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Jeanne's healing process

After battling an addiction to prescription drugs and constant pain after a horse-riding accident, former cookery expert Jeanne Rankin has set out on a dramatic new career path, as a yoga therapist. Stephanie Bell reports

It is a long way from presenting TV cookery shows to providing yoga therapy for cancer patients but after a difficult period of healing in her own life, this is the new path Jeanne Rankin hopes to follow.

Canadian-born Jeanne, who is married to celebrity Belfast chef Paul Rankin, has just forged a new partnership with the Ulster Cancer Foundation to deliver a yoga therapy programme for patients.

It’s a major change in direction for the cookery author, Michelin star restaurant owner and former Ready Steady Cook TV regular and one which was born out of her own well-documented battle with pain and prescription drug addiction

“I am really honoured to be working with the Ulster Cancer Foundation,” said Jeanne.

“Yoga has the potential for helping people living with cancer and it is just wonderful to be given this chance to share it.

“Initially we will be launching two six-week courses and then have a break for the summer, when we will look at what the patients felt they got out of it and then take it from there.”

Jeanne has first hand experience of just how effective yoga therapy can be having used it to help her overcome several tumultuous years in her own life.

In 2002, she tragically broke her back during a horse riding accident — an injury so severe that she still suffers from the pain every day.

Five years ago she checked herself into the Priority Clinic to battle a prescription drug addiction which arose out of the accident — a period she bravely spoke out about at the time.

Now well behind her, she prefers not to dwell on it but concedes: “It’s just the way my life went and I’m sure there are so many people who have much more difficult challenges to deal with.

“I am so lucky to have had yoga which helped me even when I couldn’t move my body at all.

“I still to this day use yoga as a way of dealing with the pain from the accident. I don’t know what a pain-free day is like.

“When I first started going to my yoga therapist I could barely get to her house and when I did make it there, all I could do was lie flat on the floor as she talked me through the relaxation and breathing exercises.

“I coped through my difficult time with yoga and, as I don’t take pain medication any more, every day when I am in pain, I lie down and use yoga to deal with it.

“Yoga helped me to heal, it gave me the power to heal myself and that’s what I believe I can now do for others.”

Jeanne has been teaching yoga for two years but is still continuing her training to be a therapist, something which she says is ever evolving and a lifetime task.

“Yoga has always been a part of my life since I was 16. I have used it over the years to deal with different issues, be it fitness, stress relief or pain relief.

“I didn’t practise it religiously, I only wish I had, and in 2002 just before I broke my back I had enrolled in a course to train as a yoga teacher but had to cancel it because of the accident.

“I again signed up for a course in 2005 and, because I was still struggling physically, I couldn’t do it at that time either.

“Third time round, in 2006, I went to London to train.”

It was when her own yoga teacher asked Jeanne to stand in for her that she finally realised her goal of teaching yoga three years ago.

“I don’t think I would have had the confidence to start teaching if my teacher at the time hadn’t asked me to take her classes.

“I always think there is so much more to learn and you do continue to learn as you teach. It was because of her confidence in me that I gave it a go. The ladies in the class helped as well as they were very understanding and patient.”

Although happy to be teaching classes of her own twice a week since then, deep down Jeannie had a yearning to be able to use yoga as a therapy to help others as she herself had been helped by it.

She explains: “I believe passionately in the healing power of yoga. It can be used beyond exercise as a complete holistic healing system for the mind, body and spirit — I see it as a kind of holistic physiotherapy.”

Jeanne believes fate led her to a special six month course in Scotland last year tailored to teaching yoga therapy for patients with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses.

She said: “Someone must have called out to me because that was the course I was meant to take. There is so much cancer out there; it now affects one in three people.

“Doing the course has helped me to become a better teacher and yoga therapist. Even though I knew I wanted to use it to help people, I still didn’t know in my heart if I would do it.

“One of the ladies in my class is on the board of the Ulster Cancer Foundation and was very interested in the course and asked me about it.

“I was then invited to talk to the Foundation. The result is the new programme we have devised and I am so honoured to get the chance to do it.”

Jeanne has devised the course to help patients on a number of levels, from strengthening their immune systems, which will encourage their own inner healing forces, to dealing with the stress and anxiety of their illness.

She said: “For people living with a diagnosis, the stress and anxiety can be overwhelming and there are various yoga techniques to help them to cope with this.

“There are simple breathing exercises which relieve tension and help restore balance and calm, as well as improve respiration.

“There are also gentle physical positions to help increase energy levels and remove toxins which can enhance the function of their internal organs.

“I have also included simple meditation techniques which can help patients to acknowledge and accept what they are living through, giving them the ability to deal with their worry and fears.”

Overall for Jeannie it marks a new direction in her own life and a chance to look forward after a

very difficult time, which is exactly what she hopes to achieve for the patients who attend the new programme.

She added: “To me it is a real way to help people to empower themselves after coming through the whole process of dealing with cancer and all that that brings with it.

“In some cases, cancer can even cause them to lose touch with their own bodies, especially if they have had parts of their body removed and, for me, it is a chance to help them to learn to love their bodies again, to accept what they have been through and to grow and look forward.”

The first Ulster Cancer Foundation Recovery Yoga six week course will take place every Wednesday starting on April 14, from 12.30-2pm at Cayenne Restaurant, 7 Ascot House, Shaftesbury Square, Belfast.

Liz Atkinson, Head of Care Services, UCF said: “Cancer affects everyone differently and it often takes a physical and emotional toll on the body.

“Our new Recovery Yoga Programme has been designed to help relieve stress and tension that can depress the body’s immune system as well as combat fatigue. Yoga is also a great way to relax and take some time out to help the recovery process.”

The course will be free of charge. There are a limited number of places available so patients are encouraged to register as soon as possible. For further information or to book. contact Joanne Myles on 028 9066 3281 or email joannemyles@ulstercancer.org

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