After a traumatic year in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, it was yoga that brought back a sense of safety and calm for Suzan Altay
- NAME: Suzan Atlay
- AGE: 46
- OCCUPATION: Yoga and Pilates Instructor
- YOGA YEARS: 24
Why did you start yoga
I come from a Mediterranean background. Believe it or not, when I was growing up, siestas were considered as the national sport. Upon moving to London in 1999, one day, my best friend suggested we should go to the gym. Being so far from fitness, I assumed she must have been talking about someone called ‘Jim’. Walking through its doors, I felt terribly insecure; it was not a place where I belonged. I tried to pick the easiest thing I thought I could do: a yoga class. I neither realised it was (not in a discouraging way) far from easy and nor that it would be the beginning of my new life. I fell in love with the feeling I got after the class. Being challenged, energised, light and free; I felt ‘me’. Following this life-changing discovery, a few years later, whilst I was doing my PhD, I left my job as a sound engineer at an educational establishment and started teaching yoga full time, never looking back.
Favourite yoga haunts
It has got to be nature, the sea, the mountains. Being able to see the horizon, realising how big the world is and how much more there is to do and see. The beauty of nature makes me feel energised and free. I love travelling and taking my mat everywhere I go, breathing in the fresh air and opening myself to new experiences.
Best yoga moment
My first day back at work after my treatment ended. Being in the studio, being able to teach, feeling the wonderful energy, followed by my happy tears being hugged by the most caring, loving, and amazing souls I shared my first hour with. Being grateful for being alive was certainly overwhelming. I knew yoga was my passion all along, but I had not realised its greatness till then. I felt I was right where I needed to be.
How has yoga changed your life?
Since starting yoga, I grew to be someone I am proud of. I left the old shy and insecure girl behind. However, 24 years of practice later, two years ago, I experienced the hardest thing in my life that proved to me I would not have been where I am After a traumatic year in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment, it was yoga that brought back a sense of safety and calm for Suzan Altay now if I did not become a yogini. I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had dived with sharks and jumped off planes in the past but had never felt such fear when I got that news. Having practiced for over two decades, luckily, I had become very body aware. Despite having had biannual check-ups for many years (and the last one just five months before), I knew for sure something was wrong when I felt the tumour on my right breast. During the 11 months of several hospital admissions, surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and losing my hair, fear quickly changed form to ‘feeling lost’. I could not remember who I was anymore — until the day I was on my mat again. Yoga gave me strength, it was reminding me to breathe and stay focused and present, helping me to feel grounded and receive the energy I needed. It was the only thing I could turn to; it made me feel safe and calm. And it was the only thing that kept me sane.
Yoga was my saviour, and that timid girl is now a warrior, a survivor.
I cannot emphasise enough the importance of self-check and not ignoring the signs our bodies give us. If you listen, it will tell you if something is wrong. And if there is, you won’t be alone. I was supported immensely by charities that devote themselves to help those in need. I will forever be grateful to Macmillan (macmillan.org.uk), The Rahere Association (rahereassociation.org), Pink Buddies at HCA and Future Dreams (futuredreams.org.uk) for taking such good care of me. I would also like to point out that yoga is for everybody — and every body. You do not have to be a certain age, shape, or sex to be able to practice. There is no right time or too late. And in yoga there is something for every individual, the benefits are vast; physical, spiritual, and mental. Remember, you and your health are the most important things — take care of them. Life is for living.