Yoga in the hospice: I find my breath here

Categories: Care.

Nila was the first to put her hand up when I arrived at the he hospice in New Zealand to teach a yoga class.; dressed in a beautiful turquoise and gold sara, she smiled as we moved from the day goup into the dining room.

Other patients followed and soon we had a little group; many of them telling me they had done yoga before and loved it. One of them told me how she had thought about training to be a yoga teacher and had been good at bow pose and handstands.

Nila took a seat and waited.

All of the group were women and all had had a diagnosis for cancer. Some were receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy, some were further along than this, but all of them told me they had come because they wanted to connect to their bodies in a positive way.

We sat in the dining room, amid tables and crockery, our eyes closed and our palms turned upwards, just noticing the breath entering and leaving our bodies. Nothing more. No expectations, no demands, just quiet contemplation of the breath.

After a few minutes we moved our jaws, opened and closed our eyes and took one long inhale and one long sigh out.

We moved our wrists, rotated our ankles, rolled our shoulders, lifted our knees and twisted gently in our chairs – everyone doing what felt good for them.

We lifted our arms as high as we could, did side bends and tried to lift one toe off the floor at a time, which made everyone laugh a lot.

At the end of the session we came back to our breath, sitting with our hands resting on our legs, counting three inhales and three exhales, or just breathing as we could in that moment.

Nowhere to go, nothing to do … just connecting to the breath.

I watched as finally Nila surrendered; her shallow, scared breath now full and powerful, her face soft and her jaw relaxed. She opened her eyes and smiled at me, I smiled back and we knew.

We pressed our hands into Anjali Mudra and bowed deeply and, as we did, she lent across and put her hands on top of mine and we sat quietly for several minutes.

Nila spoke little English but we did not need words.

People came and went from the group but Nila never missed a class.

One day, after the session, Nila waited to speak to me. She squeezed the top of my hand with one of her hands and laid the other hand on her chest before saying: “Thank you. I find my breath here.”

Kate is a writer and qualified yoga instructor and has returned to the UK after spending some time in New Zealand where she worked with patients at a hospice in Auckland. Kate is currently working with another yoga teacher on a project in the UK to raise the scope and profile of yoga in supportive and palliative care. You can contact Kate at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *