The benefits of yoga for cancer patients

Published: 17 Sep 2019

Did you know that September is National Yoga Month?  In the last few years, yoga has enjoyed a growing reputation as being beneficial for cancer patients. Lots of people have talked about their own practice in the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and recommended it to others. So, we decided to investigate a little further.

Yoga is first mentioned in 5000-year-old sacred scripts from North India, although experts believe its origins could date back ten or even fifteen thousand years.   Its original aims were to create balance and harmony between your mind, body and spirit to help you feel calmer, but more recently people practice it more for strength and flexibility.    

In recent years, yoga has grown in popularity, especially in the West.   Research by the Yoga Journal found that in 2012 more than 20 million Americans were regularly practicing yoga – and given that figure had risen by 30% from the 2008 survey, we’re pretty sure that 7 years on it must now be pushing 30 million! You’ll no doubt have seen a growing number of classes advertised near you.    

Is yoga for me?

Despite this growth in popularity, for many it’s still seen as new-age mumbo jumbo.  Others may view it as elitist, only for fit and flexible yummy mummies with time on their hands, or just too slow and too boring. It has to be said, most people that think this way have never tried it! 

There are many different styles of yoga, so If you're worried about being fit or flexible enough don't be, there is a class and style of yoga that will suit you whatever your body type. 

Styles such as Ashtanga or Vinyasa are considered more fast-paced flow yoga that will give you a good workout and can stretch your fitness and strength to the limit. However if you’re in recovery from cancer or undergoing chemo it’s advisable not to push yourself too much and perhaps practice one of the slower and calmer styles. Hatha and Iyengar yoga, are much better for beginners or people with an injury or medical condition such as cancer. And for those who want to focus slightly more on breathing and spirituality Kundalini may be the one to try. 

Yoga with Cancer

Yoga helps people with many illnesses and conditions including cancer.  Yoga can't stop or cure cancer – but it can help calm the mind so that you can cope better with the disease and various treatments.   Recent research has even suggested that yoga improves immune function, reduces inflammation, and enhances the efficacy of chemotherapy and radiation.

You should also look out for classes run by a teacher with specialist training in teaching cancer patients who will know how to provide modifications of poses or sequences. There can be limits to what many cancer patients can do, especially right after surgery, or if left with physical challenges. For example, weak muscles or peripheral neuropathy which can affect balance.

But don’t be put off.  Here are just some of the reasons why many cancer patients are yoga advocates:

If you’re thinking of giving yoga a go, check with your medical team first.  Here are a few tips to get started:

Do you do Yoga? What style? And how has it helped you? Please join the Facebook Chemotherapy Support Group and share your experiences with thousands of people undergoing chemo and trying to find a way to cope manage their cancer.

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