The Benefits of Yoga During and After Cancer
by: Kim Lowe
Are you thinking about adding yoga to your post-diagnosis treatment and wellness plan, but you aren't sure if it's right for you?
Perhaps you just received your diagnosis, so you're feeling overwhelmed and scared.
Perhaps you’re in the middle of active treatment, so you aren't sure if yoga is safe for you.
Perhaps you haven’t exercised in years, so you're wondering if you can even do it.
On the flip side, perhaps you've been an avid runner all of your life, so you're wondering if yoga will be enough exercise for you as you start on your cancer journey.
If you've been given the green light by your medical team to exercise, then the answer to all of these questions is YES!
Yoga is a an extremely diverse mind-body exercise that can be modified to meet you where you are, wherever you are. The benefits of yoga are well documented and studied in cancer patients.
There are four main reasons why you should consider adding it to your daily or weekly routine.
Yoga is Good for Your Immune System
The lymphatic system in the human body plays a major role in our detoxification. Unlike our cardiovascular system, which is propelled by our beating heart, our lymph fluid is circulated through the movement of our muscles. Yoga puts our bodies into certain positions that help move lymph fluid towards the thoracic duct in our chests, where it will be processed and expelled. For example, if you put your arms up and over your head like is done in many yoga poses, you are encouraging the lymph fluid in your arms to drain down. There are countless gentle ways in which yoga can help you flush your lymphatic system to promote detoxification, improved immunity, and better health.
Yoga is Good for Your Bones
Some types of cancer and some treatments may cause bones to weaken, leading to an increased risk of fracture. Many yoga poses are considered to be a weight bearing exercise which strengthens bones. This is true for all of the standing poses, which strengthen the leg bones, pelvis, and spine. Poses that require a hands-and-knees position on the floor have the added benefit of strengthening the arms bones. You don’t have to lift weights in a gym to receive the benefits of a weight-bearing exercise. Simple yoga poses are likely to be enough to help strengthen your bones in a gentle and supportive way. Furthermore, many yoga poses will help you find alignment in your body which can lead to improved spine strength, flexibility, and health.
Yoga is Good for Your Mental Health
Many studies have shown that yoga has a positive impact on mental health, including reductions in anxiety or depression, and improved quality of life. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is scary for everyone and the uncertainty that follows can be difficult to manage. Yoga is beneficial to help minimize fear, anxiety, and overwhelm because certain poses are designed engage the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system. When turned on, this system triggers the relaxation response in our bodies, which can aid in getting better sleep and in healing. Any moments of peace and calmness you can feel during your cancer journey will benefit you in spades.
Yoga is Good for Your Muscles
Yoga poses range from gentle to intense. Aside from restorative poses which are designed to engage the relaxation response (as described below), most poses require some form of active movement or specifically-positioned stillness that promotes muscle strength. For cancer patients who are facing challenges associated with scar tissue or side effects from surgery, many yoga poses can help improve range of motion and flexibility, making daily living easier. The more active poses have the added benefit of strengthening the cardiovascular system because they may require several muscles to maintain the pose. However, there are many gentle poses that are a fantastic way to help build strength and flexibility during and after treatment.
Of course, talk to your doctor before beginning any new exercise program. If he or she gives you the green light, start slow and give it a fair chance. You will be joining a supportive community of fellow thrivers who value peace, health, and personal empowerment.