, my arm no longer aches, the swelling is barely visible, and my mood is considerably improved.

I wish everyone with lymphedema had access to a pool. The lymphatic massage of the water is healing. You don’t even have to know how to swim – just moving the arms back and forth against the water is enough.

This week I read a comment on a cancer survivor support group from a young woman, a yogi, sharing her delight with people who understood. After months of recovering from a double mastectomy, she was able to do the downward facing dog yoga pose for the first time. She described the bliss of the deep stretch and her joy at being able to finally support her own weight again.

She felt strong, she felt relief, and she felt joy.


Anticipation vs. Expectations

In yoga class, as students begin turning their attention inward, noticing their thoughts, feelings, and sensations, I give the suggestion that they also let go of their expectations of what they imagined the class would be like, whether they will like it or not, and whether they will “perform” perfectly. At this point, I often notice a shift in the room as breathing deepens and awareness of what is happening right here and now increases.

Practicing what I preach, this week I’ve been working on the theme of managing my own high expectations in real life.

The month has been chock full of activity and emotions for me.

Two friends passed away and I was shocked and saddened, feeling their absence and realizing the transitory reality of life.

A week ago we hosted a large holiday party benefitting my daughter’s dance school and felt the warmth of being surrounded by lively community, bright spirits, and excited children.

Three days later my family and I boarded an early morning flight to NYC for the Bar Mitzvah celebration of my dear friend Shari’s son.

I’m on my way home now, Sunday evening, writing this blog from the JFK airport where our flight is delayed 4 hours.

Before the holiday party, I was feeling overwhelmed about how the party would turn out, packing for our trip, and making it to the end of our NY adventure without something going wrong, one of us catching the flu, or simply running out of energy.

I called my wise friend, a long time yogi and meditator who knows her own boundaries and isn’t afraid to set them.

“You want to know my mantra for when things get crazy like this?” she asked. I agreed, expecting something from the yogic teachings.


I laughed out loud at the phrase, so opposite to what we hear in popular culture, with its emphasis on high standards, positive thinking, working hard, and manifesting your dream. And I laughed with recognition at how out of whack my expectations had become. In theory everything was possible, yet events would inevitably unfold beyond my control, just as they always do.

As a cancer survivor, I’ve had a lot of practice with events unfolding beyond my control. I’ve had to learn over and over to release my emotional attachment to the OUTCOME looking a certain way in order for me to feel successful or happy in this moment. Instead of focusing on outcome, I can choose to focus on the PROCESS, and by that I mean the moment to moment interactions with others and my awareness of my inner experience.

The process also includes maintaining my commitment to showing up and being as present mentally, emotionally and spiritually as I can be. Being truly present means I can see, hear, and sense the actual REALITY of the situation, not just a mental fantasy about how things COULD or SHOULD look or be.

To have a chance at enjoying the moments, I needed to let go of my VERY strong personal attachment to things working out just exactly the way I dreamed them up.

When I arrived in NY and had lunch with Shari, I passed on the advice about lowered expectations. She laughed as well. Her mind was on overdrive, trying to remember every detail and manage everyone else’s experience.

After the amazing party on Saturday night, when we were having brunch and talking about how fun it all was, I heard her share the mantra that helped her be happy with things exactly as they were. She said, “I just kept telling myself: “lower your expectations.”



I’m Here for the Awakening

Cancer changes everything.

Shock and fear cause strong emotional reactions in even the calmest patients, survivors, and family members. Pain, fatigue, and weakness mean you can’t ignore physical needs. Relationships change when a strong caretaker or family manager becomes ill and needs help.

In my own experience as a 10 year cancer survivor, as well as in my Yoga and Talk Therapy Groups for Survivors, I have observed that (post diagnosis) important life patterns and situations come front and center to be re-examined and re-evaluated. They can no longer be ignored.

Some people have an epiphany that they need to get a divorce or drop toxic friendships. Others decide they should change careers or that they want nothing more than to spend as much time with children or grands as possible.

Cancer gives you an encounter with Awakening.

Lydia shared with me that learning yoga and meditation gave direction to her awakening. With the diagnosis came doubts, questioning her ability to continue working, and wondering who she could rely on in the future.  Learning to meditate moved her from fear and confusion to greater self understanding, compassion, and love. “ I’ve been waiting my whole life for this – and it took cancer to get me here,“ she said.

Her life on the outside hasn’t changed. She has the same job and friends. But she holds the mundane life activities with a sacredness and a gratitude that give her life deeper meaning.

Awakening occurs when you are unexpectedly pushed out of your engrained patterns of daily living, habits of speaking or listening to others, caring for yourself, expectations of the future, and beliefs about the world. It helps you see that this moment is more vivid and poignant than you ever realized.

Cancer wakes you to the fragility of the human body and of life itself.

Even though survivors experience great suffering, you also have the opportunity to change how you make choices.  You can choose to focus on what brings joy, truly uplifts another person, and contributes to family or the world.

You try a meditation class, take a trip somewhere new, speak to someone who is different and know you share the same human experience. You are open to people and life in a freer way because time is of the essence and you know it.

This awakening is the part I want to hold onto and why I love working with other survivors. Because like you, I’m here for the present moment, for my relationship to the Infinite, and to connecting with other humans for the time we have.