Finding out you have cancer may be the worst news a person can have, yet believing it can be better is a good start in fighting the battle. Bracing for the various treatment options and the roller coaster of emotions that comes with it, more and more cancer patients are drawn to yoga as a way to condition their body, mind, and spirit for the difficult times ahead, providing them health benefits that improve their quality of life.
Yoga provides the practitioner or yogi the opportunity to clear the mind through a variety of poses or postures called asanas. These are essential in preparing the body to achieve a meditative sense of self-awareness. Asanas involve different kinds of stretching and low-impact physical exercises paired with correct breathing (pranayama) and body alignment. Yoga has been studied as a good intervention for many health conditions such as back pain, stress, and mental health problems. Studies from the National Institutes of Health also show how patients are benefiting from yoga when used with conventional medical treatment alleviating symptoms associated with cancer, asthma, diabetes, drug addiction, high blood pressure, heart disease and many others.
Today, estimates show around 250 million yoga practitioners are in the world making it a multi-billion dollar business. There are now various yoga classes, mats, outfits, and equipment available for every kind of need there is and it is still evolving.
As yoga is now widely accepted as an alternative approach to wellness and health, according to the US National Center for Comprehensive and Integrative Health, yoga is “the sixth commonly used comprehensive health practice among adults in the US”. The popularity of yoga has even reached the halls of the United Nations when it announced in December 2014 making June 21st the International Day of Yoga. It affirms the significant role of yoga in “changing lifestyles and creating consciousness to address climate change”.
Particularly among cancer patients, numerous studies have shown the various benefits that patients can have through yoga. The key in this is what they call finding your centre or the mind-body integration. It involves coming to terms with your personal intentions, grounding, and focus to achieve a sense of total relaxation enabling you to get through with your cancer treatment. Here are ways you can consider in achieving the most benefits from yoga:
- Cancer community yoga provides support. Instead of going to yoga studios where you know no one, seek out a small yoga community composed of cancer patients, survivors and their immediate caregivers or families. Nobody understands a cancer patient better than a community of cancer patients and survivors and their families doing yoga together. There are many kinds of restorative or therapeutic yoga classes for cancer support communities involving patients whether newly diagnosed, undergoing treatment, in remission or recovery practicing yoga as a group — breathing and mutually supporting each other. Community yoga of cancer patients is building and supporting an environment to cultivate acceptance, gratitude, and positive outlook in the whole treatment process.
- Meditation in yoga helps you with your pain. Physical and emotional pain is difficult to manage on your own. But with yoga, especially with a cancer support community, it allows you to listen to your body in ways that you begin to understand your strengths and weaknesses both in body and mind. The American Cancer Society (ACS) encourages yoga as part of integrative oncology to allowing meditation to support cancer treatment. According to a November 2014 study of the Society for Integrative Oncology, “80% of breast cancer patients in the US use complementary therapies following a breast cancer diagnosis”. It assessed over 80 different therapies and recommended meditation, yoga, and relaxation for anxiety and other mood disorders common to breast cancer patients. The ACS also noted that yoga, “with regular practice, it has been shown to reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, PTSD symptoms, blood cortisol levels,” to name a few.
- Yoga improves eating habits. For a cancer patient to get the benefits of yoga in a holistic way, changing eating habits is essential. With deepening practice of yoga, many practitioners are learning the benefits of turning vegetarian or vegan because it helps them in executing the poses and thereby achieving the benefits of yoga. However, this does not follow in many yoga practitioners all the time. At least, what makes more sense is to buy fresh produce from local producers, free range, and organic as possible. Still a study from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center showed “practicing yoga regularly may help eating habits.” Most yogis learn to be “mindful eaters.” They are people who were better aware of their feelings of hunger and fullness and why they ate. It also recommends adding yoga practice to a standard weight-loss program may make it more effective.
- Deepen your yoga practice. Finally, deepening the practice of yoga also helps a patient even the survivor and their families to continue getting the benefits from yoga to better health and wellness. Keep in mind that a yoga practice is a personal journey. Hence, it should always be treated as a personal work-in-progress process. Namaste!