Yoga Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients & Survivors

If you have attended a yoga class before, you are probably well aware of the physical benefits of yoga, such as increased flexibility, stamina, strength, and relaxation. However, you might not know of the therapeutic benefits of yoga and the ways in which yoga can complement Western medical treatments for serious illnesses like breast cancer. Pick up the latest issue of Australian Natural Health at your local newsagent for a chance to read Emma Palmer’s most recent article on the issue.

Emma summarizes the latest research on the benefits of yoga for people actively treating breast cancer and for those who have survived it. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in January earlier this year demonstrated that, with a consistent and targeted yoga practice during and post-treatment, women with breast cancer found relief from a wide range of symptoms, including inflammation, anxiety, and fatigue, and they experienced a heightened sense of general well-being and relaxation.

This study took subjective measurements such as self-reports on mental health, as well as objective measurements such as blood tests to obtain a holistic picture of the effect of yoga on each person’s body and mind. The researchers found that, not only did participants report feeling less anxiety, lethargy, depression, and difficulty with sleep, their physiological measures also showed a reduction in inflammatory response and levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress in the body.

Due to the invasive nature of breast cancer treatment, these findings are significant because they show benefits even to those who have been through perhaps the most harrowing experience of their lives, a fact that highlights the therapeutic potential of yoga. A consistent practice of gentle yoga, paired with yogic breathing and meditation techniques, presented a notable intervention for patients during and following treatment, and this study serves to reinforce what previous studies have also found: that restorative yoga practices are key to reducing stress and increasing quality of life both during and post-treatment, and may also be instrumental in increasing rates of success for breast cancer survival when prescribed appropriately.

As Emma points out in her article, yoga provides us with a space for healing and self-improvement like no other physical exercise practice. The spiritual aspect of yoga is particularly important in a therapeutic sense for breast cancer patients and survivors because being diagnosed with breast cancer and surviving its treatment is an experience to test anyone’s resolve. Although breast cancer predominantly affects women, a consistent yoga practice would also benefit men who have been diagnosed with or have survived breast cancer.

The findings of these studies are not necessarily generalizable to patients with other forms of cancer or other life-threatening illnesses, but the fact that yoga has been shown to be beneficial for people dealing with such a devastating disease can give us hope that yoga will prevail as a common therapy in hospitals and clinics worldwide.

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"Yoga is an inner process, which makes it a solitary venture, yet it works better when you have external support."
-Swami Nirmalananda