Cancer survivors who are not yet able to practice the physical portion of yoga find benefit in pranayama. It helps them to feel more energized and less fatigued. Fatigue was described by breast cancer survivors as being “debilitating”(2) Studies showed that levels of depression dropped among participants who practiced conscious breathing exercises. There is evidence to show that breathing exercises can lead to control of physical functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and relief from disease symptoms (3). Sleep disturbance and insomnia are also residual effects of cancer treatment. It has been shown that yogic breathing practice minimizes or eliminates sleep problems in lymphoma survivors (3,2).
During the 15th century, an Indian Yogi named Swatmarama introduced a combination of physical, lifestyle, breathing and spiritual discipline that came together to make up what we know today has Hatha yoga. According to Yogi Swatmarama, the reconciling of our essential and opposing natures could result in a life of balance and ultimately peace.
Yogic methodology cannot promise a life free of cancer but it can reduce many of the risk factors associated with cancer. Practicing yoga becomes a lifetime program along with sound nutrition and a healthy way of living.
The beginning lessons may be difficult for some cancer patients, particularly if their body has succumbed to the illness greatly, but the benefits of yoga are worth the initial rough start. The deep breathing exercises are also an important aspect of teaching yoga to cancer patients. As time progresses, patients will find that regular yoga exercises help them cleanse their bodies and to give them a sense of comfort and ease, washing away their anxieties and worries.
As many of you have learned in Yoga instructor training, there are many different styles. One sub-style of Hatha is Restorative Yoga. This particular therapeutic style is often recommended for people who are undergoing chemotherapy.
Healing, Restorative, or Therapeutic Yoga does not have to be complex, physically taxing, or vigorous. Patients, who are new to Yoga, can begin by learning one or two poses to practice on a regular basis. Repeating a sequence each morning, or evening, can be a powerful routine to help the healing process, by building strength and agility.
This daunting increase in the cancer rates means that many Yoga practitioners will be faced with a cancer diagnosis during their lifetime. In turn, many “cancer warriors” will turn to the strengthening, balancing and relaxing benefits of Yoga to augment their healing cancer strategy. Additionally, many teachers will have students in their classes who are currently fighting cancer, or who are cancer survivors. You may even be a cancer survivor yourself and know firsthand the profound benefits of a regular Yoga practice, during cancer treatment and recovery.