Yogis view the mind and body as one, and that if given the right tools and taken to the right environment can find harmony and heal itself. Yoga therefore is considered therapeutic. It helps you become more aware of your body's posture, alignment and patterns of movement. It makes the body more flexible and helps you relax even in the midst of a stressful situation.
Yoga is a science that has been practiced for thousands of years. It consists of ancient theories, observations and principles about the mind and body connection which is now being proven by modern medicine. Substantial research has been conducted to look at the Health Benefits of Yoga - from the Yoga Postures (Asanas), Yoga Breathing (Pranayama) and Meditation.
The positive effects of yoga have been explored in a number of patient populations including people with asthma, cardiac disease, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, headaches, depression, diabetes, pain disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, and addictions. In recent years, researchers have begun to explore the benefits of yoga for cancer patients and survivors.
Results have shown positive effects on a variety of outcomes, including sleep quality, mood, stress, cancer-related distress, cancer-related symptoms and overall quality of life. According to one of the first scientific studies of its kind, women going through treatment for breast cancer felt better when they practiced yoga in a controlled six week program at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.
The study focused on 61 women who had surgery for breast cancer and were getting six weeks of radiation treatment. Half of the women were assigned to a test group that took twice-a-week yoga classes. The other half were not. At the end of the six weeks, researchers found that the women who participated in the yoga classes reported higher physical function, less fatigue, better sense of well-being and overall quality of life compared to women who did not attend the yoga classes.
Many aspects of yoga practice can benefit patients dealing with the physical, emotional and spiritual challenges of cancer treatments. Practicing postures helps restore physical function, while breathing exercises relax the body and still the mind. Meditation helps people connect to their spiritual selves as well as reverse the negative effects of stress and assists in acquiring a healthy immune system.
Here is a simple yoga breathing and meditation exercise that can be used in any situation to help relieve tension, promote relaxation and bring balance into the body:
Find a comfortable position either in a chair, on the floor on lying in bed. Place your hands over your abdomen and notice your breath. Try to breathe so that your abdomen rises as you inhale and relaxes as you exhale. Notice the rhythm of your breath. As you become more focused on the breath, start to count the inhale and then exhale to the same count. As an example: if you inhale for four (4) counts, then exhale for four (4) counts. Try to relax your shoulders, neck and jaw. Continue consciously breathing until you feel calm and relaxed.
The fundamental issues that tend to predispose us to disease and affect our healing is the disconnect from ourselves and others. In everyday life, we tend to focus so thoroughly on the external world – meeting the requirements of job and family, hoping for the satisfactions of future fulfillment – that we lose awareness of the actual, intimate, moment-by-moment experience of our own physical, mental and emotional selves.
Yoga helps us break down the distance from ourselves and brings us into close contact with our sensations and feelings. Knowing how our bodies really feel at any given moment, can help us make decisions that can positively affect our relationship to cancer healing. And perhaps the most compelling reason for cancer patients and survivors to use complementary therapies like yoga, is that they show us how a person stricken with a serious illness, instead of “running away” from their threatened body, can connect more strongly to that body and begin to experience self-empowerment and overall sense of well-being.
Yoga classes for cancer patients and survivors are being offered at the YWCA Carlisle under the Partners in Wellness grant funded by the Carlisle Health and Wellness Foundation, the Huston Foundation and the Greater Harrisburg Foundation. For more information, contact YWCA of Carlisle, (717) 243-3818.
Written by Bonnie Berk, MS, RN, HNB-BC, E-RYT
You can learn more about Partners in Wellness in the video below.
Has yoga benefited you during your cancer journey? please leave a comment below.