Yoga for breast cancer

Yoga for Breast Cancer

Yoga is originally an Eastern tradition from India that has existed for more than 5,000 years. Just since the sixties it has come to the Western world and as of late has exploded in popularity. The three components of yoga are the mind, body and spirit. The word yoga actually means union in Sanskrit, and it means to unite the body with the mind and spirit. Yoga was first systemized by the Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. He describes yoga as a method to calm the restless mind and direct the energy of the body into constructive channels. He categorized the eight stages of yoga known as the eight-fold path or asatanga:
Yamas: moral restraint
Niyama: personal discipline
Asana: posture
Pranayama: rhythmic breath control
Pratyhahara: control of the senses
Dharama: concentration
Dyhana: meditation
Samadhi: enlightenment

If you notice, only one of those eight stages is the asana or poses themselves. In America the yoga that is being taught is usually a variation of hatha yoga, of which there are many styles. When I took my teacher training in 2003 it was in Interdisciplinary Yoga which in and of itself is a mixture of Iyengar, Kripalu, Bikram and Hari amongst others. The difference between yoga and just stretching is the awareness of breath and focus of the mind. The fact that yoga becomes much more than just a physical exercise, allows it to be extremely effective in reducing stress.

Yoga has been shown to be very helpful for women dealing with breast cancer. Some of the benefits of yoga for breast cancer are improved physical functioning, reduction in fatigue and stress and improved sleep and quality of life – helping us through our healing journeys. These same benefits not only help women facing breast cancer, but people affected by other cancers.

Researchers at Ohio State University ran an study on the benefits of yoga for breast cancer survivors who had finished their treatment within the last three years. They were randomly assigned into two groups. One group received 90 minutes of yoga twice a week for 12 weeks, while the second group was put on a waiting list and received none. They tested the participants three months following the study and found that fatigue was 57% lower in the yoga study group. Researchers also measured three inflammation related proteins and injected the participants with a compound that provoked an immune response. The result was a 20% reduction in inflammation in the yoga group. Inflammation is linked to several chronic diseases including; type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease and alzheimer’s disease. The following is a quote by one of the researchers in this study.

Prof. Kiecolt-Glaser says: “We were really surprised by the data because some more recent studies on exercise have suggested that exercise interventions may not necessarily lower inflammation unless people are substantially overweight or have metabolic problems. In this group, the women didn’t lose weight, but we saw really marked reductions in inflammation. So this was a particularly striking finding biologically.”

Yoga – Healing journeys

For myself, yoga has been a savior on many fronts. Years ago I started to a local Bikram class to help with my back problems due to scoliosis and I soon realized that although it helped my back, it also helped me deal with stress. Since the breast cancer diagnosis yoga has helped me be receptive to my body’s needs and thereby to my own unfolding. Although I am still not back to my strength and flexibility from previous years, I know that it is a work in progress.

A yoga practice allows a woman with breast cancer to stand in her own strength, wisdom and courage and to allow those to be expressed physically through the poses. The breathing and body awareness is calming and centering and banishes the downward spiral effect that negative thoughts can have. Yoga for breast cancer can be an exploration into oneself and an effective tool to helping us through the the hardest emotional and physical challenge of our healing journeys. It is my goal to bring yoga to more women with breast cancer, so that they can reap its natural healing benefits.