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Yoga in Breast Cancer Care

Regular practitioners of yoga attest to its positive impact on our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Yoga can be empowering as we strive for balance and inner awareness. Moving from one pose to another, slowly and deliberately, encourages us to maintain sensations and notice what’s happening in our body, with curiosity instead of fear. This sense of presence and compassionate self-awareness is how we identify unresolved issues in our physical body.

 

But what if those issues have already manifested in our body as a disease like cancer? Can a regular practice of yoga have an effect on a person’s recovery? 

 

There are compelling reasons to answer, yes. Yoga has much to offer during recovery from illness, including breast cancer. Various yoga poses — particularly forward bends, back bends and twists — can help pacify and then activate the adrenal glands, which are depleted through the stress and anxiety typically associated with cancer treatment and recovery. 

 

Daily yoga practice has also been shown beneficial in overcoming fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and depression. It can lift our spirits and help us regain valuable energy. Equally important, it’s a time for meditation and quieting the noise of our mind, so we are better able to make thoughtful, careful choices.

 

When a woman undergoes chemotherapy, the impact on her body is dramatic. In addition to hair loss, her nails may become darker and more fragile and her skin appearance may change. Yoga can help a woman adjust to these changes in her body. It can help her develop the emotional strength to feel more comfortable embracing the way she looks, the way she moves and how she is feeling. 

 

One of the ways yoga promotes this is through the practice of “santosha,” which translate as contentment — accepting the present moment as it comes. It does not mean giving up, but rather is an active form of surrender to the here and now. Instead of judging a life experience as good or bad, we can adopt a neutral point of view, detached from the outcome. Many attribute their acquired wisdom in dealing with life’s difficulties to this practice of detachment or contentment.

 

Science supports yoga as a complementary therapy for breast cancer recovery. A 2014 Ohio State University study, reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, found that yoga significantly improved symptoms of fatigue, low vitality and inflammation.

 

Women in the test group attended 90-minute hatha yoga classes, twice a week for 12 weeks. They were randomly selected from 200 research participants in different stages of breast cancer, all having completed treatment within the past three years, and follow-up therapy at least two months earlier. Comparisons with the control group showed that the women attending yoga classes had significantly higher vitality rates early in the study and at the end. Fatigue and inflammation symptoms were significantly reduced in the yoga group after three months.

 

The investigators concluded, “Chronic inflammation may fuel declines in physical function leading to frailty and disability. If yoga dampens or limits both fatigue and inflammation, then regular practice could have substantial health benefits.”

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