Pink Lotus Yoga

Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors by Lauren Cahn in New York City

Yoga and Meditation Empower Cancer Patients

More than nine years have passed since I first felt a lump in my breast, had it biopsied, made the decision to have both of my breasts removed and reconstructed, and went through with the all-day surgery. Every year since then, I have taken some time during October (Breast Cancer Awareness Month) to write about my experiences and offer what I hope to be insights to the breast cancer patients out there, along with their family and friends.

This year, this week, in fact, the realization hit me that I have nothing that I want to say other than that a long time has passed, and I have already said about as much as I think I have to say on the topic, and now I would like to move on with optimism and hope for a healthy and happy future.

In that spirit, I offer you today, the wise words of a guest poster, Gillian McKee, who kindly offered to provide the following insightful information to my readers:

Yoga and meditation are helpful as complementary therapies in the treatment of cancer for some patients. It is becoming more and more common for major cancer centers to offer yoga and meditation classes in addition to the mainstream treatments of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

A person diagnosed with cancer is usually overcome with fear and anxiety. Imagine, for example, how it must feel to learn that you have mesothelioma, an incurable cancer related to asbestos exposure. With a mesothelioma life expectancy of between four and eighteen months, it is not surprising that victims of the disease are often frightened and panic-stricken. Furthermore, the treatments used to fight the cancer have highly unpleasant side-effects, including pain, nausea, fatigue, and muscle weakness.

Yoga can decrease production of the stress hormone, cortisol, reduce the heart rate and blood pressure, lessen depression and anxiety, help overcome sleep problems, and stabilize one’s mood. The postures, or asanas, help ease tension and are thought to release blockage of energy in the body. With the release of tension, energy flows through the body, giving patients a feeling of strength and well-being as body, mind, and spirit come into balance. Patients with mesothelioma in particular benefit from yoga’s focus on breathing, which complements the respiratory therapy that they require.

Meditation, which is an integral part of the practice of yoga, has been shown to be as effective as opiates in reducing pain. In a study conducted at Wake Forest University, researchers taught patients to use meditation to focus their attention on a something pleasant, instead of on their pain. After training for only a few days, the subjects reported a 57% reduction in pain. This is essentially the same degree of pain reduction produced by taking morphine.

The American Cancer Society stresses that yoga cannot be considered a cure for cancer of any kind. However, it can improve the quality of life for many patients, giving them a sense of control over their bodies, reducing tension and stress, relieving pain, preventing muscle atrophy, and helping them cope with sometimes daunting treatments and their side effects. The NIH continues to stand by yoga as a complementary therapy by promoting and practicing an annual Yoga Week. Since 2008, this event has partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services to support increased medical research for complementary and alternative care.

Jillian S. McKee on Twitter: @canceralliance