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Yoga cancer patient

How Yoga Can Help Cancer Survivors

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What is yoga?

Yoga originated in ancient India over 5,000 years ago. The Sanskrit root word “yui” means to yoke, bind or join together. Yoga is a spiritual practice that aims to create a union with the body, mind and spirit. It's a path to realizing one's identity — the true essence of being — so that one can achieve liberation.

Today, in the Western world, yoga is used to promote physical and emotional well-being. Research has shown that cancer survivors who practice yoga may benefit and overcome the negative effects of the disease. Yoga is not a cure for cancer, but it is part of a holistic approach that emphasizes the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being of an individual.

Benefits of yoga for cancer survivors

A cancer diagnosis can take a considerable emotional, mental and physical toll on a person. Patients are often overwhelmed by the required tests and procedures, while navigating a way of life that no longer seems familiar. To combat these stressors, cancer survivors can benefit from techniques that relax and calm, one of which is the practice of yoga. With the application of a customized sequence of yoga postures, breathing techniques and guided meditation, patients can heal mindfully from the inside out.

Benefits include:

  • More energy. One of the most common complaints of patients is cancer-related fatigue. Studies have shown that those who practiced yoga as part of their exercise program experienced significantly less cancer-related physical and mental fatigue.
  • Better physical mobility. Lack of physical movement from surgery or other treatments also affects cancer survivors. Daily tasks once considered easy may now be more challenging because of stiffness or pain. A regular yoga practice can help improve flexibility, develop a better range of motion, build strength and can help break up scar tissue in affected areas. It also gives survivors a chance to feel empowered in their healing process.
  • Restful sleep. Patients must get enough sleep so that the body can heal. Because of the physical and emotional stress brought on by the disease, this may be challenging. Yoga meditation and breathing techniques calm the mind and body and bring one to a more peaceful and relaxed state, which can help with sleep quality and duration.

Traditional yoga vs. healing yoga

Yoga classes specifically tailored for cancer patients and survivors, also known as “healing yoga,” are practiced in a supportive and caring environment where participants can share, relax and strengthen the body and mind together. These classes are designed to meet each student where they are on their road to recovery so that they can heal and feel successful every step of the way.

It’s important that instructors take into consideration some of their students’ limitations. A person with a certain type of cancer may not be able to sit on the floor or lie on their stomach, so they may have to sit in a chair to participate in the class.

Other considerations include:

  • Does the pose require more muscular strength or energy than the student possesses?
  • Is balance an issue?
  • Will the pose put too much strain on the heart because of weakness or side effects from medication?

The above questions can be addressed in pose and posture modifications, tailored to each individual student.

The goal of these very special yoga classes is to make each person feel safe and supported during the healing process, while providing the physical, emotional and mental growth.

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