Welcome to Chime's YogaView series! Each month I interview members of the Chime community to learn how their yoga practice has been an empowering force in their lives. This month, Kathy DiGiorgio, a breast cancer "conqueror," shares the unique and powerful ways she's sharing the gifts of yoga with others in treatment and recovery.
1. How has your yoga practice helped you grow stronger and more flexible on and off the mat?
When I first came to my yoga mat about 20 years ago, my sole focus was for the physical workout. I wanted arms like Madonna! Then one day, and I can't say when, something magical and miraculous happened. My practice was no longer about the physicality. Instead, it was about the mind, body, and spirit connection. Over the years, my practice may have waxed and waned, but in May of 2008 my practice took me to a whole new level as I faced the most terrifying crisis of my life. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During that time not only did I rely heavily on my yoga practice but found a group of yogis who practiced a breast cancer specific yoga class. That class kept me sane, flexible, strong, and healthy in mind, body and spirit.
2. What is the Conquer Cancer program and what inspired you to create it?
When I was in treatment and recovery, I made a vow to myself that, should I get through my illness, I would pursue a new vocation as a yoga teacher. Specifically, I wanted to help “breast cancer conquerors” on their road to recovery. Conquer Cancer Yoga was born when Cara Bradley, founder and owner of Verge Yoga, heard me say I prefer to refer myself as a conqueror rather than as a survivor. For me, the word “survivor” makes me feel like a victim. Cara then came to me and said, "That's it! Let's start a class called Conquer!" Conquer Cancer is a weekly donation-based class that’s open to all cancer conquerors at any stage in treatment or post treatment.
3. How does yoga help individuals recovering from cancer and trauma-related issues?
My Conquer Cancer classes are tailored to meet the students where they are right now. The class aims to build strength, increase range of motion, and enhance a sense of well being while offering students a safe place to compassionately explore their body, breathe into areas of tension, and strengthen areas of weakness. Very gentle, therapeutic movements ease symptoms, balance energy, build bone density, and stimulate the lymphatic system. I also teach my students breathing techniques, restorative postures, and guided meditation to induce relaxation and elevate the mood.
4. What has been a highlight in your teaching career thus far?
My highlight happened just a few weeks ago, when Living Beyond Breast Cancer asked me to be a co-teacher at their kick off yoga class for the Reach and Raise fundraising program (formally known as Yoga on the Steps). Words cannot express the emotions that overwhelmed me on that day. Remembering my diagnosis and treatment, the survival mode yoga program that I followed during and beyond treatment, and then yoga teacher training (incidentally, I overcame my paralyzing fear of public speaking), all of which brought me to that amazing moment. My joy and gratitude for being alive and achieving so many goals almost 8 years later is more than I can express.
[Support or join Kathy's Reach and Raise team]
5. What is something about you that people would be surprised to learn?
Teaching yoga has been a surprising talent and skill that continues to unfold for me. In a past life, however, I was a pianist and a violinist with a vision of becoming a music therapist. But life has its twists and turns, and I never pursued that path. Life also has its magical ways, and I know that I am exactly where I want to be.
Kathy is a graduate of the Verge Yoga teacher training program. She has also trained with Alex Auder, Simon Park, Rolf Gates, David Sirgany, Seane Corn, Greg Walsh, Donna Debs, and Ed Harrold. Kathy is certified in Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, Trauma, Addiction & Recovery; Wall Vinyasa; Stand-Up Paddleboard Yoga; and Verge Inspire's Mindfulness Through Movement children's yoga. In addition, she has completed the Jon Cabat-Zin Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction training program and is a certified level 2 Reiki master.
Kathy’s classes focus on healthy breathing, alignment, and balanced energy flow. Her teaching style brings humor, support, and a nonjudgmental attitude. She seeks to nourish the hidden strengths of her students while challenging them to reach beyond their perceived limitations. Kathy teaches in the Philadelphia suburbs.
Kathy is the Yoga Coach for the Agnes Irwin School. She volunteers as a yoga instructor for Unite for Her and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. She lives in Havertown, PA, with her husband Steve, sons Steven and Michael, and her three Siamese cuties.