Add Yoga to Your Post Cancer Arsenal
Though yoga originated as a way to meditate, to foster clear thinking and decision-making, the physical benefits yoga can bring are the ones emphasized more here in the West. Yoga does make positive changes to the body: increasing flexibility, improving balance, increasing your strength and the general tone of the body. But yoga can be so much more. Yoga’s value and impact on the mind and spirit should not be discounted. That’s especially true for cancer survivors.
The “C” word is very unsettling; everything you thought your life might hold gets put on hold. That one word has the power to keep every aspect of your life revolving around it. Have you been told you had cancer? What was the first thing you thought of? Did it feel like a death sentence? Did you go into denial thinking there must been a mistake in one of the tests? Did you accept the possibility, but resolve to find out more? Reactions are about as varied as each individual, but I don’t think anyone thinks they’ll be the one to develop cancer
The type of cancer, and its stage when discovered, determines the type of treatment prescribed. Most treatments take a lot of fortitude on the patient’s part. There can be more lab work required. There might be more xrays, MRIs or CT scans needed. Sometimes radiation is involved; sometimes chemotheraphy is needed; sometimes surgery is the only option. Whether your treatment plan includes surgery, radiation, and/or chemotherapy your body will have to withstand a major assault. It all takes time, but you can feel like you have precious little time to spare!
Once you’ve come through the other side of cancer there’s a little cloud that can hang over your head….recurrence. Are you questioning each ache and pain? Does a simple cold signal the start of another round of cancer to you? It’s understandable to be fearful. It wasn’t that long ago that a diagnosis of any cancer was synonymous with death. That’s not the case anymore. Inroads have been made to detect cancer at its earliest stage where the chance of survival is greatest. New treatment methods that target the cancer cells without damaging surrounding cells are available. But, the thought of a single cancer cell adrift within your lymph system waiting to take root can persist. It is my contention, if you’re living under that cloud of recurrence you’re letting cancer triumph.
This is where the mind and spirit benefits of yoga can be invaluable. From the moment you received the news of your cancer, your body has been at the mercy of your health care team. Their knowledge and experience gave them decision-making powers. Yes, you had to agree to it all, but the medical protocols are dictated by them. It is your body though, that’s subjected to an invasive onslaught of exploration and discovery. There is stress on the body even if your treatment plan includes the use of advanced medical equipment like the da Vinci Surgical System However, when you step onto your mat, YOU are the one in control. You monitor your body throughout practice determining just how much (or how little) that practice is for the day. Your practice may consist of lying comfortably on your back, with blocks and bolster offering support, for 5 minutes of deep breathing or listening to a guided meditation. You can decide what asanas (poses) are appropriate for you knowing what benefits those asanas bring to your body. In other words, yoga empowers YOU. It puts you back in control over your body. This sense of control, of reclaiming your life is monumental in importance. Additionally, evidence is showing how important physical exercise can be during treatment with one of the benefits being a reduction in cancer treatment side effects.
When you step onto your mat and begin your practice, your focus is narrowed to the here and now. Worries and anxiety over what may lie ahead are suspended as you concentrate on the breath…following the breath, the life-giving breath, on its journey inward. Can you feel the rush of oxygen? Can you imagine the blood taking the oxygen and other nutrients out to the farthest reaches of your body? Feeding your body; providing your body with the fuel it needs to perform. The breath cleanses your body with its exhales; removing carbon dioxide and other wastes. Most of us are so accustomed to breathing we don’t ever think about what’s involved or what it does. What does this realization awake within you? Awe? Gratitude? Both? Relief is probably in the mix of feelings too. And the more you practice the longer that interval that suspension of worry and anxiety can be. With continued practiced you can cultivate an awareness of peace and tranquility that you can take off your mat. This benefit of yoga, of cultivating a mindset of peace and tranquility that is available at any time, can be useful during cancer treatment as well.
Worry and anxiety are understandable, but persistent worry and anxiety is counter-productive; the negative effects of stress on your body’s immune system are well documented. Use your yoga practice to empower yourself, bolster your immune system and tap into peace and tranquility at any time. Your body came through the cancer battle; let yoga give you the tools to bring your mind and spirit to victory too.
Health, Wellness & CURES!!
Karen Whittier is a Registered yoga teacher (RYT) and Chief Activist for Embrace Activism. Embrace Activism is the online source for yoga products with a CAUSE: Premium yoga products that will enhance your practice on the mat, a charitable-giving program that takes your practice off the mat. Using Embrace Activism yoga products transforms your practice into purpose-driven yoga.
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This post also appears simultaneously on Karen's On & Off the Mat Blog and is republished here with her permission.
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