By Jillian McKee
Yoga and meditation can benefit cancer patients in many ways, both mentally and physically. Multiple scientific studies have confirmed the positive link between holistic healthcare and improved management of serious illnesses, and the anecdotal evidence is staggering. With its focus on breathing, posture, flexibility, and control of the body and mind, yoga can greatly improve a cancer patient’s quality of life.
The physical benefits of yoga to cancer patients stem from developing greater control over bodily processes and better awareness of how the body functions. After several weeks of yoga, cancer patients have reported lower levels of insomnia and sleep disturbances, which aides pain management, as well as reduced blood pressure and fewer migraine headaches. Lowering the occurrence of these symptoms improves a patient’s overall comfort levels, reduces the risk of developing related illnesses such as heart disease, and contributes to an overall sense of well-being. The various poses of yoga can also help a patient manage the pain and discomfort associated with cancer and chemotherapy/radiation treatments, and breathing exercises may benefit those with lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The mental benefits of yoga lie in meditation and relaxation. Yoga teaches students to focus the mind and forget the anxieties of yesterday and tomorrow. Fear and confusion, which often lead to depression, can be left behind, and a yoga student learns how to better handle and eliminate stressors. In addition to the solitary benefits, cancer patients can benefit from the group atmosphere of yoga, whether it’s surrounding themselves with everyday people or others with cancer. Support systems are the key to managing any illness and help a person manage and understand life and his/her situation in healthier ways. Studies have even shown that women with breast cancer typically live longer when they participate in support groups.
Although yoga cannot replace traditional medical care, it can be a wonderfully beneficial part of palliative care. Those diagnosed with cancer should always discuss using a yoga regimen as part of their care with a physician, and only study with an experienced, qualified instructor. Every case is different, and certain types of yoga may not benefit some patients. The goals and outcome of using yoga should always be to improve the body and heal the mind.
Jillian McKee is a yoga enthusiast and cancer activist.
She works as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the
Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance. Her time is spent mostly on outreach
efforts and spreading information on complementary and alternative
medicine use in cancer treatment. You can contact her at
firstname.lastname@example.org and check out the Cancer Alliance at
@canceralliance on Twitter and Facebook.com/mesotheliomacancer.