Cancer patients who practice yoga asana, breathing exercises and meditation techniques often refer their yoga practice as a life changer. In fact, yoga care has become one of the most important rehabilitation tool for cancer cure and cancer prevention.
Medical research is now proving what yoga practitioners have long known, that “patients at all stages of health, can benefit, and the benefits go beyond purely physical”.
Ways yoga can help cancer patients and cancer survivors
Yoga can help enhance physical and emotional wellness, improves the quality of life and brings about a peace of mind, of which many cancer patients desire. Research suggests that a structured yoga practice can produce an invigorating effect on mental and physical energy that improves fitness and reduces pain and fatigue.
With practicing yoga one can be “healthy patient”- who still have the disease, accepted it and are fighting against it from a state of much better health. Yoga lifestyle should be part of every cancer patients and cancer survivors daily routine
1. Yoga helps to manage physical pain.
Continuous emotional stress associated with cancer produces physical pain. Moderate and appropriately modified yoga sessions can help in reducing this physical pain by expanding range of motion, improving circulation and relaxing the tight muscles.
Carson’s study on yoga for women having breast cancer published in journal of pain symptom management 2007, recommends yoga. According to the report, patients who practiced yoga experienced less pain, fatigue and relaxation not only that day but also the next day.
Yoga journal recommends upward salute, upward prayer position, prayer position behind the back, cow face pose, eagle pose and extended child’s pose to gain freedom of movement of the shoulder blade, collar bone and arm and to reduce pain post surgery for breast cancer patients.
Most importantly, you have to perform these postures in expert supervision and in a very gentle way as you have a different body now. Be gentle yet consistent with your practice.
2. Yoga helps manage depression, fear and associated anxiety.
Depression and an acute fear of ‘what next/will it get ok’ are prevalent in patients. Undergoing invasive or rigorous treatments and pain associated with cancer may also heighten anxiety.
Consistent yoga practice leads to significant increase in serotonin (mood stabilizer) levels along with decrease in the levels of monamine oxidase – an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters.
A study in International Journal of Yoga 2013 has revealed that yogic breathing can positively affect immune functions, inflammation, imbalances in autonomic nervous system and stress-related disorders.
With the practice of supported inversions to increase circulation, simple breathing and guided meditation, one can actually stimulate relaxation response and calm the stress cycles.
3. Yoga has the “mood boost” effect.
It is now proven – asana, no matter how gentle the movements are, release endorphins – the happy hormones. Endorphins improve your mood.
A study in Journal of Alternative and Complementary medicine 2007 suggest that yoga increases level of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which is a neurotransmitter that reduces anxiety and stress by suppressing circuitry in the brain that causes it.
A 2012 study published in Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine outlines the importance of conscious breathing and pranayama for improving mood, quality of life, anxiety, depression and stress in cancer patients on chemotherapy.
4. Yoga helps manage related stress and anxiety.
The American Cancer Society, on its Web site (www.cancer.org), recommends yoga— as a “complementary therapy…not a treatment for any disease”— can “reduce levels of stress and bring about feelings of relaxation and well-being…[and] enhance quality of life for some patients with cancer.”
Jessica Bellofatto, founder and director of JBYoga in East Hampton, New York recommends following poses for as cure for stress and anxiety related to cancer and its treatment:
- Legs up the wall
- Seated Meditation
- Seated spinal twists
- Reclined bound angle
5. Meditation can help.
Individuals who practice transcendental meditation (TM) have about 55% less chances of developing cancer (Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine).
There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that meditation provides the body with a deep level of rest- as measured by reduced heart rate, breath rate and other related indicators.
There is a time in meditation when the body is at deep rest, breathing slows and a state of “Transcendence” or “go beyond activity” is experienced.
“Only when your nervous system is in a relaxation response do your body’s self-repair mechanisms function!” – Lissa Rankin, M.D.
Meditation produces a kind of “rest and repair” response. And that is why it is sometimes considered as an “antidote to stress”.
Stress whether mental, emotional or physical is insidious. Chronic stress increases heart rate, tenses muscles and increases metabolism – leading to increased production of metabolic waste. Increased tensions in the muscles inevitably obstruct the lymph flow- leading to accumulation of wastes and toxins.
The deep rest during and following meditation combined with a more efficient metabolism will help conserve the body’s supply of respiratory enzymes. Plus, cells with a lower metabolic rate will be easier to keep saturated with oxygen. Both Respiratory enzymes and oxygen saturation are keys to cancer prevention and treatment.
6. Cancer cure, yoga and free radicals.
An ion with a positive electrical charge is called a free radical. Due to the positive charge, the free radicals attract other electrons and thereby damage them.
On comparing cancer tissue with the healthy tissue of the same persons shows that the cancer tissue has abundance of toxic chemicals and free radicals.
Environmental pollution, chronic stress and toxic chemicals are the sources of free radicals. Free radicals can damage any part of the cell, including mitochondria and DNA. Free radical damage to DNA is one of the causes of cancer.
Yoga asana not just contract muscles, but also increases blood flow, stimulates organs, balances the glands and enhances the lymphatic flow in the body, all of this enhances the body’s internal purification processes.
The deep, slow and relaxing breathing often emphasized for cancer patients also increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the cells, delivering vital nutrients to cells, removing there waste products and further clearing out toxins.
7. Yoga can potentially increase mitochondria.
Oxygen deprivation, chemical and radiation exposure, nutritional imbalances and excessive stress can damage mitochondria- the energy producing site of the cell.
Damaged mitochondria can interfere with the production of ATP (molecule that stores energy), which is produced in mitochondria by the process called cellular respiration. Damaged mitochondria and reduced production of ATP are at the heart of the cancer problem.
In the absence of required ATP, cells must resort to alternative means of producing energy- mainly by anaerobic respiration- by definition these cells are called Cancer cells.
Yoga by potentially increasing mitochondria increases generative energy available to an individual- both physically and mentally. This increase in mitochondrial activity increases production of various hormones-pregnenolone, progesterone and DHEA-all of these are associated with greater ATP production and fluid resiliency of youth.
8. Yoga helps control inflammation.
Chronic inflammation is regarded as a risk factor for most cancers because of the evidence that proinflammatory cytokines (up-regulate inflammatory process) such as interleuin-6, tumor necrosis factor and C-reactive protein, influences growth, survival and metastases of the cancer cells.
Various behavioral and physical factors can substantially influence inflammation. Obesity and inactivity is associated with chronic inflammation, as in both cases proinflammatory markers have seen to be elevated.
Even a modest level of anxiety, stress and depression can raise proinflammatory cytokine production.
A combination of body postures or yoga asana, pranayama and meditation has been seen to improve physical and cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
All these factors have favorable endocrine and immune consequences, including reduction in inflammation.
9. Cancer cells and Oxygen.
Dr. Otto Warburg won a Nobel Prize in 1931, when he discovered that cancer cells cannot survive in high oxygen condition.
This has given rise to a variety of successful treatments like intravenous hydrogen peroxide, hyperbaric oxygen tank and blood ozonation.
Performing specific yoga asana enables us to breathe rhythmically and slowly, helping oxygenation of the tissues and movement of the lymph around.
10. Yoga strengthens immune system.
A 2013 PLOS One study found that regular practice of gentle yoga postures (simple cross legged pose, shavasana, mountain pose, upright seated posture on chair and bridge pose), diaphragmatic breathing and meditation had a rapid effect on the gene expression of circulating cancer fighting “natural killer cells”. Mindfulness meditation alone also has a positive change in the brain function and immune functioning.
Following yoga postures are beneficial for patients according to Iyengar yoga program:
- Hero pose
- Bridge pose
- Corpse pose
- Cow’s head pose
- Inverted lake pose
- Reclined bound angle pose
- Forward extension in hero pose
- Half standing forward extension
- Supported seated forward extension
Remember, no matter how sick you are— in pain, weak, nauseated, exhausted, stressed, diseased—there is within you a healthy body or a healthy being. For many of the patients, yoga offers techniques that allow you to recognise this state of grace and awaken this vital part yourselves.
Yes! Yoga works, it helps cancer survivors. Most of the Doctors, nowadays, are recommending yoga cure for cancer. Please consult a related professional for your needs…
Attend related yoga classes for cancer patients, cancer care & rehabilitation classes, lectures, workshops, courses and cancer wellness retreats, whenever possible. Also sign up with the local cancer support groups. All the Best!
A writers note: I have kept these specific articles very generic and basic. These complex issues need a personalised attention. I request you to meet a related expert to understand your needs, limits and what can work for you.