Studies have shown that a structured yoga practice during cancer treatment can radically improve physical symptoms such as pain and fatigue. Additionally, according to a Harvard Medical School Mental Health Letter, yoga reduces stress and anxiety which in turn reduces heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and eases respiration. What’s more, patients who practiced yoga were also less sensitive to pain than subjects who did not, and therefore better able to tolerate treatment.
Beyond purely the physical, research at Duke University has also shown how yoga, along with meditation, can alleviate depression, anxiety and insomnia to help patients become “emotionally fit.” Medical research is revealing what cancer centers and yogic practitioners have long known, namely that “patients at all stages of health, including cancer survivors, can benefit from yoga. And the benefits are both physical and emotional.”
Here are four ways cancer patients can benefit:
1. Yoga Helps Manage Depression, Fear and Anxiety:
Depression and an acute fear of death can be prevalent in patients suffering through the emotional strain of a cancer diagnosis. Undergoing invasive or rigorous treatments may also heighten anxiety. Research has revealed that “Yogic breathing, defined as a manipulation of breath movement, has been shown to positively affect immune function, autonomic nervous system imbalances, and psychological or stress-related disorders.”
In other words, guided breathing exercises enrich the respiratory system to regulate nerves that can deeply calm both mind and body. Yoga activates this relaxation response and can thus help relieve feelings of anxiety. With the aid of supported inversions to increase circulation and guided meditation/deep breathing to let go of grief, fear, and foreboding, you can actually re-pattern and calm your stress cycles.
2. The “Mood Boost” Effect:
It’s a fact — exercise produces endorphins and endorphins improve your mood. A regular yoga practice, no matter how gentle the movements, allows the body to release endorphins so you can instantly experience a positive boost in mood.
Several studies also suggest that yoga can increase the level of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in regulating the nervous system and managing your mood and outlook. In addition, a regular yoga practice can boost self-esteem because you feel better about your appearance, strength, and overall physical condition.
3. Help to Manage Physical Pain:
Beside the well known and painful physiological side effects of cancer treatment, emotional stress can also produce physical pain. Moderate, appropriately modified physical activity aids in managing the physical pain that can be experienced during treatment, and research has shown that women who practice yoga specifically when in recovery report reduced pain and stress.
4. Yoga Community Can Provide Support:
A support system is crucial to coping with the emotional toll of cancer, not only for those suffering from the disease but for their loved ones as well. There is great value in the support of community for those in any stage of remission, meeting and talking with others who understand what you’re going through. Whether it’s a group setting or an online meet-up, engaging with others in a similar situation can provide a sense of normalcy and security.
So, even if you’re not in treatment yourself but have a loved one who is suffering, yoga can serve as a way to help you both deal with your emotional stress. You can take a class together or even practice at home with online videos. Either way, the calming effects of yoga provide a physically and emotionally beneficial activity you can do with each other, allowing you to connect on happy and positive terms.
Excerpts from Huffigton Post Article 4 Ways Cancer Patients Can Benefit from Yoga by Lorna Borenstein