A yoga practice can aid in the process of healing and recovery from breast cancer. It can enhance emotional and physical well-being, and offer a peace that many patients thought they had lost forever. I share this because I know. I am a breast cancer survivor. I came to yoga for help in healing after a bout with breast cancer left me unable to breathe deeply or to live fully. Let’s face it, cancer can steal one’s joy and if left unattended, the effects of cancer can continue to linger and impact every moment of one’s existence.
Studies have shown that when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer their stress levels rises. Mine certainly did, but after sincerely committing to a practice of yoga things began to change for me. Through my practice my tension began to be released. Energy began to flow more easily in my body, allowing me to experience an increased sense of well-being and strength – a balance of body, mind, and spirit. My breath became deeper; my energy became stronger, and my fear waned while my resolve to live life fully expanded. I became better able to focus on the here and now – the only moment we truly have. I was so inspired by what yoga did for me that I felt called to teach others.
Emerging research supports the benefits of yoga for the cancer community
Yoga is a science that has been around for thousands of years. It consists of observations and principles about the mind and body connection. The science of yoga is now being proven through modern scientific study. Research is being conducted by many healthcare providers, including MD Anderson, to look at the health benefits of yoga for those dealing with cancer. What is emerging is a body of evidence that supports the benefits of yoga and the ability to manage the side effects of cancer, as well as the emotional and mental aspects related to a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
Yoga helps cancer patients in many ways
There is a common misconception that yoga is limited to stretching and practicing difficult poses. In truth, yoga at its original core is concerned with connecting one’s mind, body, and spirit. Using a combination of gentle movements, along with awareness practices, breathing techniques, and deep relaxation, yoga is proving to be an invaluable resource to those experiencing cancer. As the yoga community brings forward the teaching of yoga for cancer patients, more programs are being offered that are geared specifically for those affected by cancer. These classes provide a safe place for patients to practice through all stages of diagnosis, treatment and recovery.
Candace Knoblock, a breast cancer survivor, had this to say about her recent experience with a yoga program for cancer patients and survivors, “I was not aware until I started doing yoga how much stress I carried in my body. I have since become aware of where I am holding tension and my breathing patterns and now have tangible ways to slow down and relax. I feel so much better after attending class and have learned how to practice yoga at home by myself! I really look forward to going to class each week.”
Here are five ways that cancer patients and survivors can benefit from the practice of yoga.
Yoga students experience deep relaxation and a calmer resting state
Healing requires us to slow down, to let go of the tightness, and release the tension of the body, eventually calming the mind’s incessant worrying. For a cancer patient, this seems like an almost impossible task. Chronic stress – the kind of daily worry and tension a cancer patient experiences–reduces the level of functioning of natural immune killer cells that protect the body, leaving one even more vulnerable to disease.
Relaxation achieved through yoga practices promotes the release of tension and allows one to develop a subtle control of the body/mind interaction. Yoga reinforces a calmer resting state in the body and mind and helps bring all bodily systems into balance.
Yoga students gain strength both physically and mentally
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons cancer patients are coming to yoga is that it shows us how a person faced with a serious illness can embrace their situation, and connect to their threatened bodies. This creates self-empowerment and a sense of well-being instead of disconnecting further. Survivors can begin to regain trust in their bodies as they build inner strength to respond to life’s challenges.
The physical benefits—increased flexibility, range of motion, and strength—are obvious. But as we begin to engage our physical body in movement and conscious breathing practices, our minds become calmer and more focused, enabling a present moment awareness that can free one from worries and negative thought patterns. Yoga can allow a new way of being in our bodies and in the world.
Yoga students experience a reduction in symptoms associated with cancer and treatment
Research has shown positive benefits in a variety of outcomes, including better sleep quality, enhanced moods, reduced stress, and fewer cancer-related symptoms such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression and anxiety. All this leads to an improvement in the overall quality of life.
Yoga students become a part of a strong support group of like minded individuals
There is also a community component to the classes that is invaluable. It allows connection with others who are going through similar life-changing experiences. There are a lot of sharing and heartfelt moments of the good and the bad, and an underlying hope in the possibilities of a new tomorrow, one that is free from pain and suffering. Students see the possibilities of more ease, joy and laughter, and a new sense of living in the present moment.
Yoga students find inspiration
Managing one’s cancer can be a difficult task. Each day can bring a new struggle against the side effects of treatment and the worry about what comes next. Yoga helps us to break down the distance between ourselves, and brings us in close contact with our sensations and feelings. From this place one can make decisions that can more positively affect healing.
With a skilled and sensitive teacher and a safe environment, yoga offers many potential gifts – a moment of peace or joy, a quieting of the mind, a knowing of who we are at our truest essence, and a connection to a strength and resiliency that may have been lost.
Yoga classes for cancer patients and survivors create an environment that offers a significant path toward healing. My students are an inspiration to me in so many ways, including their strength and determination and their willingness to share their journey. They are such a powerful source of support for each other–and for me–as we journey together. Yoga has made a tremendous change in my life, inspiring me to share the practice with others and to join them on the path to awareness, self-discovery and healing.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hope strives to be a catalyst for personal transformation and to convey the therapeutic benefits of yoga to others. After the transformative qualities of yoga lifted her emotionally, physically, and energetically, she experienced a heartfelt calling to lead others in their journey of discovery and transformation both on the mat and off.
Hope facilitates a “Yoga for Healing” program, designed for individuals with cancer and chronic illness or those in need of healing from the scars of life. She also designs and facilitates yoga retreats and group, corporate and private lessons. Hope lives in Atlanta and is a breast cancer survivor and mother of two teenage girls. Her writing has been featured in MindBodyGreen.