Yoga as a Supportive Strategy for Cancer Patients

As a cancer patient receiving chemotherapy, I experienced not just the symptoms of the disease but also suffered debilitating fatigue. Taking a shower was like doing a day’s work. This incapacitating fatigue prevented me from returning to my teaching position. While looking for ways to deal with the side effect of treatment, I discovered yoga, a holistic approach.

Yoga is based on an Indian philosophy, which provides beneficial effects on physical and emotional health. It includes various postures, breathing, meditation, and relaxation exercises.

The benefits of yoga

The practice of yoga and varying positions helps to stimulate muscles and increase blood flow. It is thought that this improves the body’s ability to clean out toxins.1 I learned deep, relaxing breathing, which provided oxygen-rich blood to all my cells. Yoga helped me lessen tension, feel more relaxed, and I felt better after class. I was never fond of exercise and did not have the energy to exercise during chemotherapy. However, yoga provided a gentle form of exercise with positive effects.

Research on yoga and cancer side effects and symptoms

Research has also reported that yoga can provide a means to strengthen the immune system.2 For me, this was most important as my white blood count has been affected by chemotherapy.

A detailed review of yoga research with cancer patients and survivors has supported the positive effects. The yoga groups reported fewer cancer-related symptoms. Participants practiced various yoga positions, gentle stretching and strengthening exercises and relaxation techniques. The positive results included improved quality of sleep and mood, reduced stress and improved quality of life.1,3

The reviews of these research studies have demonstrated that yoga can be an appropriate strategy for cancer patients and survivors. Existing studies included participants with different types of cancer. The yoga exercises were well tolerated. These careful approaches minimized any negative effects and improved compliance with the yoga exercises.1,3

My personal experience with yoga

I met with the yoga instructor, Rajyogi, a credentialed and experienced teacher who lived the practice of yoga. He interviewed me as to my medical history and desired goals. He recommended a beginning yoga class, as I was concerned as to my ability to exercise because of fatigue.

It was amazing how the practice of yoga changed my life. Gradually, I had more energy and really began to feel energized after class. The practice of yoga “cleared my head” and I began to feel less stressed. Yoga has become a part of my exercise program even as my chemotherapy has been completed.

Yoga can be an added strategy to support cancer patients and improve their quality of life. I have shared my experience and literature reviews with my oncologist and healthcare team so that more patients can be made aware of this beneficial intervention.

Yoga classes can often be found as part of community programs or even through local cancer organizations or hospitals. It may be wise to talk with your physician or healthcare team for any suggestions or precautions before beginning. An experienced yoga instructor who has experience with cancer patients is also recommended.

For patients undergoing chemotherapy, yoga can provide an improved quality of life and an improved feeling of well-being. Hopefully, more physicians will begin to recommend yoga as an exercise for cancer patients and cancer survivors.

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