About the same time that I was ready to choose a topic for this essay, I received a medical scare. What went through my mind at the time was what yoga practice could add to my health and recovery. Thankfully, my scare was just a false alarm, but it did cause me to want to research the relationship between yoga practice and the side effects of cancer treatments.
At first I found it difficult to narrow the focus of my topic. Medical facilities and scientists have taken this subject very seriously and much research has been done. My interest was drawn to research in the effect of yoga practice on subjects who were undergoing chemotherapy or radiation during a study and those who had completed their treatments. There is a long list of common complaints with cancer survivors. They experience fatigue, poor sleep or insomnia, anxiety, pain, stress and emotional distress. In the studies that I reviewed, changes were measured to show improvements in most of these areas.
Yoga has three branches that come together to unite mind, body and spirit. Mention yoga and most people think of the exercise (asana) branch of yoga. Several of the studies that I reviewed used gentle yoga poses with props under the supervision of skilled teachers. Poses were carefully chosen with sequencing from mild to more challenging. Inversions and backbends with props were effective for the group of breast cancer survivors. There was a marked decrease in all the subjects level of fatigue and an improved perception of level of health (5 ). The participation in yoga class allowed these subjects to have some autonomy in their health. Yoga is not competitive. The participants could all be successful. The poses aid flexibility, strength and balance. Moving through the poses unlocks energy blocks and allows for healing. There is also the benefit of the socialization of participating in a class with peers. One study (5) of breast cancer survivors showed that their yoga practice improved their perception of health and over-all quality of life.
The second branch of yoga is awareness of breath. This is an essential part of asana practice, but can be a beneficial practice without going through poses. Connecting the movement of the body to the movement of the breath opens the muscles and allows for more flow. It also allows the mind to become calm and non-judgmental by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system thus leading to less anxiety. With deep, slow diaphragm inhalations, the lungs fill with nourishing oxygen. Pausing at the top of the inhale brings oxygen to those areas of the respiratory system that are normally missing out on it. Exhaling slowly gives the body time to fully release carbon dioxide and toxins from cancer treatment. A final pause at the bottom of the exhalation finishes its expulsion. Cancer survivors find that connecting with the breath aids in asana practice to strengthen the muscles, gain flexibility and balance, but also allows them to move t