by Teresa Campana
Yoga for cancer patients? That's right, the ancient Indian practice of postures, breathing and meditation may be just what the doctor ordered. As a devout yoga practitioner and a fellow ThyCa survivor, my yoga practice has deepened and produced incredible additional benefits since the day I was diagnosed.
First, a brief explanation on yoga. Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning yoke or union. I interpret it a the union of body, mind and spirit - or- a way to achieve wholeness. It is a time-honored system of self care dating back 5,000 years. Yoga involves a gentle series of stretches and poses (or postures), done slowly and with attention to your breath and related sensations.
For the healthy population, yoga helps take of your body in the prevention of illness or disease. The benefits are many: physically, it increases flexibility and muscular strength; mentally, it helps us learn to work beyond our physical limits through increasing levels of awareness. With continued practice, yoga helps us read our body signals and helps us honor the messages
it send us in order to heal.
For those of us with medical challenges, the practice can help us move beyond a restricted mindset of always being sick. Continually thinking of yourself as being sick can evolve into a long-term, negatively reinforcing message to your body on how its supposed to behave. With lack of exercise over time, disuse atrophy or degeneration can set it. Muscle tone is lost, particularly in the legs, the skeletal muscles weaken and become more prone to injury -
not to mention depression.
The beauty of yoga for cancer patients is it can practiced anywhere and from any position - a hospital bed, chair or wheelchair, if standing isn't possible. When starting out, you may wish to limit their practice to 10 minutes a day, as stamina builds. Most seasoned yoga practitioners go 1-1/2 hours or more each day.
As a thyroid cancer survivor, I found yoga incredibly beneficial from both a mental and emotional standpoint following my diagnosis. It provided me with a wonderful calming feeling and put my stress, and sometime sheer terror, in check. Fatigue was obviously an issue during my trip through "hypo hell"; yoga can help energize - even if you are exhausted! Specific postures can provide help for the following physical symptoms:
Yoga also often incorporates the practice of guided imagery and meditation.
Meditation encourages a calm mind and body. It provides a great opportunity
to send your body healing messages. Studies have shown it puts the body in a
semi-drowsy state - awake but with intermittent, undefined thoughts. EEG
(electroencephalographic) studies demonstrate prolonged periods of slowed
brain wave patterns (theta waves) among meditators. This hypagogic state
equates to a deep state of relaxation.
Visualizations or guided imagery for cancer patients was pioneered by O. Carl
Simonton in the ''70's as a means of stimulating a healing response. The
original process focused on visualizing an increased number of powerful
immune cells as they battled cancer cells. Currently, there is a trend
towards a more balanced visualization by imagining a healing, functioning
body which redirects wayward cancer cells.
Yoga has several different branches. Hatha yoga is the type of yoga which
espouses physical movement. A type of hatha yoga particularly suited for
cancer patients is Integrative Yoga Therapy. It addresses a variety of
special needs beyond cancer survival, including AIDS, cardiac health, hospice
work and back and neck injuries. For a practitioner in your area, contact
Best of luck of your cancer journey and Namaste!
Teresa Campana is a thyroid cancer survivor who is studying to be a yoga teacher with emphasis on children and cancer patients.
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