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Becoming Aware

Let's close our eyes, just for a moment. Begin noticing the natural flow of the breath, in and out of the nose. How does it feel? Now, let us bring our awareness to how the breath moves through the body. Noticing the rise of the belly, the expansion of the ribs, the rise of the chest. As we focus on our breath, let us gently become aware of how our body feels in this moment. Are we holding tension in a particular muscle? Is there pain or discomfort anywhere? Using the breath as a tool, breathing deeply, allowing the muscles to release, to relax. Giving ourselves permission to let go. How does that feel?

This is a little awareness practice that I share in the yoga classes that I teach. It's always nice to get feedback from students at the end of a session that learning to connect to the breath in that way helps calm and center them. But, it also goes beyond the class. I get responses about how students use this technique to manage depression, lower the heart rate, bring about mental clarity and focus. It allows us to "check in" with the mind and body. To be in the present moment, to take notice, to pay attention.

Which brings me to my topic today. With October upon us, we know by the pink ribbons, bows, wreaths, porchlights, 5k races, etc. that breat cancer awareness is important. Participating in fundraisers for research, acknowledging the survivors and warriors among us, and showing our support are just a few ways to join the fight. But what about OUR bodies? In all the pink haze, are we doing our part in taking care of our breast health, our overall health and wellness? Do we even pay attention to our breasts on a day to day basis?

I remember when I did my first self exam on my breasts. I was 17 years old, a senior in high school. I was state secretary of HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and the local chapter vice president. We had gone over how important it is to do a breast self exam the year before, but I didn't really get it. Like, I'm too young to worry about all that, right? So, anyway, on a fluke, I decided to do one. It was perfect timing, the week after my period, I was taking a shower, got soaped up and started with raising my right arm up, working my fingers in circles around, and ...nothing. Did the same thing on the left side and.....bam! What the heck is this???!! I found a lump. A huge lump. It had no give as I poked and prodded, no tenderness, no pain. And I remember thinking, I'm too young for this. And I was scared. Within the hour, I was in my doctor's office getting this thing aspirated and no dice. It was too hard, the needle couldn't penetrate. So off for a mammogram, a surgical consult, and finally, surgery itself. Thankfully, the breast tumor was benign. I have no family history of breast cancer, so I felt fortunate. But that was a wake up call. I have a scar to remind me every day that I need to pay attention to my breast health. Some of us don't have that kind of reminder, so we need each other, and these pink bows, ribbons, and races to keep us always aware of how important it is to know our bodies.

As a nurse, I am happy to provide education in breast self-exams. But first, be aware of your body, get to know your breasts. Do your exams in the shower, with soapy skin, let your hands be your guide in noticing any changes. Look at your breasts in the mirror, have they changed shape, more asymmetrical than normal ( we all have that one breast!), has the color changed, the texture? If you are over 40 or 50, have a conversation with your healthcare provider about getting a mammogram. If you have a family history of breast cancer, earlier screenings and various other tests may be needed. And as in my case, you're never too young to have an abnormality that needs attention.

So just for today, let us breathe, let us feel our bodies, let us be aware and practice finding the connection in our mind, body, and spirit.

"Love life, engage in it, give it all you've got. Love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it." - Maya Angelou

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