I first fell in love with yoga nearly five years ago after having my first child. It was a hard pregnancy, which had landed me in hospital and on bed-rest for the two months leading up to the actual birth. Needless to say, by the time I had my baby via emergency c-section my body felt like it might never recover after the months of doing nothing followed by such an invasive surgery.
Once my baby (a preemie) was strong enough to start getting out and about, I knew that I had to do something to regain control of my health. I had dabbled in yoga before but nothing you could call a regular practice. I needed to start with something gentle, so I looked up the yoga schedule at our local gym and despite my postpartum lack of enthusiasm, decided to give it a go.
The routine soon became my saving grace. I would drop my daughter off at the gym daycare for an hour and two to three times a week I was able to slowly but surely regain my strength. It also calmed my mind and made me feel at peace in a way that helped me regain my sense of self. I have never before or after found another practice that so seamlessly heals the body, mind and spirit. I would enter the class a frazzled mess of a first-time mama, and leave feeling that I had not only built up my stamina and muscles but that I was more content with myself and happier with the world around me.
Fast-forward to the present day when I recently learned that a close family member had been diagnosed with cancer. I was doing a bit of research to see what, if anything, might bring them a bit of comfort during such a painful, scary time. Cancer patients, of course, understand all too well that the treatments for their disease can lead to more discomfort than the disease itself. Add to that the mental strain that comes from having to battle your own body and it’s no wonder that many are left feeling, hopeless and depleted.
My research was reassuring: a great many cancer patients gain a sense of relief in yoga and its ability to reduce both depression and anxiety. But there’s more. Much more.
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that practicing yoga on a regular basis reduces inflammationand fatigue during radiation treatment. Another study found that cancer patients who practiced yoga saw an improvement in their sleep and were able to reduce their use of sleep medication.
In other words, yoga should no longer be viewed merely as a tool to help patients feel better in the moment, but rather as a means to keep them well overall. This can be seen in the way it helps build bone mass, which is often depleted through radiation. In addition, breathing techniques learned through yoga help develop cardiovascular strength.
A recent article in Boston Globe quotes Dr. Elizabeth K. O’Donnell, an oncologist at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Cancer Center:
Yoga is a great form of exercise for breast cancer patients, because it has been shown to be safe and it has been demonstrated to improve outcomes...”
While previous research has concentrated mostly on women and breast cancer, a recent study focuses on how male patients diagnosed with prostate cancer have an easier time dealing with radiation after incorporating yoga into their exercise routine.
The study, presented in October of this year at the Society of Integrative Oncology's International Conference, included 68 prostate cancer patients. Each patient was asked to attend a 75-minute Eischens yoga class twice a week. With 66 percent willing to participate, and 40 percent completing the course, researchers were able to measure effects through a set of questions that evaluated the patient's levels of fatigue, erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, and general quality of life, all of which are side effects of prostate cancer.
The outcome of the study was promising, as explained in an article in NewsMax Health:
Eischens yoga was chosen for its suitability for all body types and all levels of fitness and experience. Men who had participated in and completed the intensive yoga course while undergoing radiation treatment showed stabilized results when tested on erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence, and an improvement in cancer-related fatigue, a side effect reported by 60-90 percent of those receiving radiation treatment.”
Why? The same article goes on to explain ...
…yoga strengthens the pelvic floor muscles and increases blood flow, which may in turn improve urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction, as well as reducing feelings of fatigue, which can lower patient's quality of life more than pain. It can also leave participants with an increased general sense of well-being as well as a result of taking part in a social, group activity that promotes mediation, fitness and health.”
So whether you are a young mother struggling to regain your strength and sense of self after childbirth, or a patient struggling with a disease as serious as cancer, yoga may very well be the missing ingredient to help heal your mind, body and spirit.
PHOTO: via Flickr
- Multicenter, Randomized Controlled Trial of Yoga for Sleep Quality Among Cancer Survivors via Journal of Clinical Oncology
- Yoga’s Impact on Inflammation, Mood, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial via Journal of Clinical Oncology
- Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women With Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy via Journal of Clinical Oncology
- Yoga Brings Dream of Healing to Cancer Patients via Boston Globe
- Yoga Helps Prostate Cancer Patients Deal with Radiation via Health Max