This Mindful Movement Workout May Help You Cope with Cancer
by Debbie Weir
Lulu had never heard of intenSati’s workout program, but it sounded appealing. “It seemed like an upbeat sort of thing, and I felt I needed that in my life,” recalled Lulu, who is coping with a breast cancer diagnosis, tired but exhilarated, after finishing the workout. The class was being offered at no cost by Cancer Support Community Los Angeles, CA, one of Cancer Support Community‘s (CSC) network partners.
The link between exercise and emotional well-being
That desire for a positive exercise experience is in line with CSC’s research findings. CSC is a nonprofit that uplifts and strengthens people impacted by cancer through support, education, research, and advocacy. CSC recently conducted a survey of more than 600 cancer patients in the United States who reported experiencing an emotional or mental health concern after their diagnosis.
The survey, conducted with funding from BeiGene, revealed that 66% of respondents were interested in physical activity or exercise classes for improving emotional well-being. This was the case even though 58% of respondents received care from a mental health professional and 48% were prescribed depression or anxiety medication.
A Mayo Clinic article discussed what the medical community knows about the relationship between depression, anxiety, and exercise: “The links… aren’t entirely clear — but working out and other forms of physical activity can definitely ease symptoms of depression or anxiety and make you feel better. Exercise may also help keep depression and anxiety from coming back once you’re feeling better.”
The mindful movement workout adapted for cancer survivors
For these reasons and more, CSC has partnered with intenSati to bring an adapted version of their popular mindful movement workout to their community. In the adapted version, people with varying levels of physical ability can participate while standing or seated and the music has been slowed down.
The partnership launched in April with a five-week pilot at CSC LA that will be followed by workshops at six network partner locations over the next few months. CSC then plans to expand the program to more network partner locations and produce a library of videos for on-demand workout sessions.
For over 20 years, intenSati has combined movement, mantra, and meditation to deliver a mood-boosting, confidence-building experience. The popular workout and its beloved founder Patricia Moreno have been featured in Oprah’s O Magazine, Vogue, and Psychology Today and on the Today Show and Good Morning America. The New York Times described it as “bring[ing] positive psychology into the exercise world.”
In its adapted form, the intenSati program allows people with cancer and survivors to experience the same feelings of joy and well-being that have been enjoyed by thousands of their fans. Empowering movement is paired with positive spoken affirmations like “I’m powerful beyond measure!”, “I’m stronger than I think!”, and “I’m braver than I seem!”.
“Life circumstances can make us feel powerless and sometimes we feel betrayed by our bodies,” explained intenSati’s Chief Joy Officer Lucy Osborne. “This practice allows us to use our body in a way that makes us feel good and rebuilds that relationship, that trust, that love.”
Specially commissioned music is a central component of the one-hour sessions. The driving, groovy beats keep participants moving while the quieter melodies invite the release of tension. There is also time set aside at the end of workouts for feedback and discussion, so the instructors can learn what participants loved, what they would change, and what themes they’d like to dive into during classes.
“It’s absolutely joyous and it’s fun! I feel that despite all the negatives that I have to go through, this is a very very positive thing in my life,” declared Lulu.
CSC and intenSati were brought together by award-winning actor Alysia Reiner, best known for her Screen Actors Guild award-winning role as Fig on Orange Is the New Black, Sunny on Better Things and recently, Agent Deever on Ms. Marvel. Reiner, whose father died of cancer, is a longtime CSC Champion and intenSati enthusiast.
“CSC has been a lifeline to me and so many dear friends and family,” said Reiner. “I am so excited for this collaboration. I saw two organizations that uplift, inspire, and foster community, and knew that, together, we could create something truly special for people coping with a cancer diagnosis.”
The physical benefits cancer survivors are experiencing
Some participants in the pilot program spoke of the physical benefits they experienced in just a few weeks. Jaleh, who has twice been diagnosed with breast cancer and attended all five classes, shared how she experiences a lot of fatigue and that it’s difficult for her to move around.
“I couldn’t stand up for 10 minutes before, but now I can do a whole class, with some sitting and standing,” Jaleh said as she dabbed her face with a towel. “I think it made some strength in my mind and body.”
Lulu has also noticed physical benefits since attending all five classes. “After radical mastectomy and reconstruction and multiple surgeries and biopsies on top of the same, it’s very difficult to move one’s arms…. [Now] I’ve been moving my arms, which I haven’t been able to do for several years,” she shared while lifting both arms to demonstrate the progress she had experienced.
The partnership is particularly poignant and rewarding to Osborne, who is grieving the loss of intenSati’s founder Patricia Moreno. Moreno died of cervical cancer in 2022. “To be able to teach intenSati to other people who are experiencing cancer, whether themselves, or a caregiver or a survivor, it’s meaningful,” reflected Osborne, who has also served as the instructor for the pilot in Los Angeles. “It means the world to [the intenSati community] to be able to honor Patricia that way.”
Registration is now open for one-day hybrid classes of the modified intenSati workouts hosted at select CSC network partner locations across the United States over the summer, at no cost to participants. Visit the network partner’s home page for more information and go to the calendar to register.
- Gilda’s Club Metro Detroit– Thursday, June 29, 6:30 pm ET
- Cancer Support Community Greater St. Louis– Thursday, July 20, 11 – 12 pm ET
- Gilda’s Club South Florida– Friday, July 28, 12 – 1 pm ET
- Cancer Support Community Montana– Tuesday, August 1, 4 – 5 pm ET
- Gilda’s Club Westchester– Tuesday, September 12, 11 – 12 pm ET
- Cancer Support Community Arizona (Northern Arizona Programs)– Saturday, October 12, 9 – 10 am MT
Debbie Weir is CEO of The Cancer Support Community, a global nonprofit that uplifts and strengthens people impacted by cancer by providing support, fostering compassionate communities, and breaking down barriers to care. Weir brings personal experience to her leadership of CSC, having lost her father to suicide after a lengthy, debilitating cancer diagnosis and treatment, cared for her mom, who is a breast cancer survivor, and served for months as her brother’s primary caregiver until his own death from cancer.
A social worker by training, Weir has over 30 years of experience in nonprofit management. Most recently, she served as Chief Mission Officer at Everytown for Gun Safety. Prior to that, Weir spent 15 years at Mothers Against Drunk Driving in roles of increasing responsibility, culminating in her serving as MADD’s National CEO from 2012 to 2017. Prior to her work at MADD, Debbie built and directed St. Paul’s Hospice program in Dallas, after leading the Social Services Department at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Worth, TX for four years.
Before you start exercising, you should check in with your medical team to make sure they don’t have any concerns.