“I just feel compelled to continue to be transparent. It just really levels the playing field and eradicates the shame that I have, or that one might have, about being human. So I’m going to just keep going.”
Alanis Morissette

After being a personal trainer for nine years, I’ve grown from literally not knowing what a squat was to developing post-treatment exercise programs for cancer survivors.

Four years ago, when I discovered yoga after undergoing treatment and surgeries for stage-3 breast cancer, I soon discovered the difference between a “good workout” and “practicing” yoga. After participating in a yoga class, I found I was far more flexible than I thought would be possible after cancer treatment. I felt stronger and more energized then I did after the bootcamps I was teaching. And I was noticing my breath. I learned to be present in my body. I soon became a devoted yogi. I was still a personal trainer; I was just becoming a better personal trainer because my focus shifted from the body to creating the mind/body connection for my clients.

Over the course of my career, I’ve attended a lot of seminars and training programs: designing bootcamps, corrective exercise, body weight training. You name it; I’ve sat through a class. So recently, when I started yoga teacher training, I thought I had it all figured out. I was looking forward to learning more about yoga, and I was sure I would learn the secret of how to do a handstand in the middle of the floor.

I can do the “kick my legs up in the air and hold it for a few seconds” handstand. I wanted to achieve the “stand in the middle of the floor and gracefully make an L with my legs as I raise them overhead while reminding the class to breathe” type of headstand.

I had no idea what I was in for.

Although we did discuss the physical aspect of yoga (asanas), we also covered meditation, breathing exercises, and the five Yamas of yoga. Yamas (Sanskrit for “restraint”) are an ethical preparation intended to purify the individual such that they cause no harm to others and/or the practitioner.

Um, okay. First the yamas, and then the handstand?

I want to be a great yoga teacher, so I committed to applying the yamas to my life (maybe that will help with the handstand).

And it seemed like a really good idea at the time.

The following is a brief description of each yama (and my attempt at applying them to my life).

Ahimsa—practice non-violence. Done. I would never hit another person. Oh, but one of my favorite lines is “I’ll cut you.” There may be a bit of violence in that response, even if I’m joking.

Asteya—non-stealing. I don’t steal. Ever! Oh, except the napkins I take from the coffee shop and the copy paper I ask my husband to bring home from work. (To his credit, he never brings home copy paper.)

Brahmacharya—moderation in all things, control of all senses. Handled. I am very good at limiting my sugar. Oh wait, what about red wine? I’m not so great at moderation when it comes to wine.  

Aparigraha—being without greed, non-envying. Well that’s easy. Oh wait, I recently saw a woman in yoga class whose pants I loved so much I tried to google an image of the pattern of her pants to find out where I could buy them.  

Satya—truthfulness, speaking only good words. I got this one. Damn, maybe not. I lie, and I gossip.    

I soon realized I’m a thieving, lying, violent, greedy, out of control, gossiping yogi! (Being a yogi, I share this with love and compassion for myself.) 

Purifying my ethical self was going to take some work. 

First, I had to admit that it didn’t matter to what degree I am doing these things, I am still doing them. And doing them causes harm to others. Whether it’s taking napkins from a restaurant, telling a white lie, giving in to the extra glass of wine, or passing judgment on another person, it’s causing harm to myself and others. It became very important for me to do my best to live by these yamas.

I am a visual person, so I see many similarities in practicing ethical purification and learning to do a handstand.

It takes work to balance on your hands instead of your feet, just like it takes work to choose, in the moment, not to lie or gossip.

Standing on your hands enables you to see the world from another perspective, just like withholding judgment allows the space to see another perspective.

It takes something to trust a person to successfully hold your legs up in the air while you practice standing on your hands, just like it takes something to admit that we have harmed and then commit to practicing non-harming behavior.

While going through what I now lovingly refer to as my Yama-asanas, I have taken on a practice choosing kindness in my words, deeds, and actions. I don’t consider myself ethically pure; I have a long way to go for that.

As for the handstands, sometimes I nail it, and sometimes I fall on my face…either way, I am at least moving forward.

In 2006, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Lockey Maisonneuve underwent chemotherapy, bi-lateral mastectomies with saline implant reconstruction, and radiation. During this time, she saw a real need for recovering cancer patients to exercise—not just for the physical rehabilitation, but also the mental aspect of regaining control over their bodies. After completing specialized training through the Cancer Exercise Training Institute, Lockey created MovingOn, a rehabilitative exercise program for cancer patients. Lockey and the MovingOn program have been featured on WABC, WCBS, News 12, WKTU, Overlook View, Shape, Park Place, and The Patch. For more on Lockey, visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.