Beyond Medical Care: The Benefits of Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients and Survivors

Upon receiving my cancer diagnosis, I was initially overwhelmed with shock and uncertainty. But as I processed the news, I began exploring ways to complement my treatment and promote healing. My intuition was telling me to keep my body moving. I decided to increase my weekly yoga practice, with an additional gentle yoga class and upping it with a daily 15 minutes of flow yoga before my morning meditation. Little did I know the full extent of benefits that yoga could offer to cancer patients and survivors until I delved deeper into the subject.

The book “Yoga for Cancer” by Tari Prinster and her Yoga4Cancer training made me realize the broad spectrum of advantages yoga can offer for individuals going through cancer treatments. An increasing amount of research supports the idea that yoga can alleviate treatment side effects, improve overall well-being, and aid in the recovery process. As a result, a growing number of cancer centers are now recommending yoga to their patients.

Here is a summary of some of the reported benefits of yoga:

  • Increases range of motion and flexibility
  • Strengthens bones and muscles
  • Improves lung capacity and breathing function
  • May improve digestion and ease constipation
  • Supports weight management
  • May help manage lymphedema
  • Supports the immune system function
  • Improves sleep and reduces fatigue
  • Helps manage pain
  • Enhances body image
  • Helps manage fear and anxiety
  • Improves mental and emotional health

What makes yoga unique is that it incorporates physical movement, breathwork, and meditation practices, making it a potent tool to address the physical, emotional, and mental challenges of cancer. Movement synchronized with the breath allows for progressively focusing attention inward, preparing for a deeper meditation.

Besides improving physical and mental health, yoga can also help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that breast cancer survivors who engaged in moderate exercise, such as active yoga, brisk walking, swimming, or cycling, had a lower risk of cancer recurrence than those who were less physically active.

The American Cancer Society and the Department of Health and Human Services recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate exercise every week to enhance health and life quality while preventing cancer recurrence. Therefore, the message is clear: keep moving!

The beauty of yoga for cancer patients and survivors is that it can be tailored to meet individual needs and abilities. Modifications and variations can be incorporated to accommodate different types of treatments, ensuring that patients can safely and effectively practice yoga, regardless of their physical limitations. However, it is always essential to consult with healthcare providers before beginning an exercise program.

A cancer diagnosis can shake one’s life, but it doesn’t mean we should stay helpless. Beyond medical care, there are numerous active steps one can take to support well-being during and after treatment. For me, it was turning to yoga, and I’m grateful I did.

Reference:

Irwin, M. L., Smith, A. W., McTiernan, A., Ballard‐Barbash, R., Cronin, K., Gilliland, F. D., … & Tworoger, S. (2008). Influence of pre‐ and postdiagnosis physical activity on mortality in breast cancer survivors: the health, eating, activity, and lifestyle study. Journal of Clinical Oncology, 26(24), 3958-3964. https://doi.org/10.1200/JCO.2007.15.9822

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