Being Well

Yoga for Cancer Patients Makes Treatment a Bit More Bearable

Practicing yoga can help every cancer patient and cancer survivor feel better both mentality and physically, as it's low risk and allows you to achieve mindfulness.

Yoga is more than just a way to get some exercise and peace of mind during your diagnosis and treatment. Bolstered by a study funded by the National Cancer Institute, yoga for cancer patients increases your physical and psychological well-being, which may have been depleted during and after treatment.

Research in breast cancer patients, according to Breastcancer.org, has also shown that practicing yoga may help improve physical functioning, reduce your fatigue, decrease your stress levels, enhance your sleep and boost your quality of life overall. If you’re looking to add yoga to your treatment regimen, here are the benefits you will reap, plus some tips to get you started.

How Yoga Increases Your Physical Wellness

The American Cancer Society suggests to seek out physical activity because even the smallest movements can help as you undergo treatment. Many breast cancer patients specifically struggle to regain strength and mobility in the arm affected by a lymph node removal (called axillary node dissection), a common part of their lumpectomy or mastectomy surgery. The National Lymphedema Network advises that yoga can help with that arm rehabilitation. The full-body movement incorporated into each yoga pose helps overcome inactivity and alleviates pain, weakness and fatigue due to your cancer treatment, but in the gentlest way possible.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons suggests yoga over other forms of exercise due to its low injury risk compared to its benefits. As long as you listen to your body’s flexibility and fitness level while practicing poses, you’ll probably notice improvement in your strength, balance and flexibility, plus increased feelings of well-being after class.

How Yoga Increases Your Emotional Wellness

Do you suffer from those cancer “what-ifs,” repeating in your mind during and after cancer treatment? These can have a profound negative effect on your recovery. But, during yoga practice, when you focus only on your breath slowly coming in and slowly going out, you may find you’ve forgotten your fears for the time being. You can practice this breathing technique any time stressful thoughts enter your mind. Besides, yoga has shown to help decrease feelings of depression and anxiety, according to the American Association for Cancer Research.

Performing the poses takes the same focus, thus helping you to forget stressful to-do lists, nerve-wracking scans, future fears and unpleasant procedures (at least for a moment). It’s that “mindfulness,” concentrating completely on what you’re doing every moment during a yoga practice, that reduces the stress response in your body.

How to Start Feeling Better With Yoga

Search for yoga studios or hospital centers that offer free yoga for cancer patients, or sign up for a beginner class at a studio with certified instructors near you. Start slowly practicing basic yoga breathing, called “pranayama,” and try controlling your breathing during movement, instead of attempting perfect poses. Use beginner modifications and props your instructors suggest to protect your major joints and muscle groups. If you struggle with dizziness or fatigue during or after cancer treatment, try a chair yoga class which takes place safely sitting in a chair.

Practice using your imagination to conquer cancer fears during yoga (and anytime): Inhale, picturing a positive thought entering the body on a stream of healing green or blue air and exhale visualizing a negative thought leaving the body in a cloud of stale gray or brown smoke. Whatever way you choose to clear your mind, you’re bound to feel some of your cancer concerns and pains float away, for at least a moment.

Yoga is one way to deal with the struggles of breast cancer. To find more ways to help you through your diagnosis and treatment, check out UVA Cancer Center.

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Naomi Mannino
Naomi Mannino