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A Cancer Survivor’s Journey Towards Health and Happiness

Guest Contributor: Beka Shane Denter

Sara Quiriconi’s serene demeanor and superwoman strength are what drew me to a powerful image of her on a Facebook feed. In said photo, Sara is posed in a supported handstand along a backdrop of brightly-hued blue and white boards surrounded by sand and sunshine.

On the surface, Sara radiates health. Our first email exchange, however, exposed an unexpected story of strength and survival. Like many, I learn, she arrived at this place of poise thru a series of struggles. It is these struggles, and the ongoing journey of self-reflection, that have brought Sara to her current place of purpose as an emerging talent on the Miami yoga and wellness scene.

Yoga came into Sara’s life more than a decade ago as a necessity. “At 19, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, receiving chemotherapy and radiation for 9 months.” She recalls, “The gentle movements of yoga were a welcome relief post-recovery as I struggled with PTSD.” Once recovered, she found herself not knowing how to integrate her post-cancer life back into the world. “It’s a very weird transitional space to be in, after a year of structure, support, a team of people poking, prodding and watching over you…I felt lost. Learning how to live and function in a world that I had completely different eyes for after being so diligently focused on one thing only: to overcome cancer.”

In addition to battling cancer, Sara was working thru an eating disorder. “During my cancer treatments I was still struggling with body acceptance, and though some of the priorities shifted, the eating disorder was still very present. When one would think I was 100% focused on healing, I was focused on destroying, controlling and “shaping” my body into what I wanted it to be.” A strong desire for “something better” is what she believes “lit a strong fire from within to instigate a change.”

She tried therapy, but says, “It was yoga that truly transformed my mental thought processes and re-established a mind/body connection. I started yoga as a form of exercise but as I returned back to the mat, I realized there was something different about this workout. There was less of a concern about “how many calories was I burning” and more focus on “how does this make me feel” and “what sensations and experiences am I having in each moment with my body.” Yoga gave her, “awareness, breath, mindfulness, and the tools to learn how to let go, gain strength, and find softness, along with a welcome dose of self-love and compassion.” These tools would soon form the foundation of how she guides students and clients to tap into and build upon their inherent physical and emotional strengths.

Sara imparts a personable and realistic attitude in her approach to wellness because of the humbling hurdles she herself has encountered. A battle with cancer, an eating

disorder, a career change, a move, and a divorce are the big life changes Sara continues to work thru as she embarks on her new path .¨ at the young age of 31.

“The move to Miami was inspired by her wanting to be closer to the ocean.” It was the right place and time to transition from her former life in Boston where she left a steady job in advertising. “Talk about scary!” she admits. “But I knew deep down that this life (in Boston) wasn’t me. I had a greater calling to connect, share, and inspire others. I thought, why not take the leap now towards a more fulfilled passion and purpose?”

The move south was initiated for both personal and professional reasons .¨ to attempt a fresh start .¨ with both work and her marriage. Her new professional path flourished, the marriage ended. “It’s been a truly amicable and supportive separation but difficult nonetheless,” she says. Letting go and self-love are two things that Sara is currently working thru as she learns to live life on her own, post divorce.

The expression Live Free, also the name of her website, was a direct reflection of what she was feeling as she worked thru the motions of moving forward. “Living free is marching to the beat of your own drum. It’s about making waves, questioning what you’ve been told,” explains Sara. “It’s about being in touch with that inner voice, and connecting to that, which will drive one to live with passion and purpose, and to have the courage to create a life one loves.” In her yoga classes, Sara encourages students to tap into their intuition. “One’s intuition is like an inner compass. When others disagree, you stay true to your compass, no matter the winds and storms that get tossed your way.” And if that fails? “Redirect your sails,” she responds with a smile. It’s this honesty that makes Sara stand out in a social media swirl of opinions when it comes to wellness. “Admittedly, living free can be pretty scary! It makes you get radically honest with yourself.”

This move towards a more mindful way of everyday existence has become a global goal. There appears to be a real need in our society to be present. Sara is an advocate of setting intentions as a means to better achieving that feeling of being present. “I encourage students to set intentions for their practice, either with the theme of the class, or their own personal purpose for being on their mat that day. Before final Om, I ask students to recall their intentions, and encourage them to take a piece of that intention with them off of the mat and into their day or week ahead.” She expands, “The awareness you take in while focusing on your breath in Warrior 1 is no different than taking note of your breath when you are stuck in traffic about ready to lay on your horn. Or, for example, the fear and limiting mindset you face when trying a new arm balance in class is no different than taking the leap to change careers, or standing up for yourself to someone who typically overpowers you.” Yoga practice can, she believes, “help people learn how to slow down, live more in the present, focus less on collecting things, and more on experiencing moments.”

What is the most rewarding aspect of teaching? “Seeing my students overcome their fears, and breaking down something that seems impossible into smaller, more manageable and achievable steps.” It is Sara’s ability to look inward, identify and work thru her own challenges with love, life and food that makes her especially empathetic towards her students who themselves are struggling.

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls our lives,” she explains. “I’ve had a lot of tears, a lot of breakdowns. This is the good stuff. This in between, the messy part.Æthis is where the real work happens, the growth takes place.” Sara sees hurdles as, “An opportunity to learn who we are on a deeper level.” She encourages her students who struggle with poses or who are working to switch to healthier eating habits to see the hurdles as an opportunity for growth.

“I haven’t been so kind to myself in the past, but there is never a better moment to change what’s not working than in the now,” she admits. When Sara senses she’s veering off track and falling into past (unhealthy) patterns, or as she says, ” I begin to wonder if I’m enough…I always go back to compassion and patience…for myself.” It’s a way to initiate a change in our way of thinking .¨ of shifting to a more positive mindset.

Sara suggests, “placing a priority on making time for daily doses of happiness. Personal growth is great, but being able to share experiences with others, that’s really important.” Months after our interview, the idea of implementing “daily dose of happiness” rings true for me as I prepare to pack up my young family for our third international move in ten years. Amidst the chaos there is calm .¨ achieved by showing myself compassion. The decision to go back to school and a regular yoga practice is what moves me to live free – with passion and purpose.

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