Volunteer Karen Du Charme Shares How Her Yoga Class Created a “Sanga,” a Community

“Yoga was my outlet, my refuge,” explains volunteer Karen DuCharme of her time as a caregiver. Karen’s role as a volunteer yoga instructor at Gilda’s Club feels very personal to her. She got her yoga certification in 2014, but, shortly thereafter, her half sister was diagnosed with lung cancer. At first, her sister was doing well in treatment. 

But she’ll never forget the day her nephew called her to share that his mom’s cancer had spread to her brain. Karen moved down to Florida for three months to serve as her sister’s caretaker and power of attorney. 

“I had no one. There wasn’t a resource in that area,” she remembers. So she turned to yoga. 

Karen Du Charme
Karen at home. She shares of yoga, “We learn to get out of our thinking mind and get into our body.”

“A Good Start to My Grief and Healing”

When she returned to Wisconsin after her sister passed away, her experience sparked the idea of yoga for caregivers. She began volunteering as a yoga instructor at Gilda’s Club. Her classes quickly formed a “sanga,” a community. And, when her husband passed away suddenly eight months into volunteering, that community wrapped their arms around her. 

“As much as I gave to them, they gave back to me,” she shares. “It was a really good start to my grief and healing.” 

A Time for Self-Care

The group from her classes have stayed close, even after they’ve left the class. “Over the years, this group of women I’ve gotten to know…. they’re so strong.” She says that her Tuesday morning classes are their “special time for self-care.” 

In fact, this “sanga” that has formed continues after class. Pre-pandemic, the group frequently socialized in the clubhouse kitchen after class. The sounds of their laughter and fellowship could often be heard echoing throughout the clubhouse. 

Karen caters her classes to each body, knowing that everyone is different…whether they’re newly diagnosed, in remission, facing a recurrence, or a caregiver. 

“Everybody knows to trust their own body. You have to honor what’s on the mat…they have to honor what serves them.”

Yoga During the Pandemic

Karen sees yoga as being particularly helpful to those on their cancer journey. “We learn to get out of our thinking mind and get into our body…I feel that the down regulation of the nervous system is what’s really needed.” 

Karen continued her classes virtually during the pandemic, but is looking forward to resuming in-person classes in the near future. “It’s really been a wonderful experience for me,” she says. “It’s been hard, but we’ve been able to reach a broader audience…I think everybody misses that [in person] connection. We’ve had so many experiences apart but together.”


  1. 1
    Jean Kistner on July 29, 2021

    Karen – thank you for your continuation of yoga classes. Your constant reminder to listen to our bodies and do what is good for us is so helpful. I look forward to every Tues . morning. I do miss the in-person contact and the after class chat, but I like the virtual meetings – especially when it becomes cold & snowy during the winter months. I am so very grateful to be able to continue with classes after the death of my spouse. Keeps me uplifted and challenged.

    Since I do have some limitations due to health issues, I keep improving and hope to participate for a long time with your class and others that are offered thru Gilda’s.

    With gratitude and a virtual hug to you, Karen. Namaste.


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