Yoga, Meditation & Cancer
A cancer diagnosis hits hard and overwhelms so many people, from patients to the people around them. Many patients going through their treatment are looking for ways to improve their side effects from treatment as well as their overall mental and physical health.
Of course, always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine. Read on about both the physical and mental benefits of yoga and meditation while undergoing cancer treatment and how to get a personal practice started.
Physical Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Patients
Mark Harris is an MD and has a master’s degree in public health. He says,
“The most common side effects of cancer treatments are pain, nausea, fatigue, and psychological symptoms.
Yoga and other other forms of movement improve pain by increasing blood flow throughout the body and helping release endorphins, which are natural pain killing chemicals.”
For some people, yoga can be a natural pain reliever. Many doctors speak about movement of some kind, whether it be walking, stretching, or some other mild form of exercise as being great to battle fatigue.
Shaw McPherson is a yoga teacher based out LA. He says,
“Yoga helps improve energy when facing fatigue. Moving the body while focusing on the breath improves blood circulation to the body as a whole. This improves muscle function and mobility.
Yoga is about movement, but equally emphasizes rest. Being guided into alignment and rest encourages practitioners to honor their physical body and know when to ease back instead of pushing forward.”
Yoga is a great, adaptable exercise anyone can participate in. Many, if not all poses, can be modified to meet the needs of each individual. Whether a patient is wanting to alleviate treatment side effects, stay physically strong during treatment, or just need to find a way to keep moving, yoga is a great place to start.
Steven Roecklein is a prostate cancer thriver turned advocate. He leads support groups for others going through cancer. He believes in a holistic approach to healing.
Medical stuff is important, of course, but we also talk about the whole person. We talk about food, exercise, mindfulness, and communication.
We believe the healing comes about when you take the whole person into account. With mindfulness, diet, exercise, yoga, acupuncture, and things like that, you can really do wonders for your recovery. What’s good for your body is good for fighting cancer.
Put simply, the physical benefits of yoga for cancer patients are:
- Simple modifications can be made for all body types and skill levels
- It may alleviate nausea, fatigue, and pain from cancer treatment
- It improves circulation and flexibility
- It promotes overall health
Mental Benefits of Yoga & Meditation for Cancer Patients
According to a study on PubMed conducted with the help of breast cancer patients, yoga may help alleviate anxiety, sleep issues and depression in cancer patients. How?
“Meditation enables patients to conceptualize their symptoms and control them. One can learn to dial down their own pain, fatigue, etc.,” Harris says.
“Emotionally, this type of practice helps us love, care for and appreciate our bodies. Many times during physical illness or injury, as humans, we want to numb or check out of our bodies. The practice of yoga helps us connect or reconnect,” McPherson says.
Tips to Start a Yoga and/or Meditation Practice
Luckily, yoga and meditation are things anyone can do just about anywhere and at any time. Generally, a quiet space to practice is best, but life can be busy, so give yourself some grace.
A simple way to start meditating even if you never have before:
- Sit in a comfortable position with a straight back. Put a timer on for a few minutes–even one minute is a good place to start–and close your eyes.
- Focus on your breath. Count your breaths from 10 to 1. If your thoughts wander, start again from 10.
- Begin with only a few minutes per day, so you never have any reason to skip. Increase 1 minute per week until you get to 20 minutes.
- Have a “never zero” approach: commit to practicing every day, no matter what happens—even if it’s only for a few minutes.
If you’re nervous about going to a yoga class because you’re immunocompromised or simply shy, there are so many great resources online. You can find articles with different poses for just about any situation with a Google search. There are also great YouTube channels dedicated to free yoga videos.
Miriam Amselem is a holistic nutritionist and yoga instructor. She says sometimes all you have to do to get started is to start!
“One last tip on getting started is to just do it. Don’t wait for the “perfect” time because that doesn’t exist for anyone. Just start even if it is for ten minutes, and keep adding more time to your practice,” she says.