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Audrey DeLong Teaches On-Water Yoga for Healing

07/20/2016 11:00AM ● By Claudia Mosby

With the Flow

August 2016
By Claudia Mosby
Photo: Erin Claassen

Stand-up paddleboarding offers more than just a recreational outing on the water. For yogis and yoginis, it provides a new way to take their practice beyond the studio and the mat.

Audrey DeLong, the first yoga instructor in Redding to offer stand-up paddleboard yoga, regularly takes participants out on Whiskeytown Lake where she leads them through a series of on-water poses while balanced on the paddleboard. 

The registered yoga teacher and yoga therapist-in-training says yoga on water breeds a natural focus. “You can’t think of anything else,” she says. “The paddleboard is constantly moving, so tiny muscles are always working to keep you balanced.” 

A challenging physical workout, stand-up paddleboarding targets the body’s core. Yet strengthening the physical being is not DeLong’s primary goal. “Most people in the United States have an interest in yoga because of the fitness and flexibility it brings, which is extremely beneficial,” she says. “But yoga has a spiritual component.” 

It was this aspect that captivated her in 2001, after she was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer. “At 24, it’s not in your realm of thought to get a diagnosis of cancer. The C word is scary,” she says.

Living in Cincinnati at the time, she found a local wellness center that offered therapeutic yoga and other holistic modalities, and when she was well enough, she went often. There she discovered yoga that was less fitness-oriented and more restorative—yoga that helped with healing mind, body and spirit.

After a year and a half of surgeries and chemotherapy for immature teratoma, a rare type of malignant tumor, DeLong had her last surgery in November 2002 in which doctors removed pieces of her liver, bladder, intestines and uterus. 

“They had to put stents between my kidney and bladder because there were so many tumors,” she says. “I was literally on death’s doorstep. They didn’t think I was going to live through the surgery.”

But live she did, in spite of being told three different times that cancer would kill her. When she awoke, she was left with an ileostomy bag, significant abdominal scarring, and three still deeply embedded tumors. 

“I was allergic to latex, so the ileostomy bag kept falling off and I was bathed in poop every night,” she says. “I would lay in bed thinking, ‘If  I’m going to live, great. If I’m not, this isn’t living.’” (To the shock of her doctors, they successfully reversed the ileostomy a month later.) 

Now receiving yearly follow-up scans, DeLong says two of the three remaining tumors have shrunk and the third one has maintained its size. “They are benign but if they continue to grow they will need to be removed in the future,” she says.

Wanting to use the suffering she endured to help others, DeLong has embarked on a 1,000-hour yoga therapist training program. 

“Physical therapy doesn’t address the emotional, psychological or spiritual trauma created when the physical trauma occurs,” she says. “We hold emotions in our tissues, so in yoga, when we hold different postures or breathe through different poses, all sorts of emotions come to
the surface.”

As a full-time yoga teacher since 2011, DeLong works with individual clients as well as facilitating therapeutic groups through Shasta Community Health Center and Balance Yoga Studio in Redding. Recently she recorded a CD of yoga nidra guided meditations.

“I walk the line between meeting students where they are right now and with a mother’s arm, encouraging them that we can go further, we can do this together,” she
says, fully aware that sometimes moving forward simply means breathing.