Jean Di Carlo-Wagner, M.A., E-RYT500, Yoga Therapist, Survivor
• Past research on yoga was poorly designed
• Newer scientific studies point to physical, psychological and social benefits of meditative group practices, including yoga
• Meditative Practices focus on breathing, mindfulness based relaxation techniques, visualization and gentle movement
What’s the buzz about yoga for cancer patients? And is there solid research to back all the claims? If we look at the research over the last two decades, we will be mislead into thinking that yoga studies show no real benefit, largely because the studies that were conducted were poorly designed and executed. The Cochrane synopsis says that yoga itself was defined in too broad of category, from vinyasa flow active yoga to restorative yoga. And since there is no agreement within the studies about what yoga practice should be used; it’s hard to ferret out any truth about its benefits for a wide range of cancer patients and survivors.
However, within the last several years, a more focused approach to research on yoga is taking place. The literature is clearly pointing toward the benefits of meditative practices, which includes yoga. Yoga
can then borrow the research done on breathing techniques for stress reduction. The heart of yoga is breathing. What separates yoga from other forms of exercise is its close attention to movement connected to breath pace. Gentle range-of-motion movements, using one’s breath as a guide is a form of meditation in itself. So, what we can infer with confidence from the plethora of studies on the benefits of breathing practices from reducing anxiety to helping people cope with pain. Anecdotally, most of my yoga students in treatment for cancer report that they use diaphragmatic breathing as their main coping tool when stressed, fatigued, experiencing sleeplessness or when they are in pain.
The structure of a yoga class designed for cancer patients and survivors should highlight known meditation practices that are documented in other populations of people under severe stress, like war veterans. In fact, the U.S. military forces are doing most of the latest research on Integrative Medicine, in an effort to care for war veterans. Meditative practices include, yoga, Thai Chi, Qi Gong, mindfulness meditation, massage, and acupuncture. Cancer patients often suffer anxiety post treatment, just as war veterans do from engaging in life-threatening battles. Here again, inferencing the similarities in beneficial complementary approaches we can extrapolate the benefits to cancer survivors. Cancer patients are living longer, with advancements in cancer treatments. However, their quality of life is taking precedence over mere survival. Yoga can have a profound positive effect on the quality of life of survivors. Research is clear on this one point.
Perhaps the most promising studies on meditative practices include regained length on their telomeres (a DNA indicator of aging). Morning blood cortisol levels showed significant drops after meditative yoga practices in as short as eight weeks. Blood pressure can be lowered with diaphragmatic breathing practices, as well as, the metronome of the heartbeat. There are many reasons to give yoga a place in the treatment of cancer survivors.
Thank you to the Ruesch Center for inviting me to share my passion for yoga, And to Chris4life.org for supporting my reach to cancer patients through their community called “COLONTOWN”.
REFERENCES FOR DOCTORS , PATIENTS, AND CAREGIVERS
RESOURCES FOR PATIENTS
Jean’s yoga class (and free downloadable meditations) https://soundcloud.com/yoga-being/yoga-for-healing-class?utm_source=soundcloud&utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=email
Jean’s website YogaBeing.net
Jean’s FB page https://www.facebook.com/YogaBeing/
Jean’s Pinterest Yoga Tips
Jean’s Yoga Tip #171: Our tongues are amazing! Stick yours out. Go on, all the way out and point it down. Now, say your name. I keep your tongue out and say your name. This helps activate our abdominal muscles, tone our chin and giggle. In yogic philosophy, the tongue is the connection to all the glands in the body. Now breathe in and out, sticking your tongue all the way out, and then bring it all the way in. Happy Yoga Tongue!