Yoga is not a treatment for cancer, but as therapy it aids patients in alleviating symptoms experienced by cancer sufferers. Quality of life, even while battling life-threatening cancer, has been seen to improve in cancer patients through the practice of yoga.
Although there are only a few formal studies of yoga as a complementary cancer therapy, and research support for the practice remains limited, narrative accounts by cancer patients and survivors who followed a yoga discipline during treatment enthusiastically endorse its use. Benefits reported have included improvements in strength, appetite, sleep, physical comfort, and general outlook.
Yoga has been adopted as a complementary form of cancer therapy by cancer centers across the country and around the world. MD Anderson, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute offer patients yoga in an attempt to improve cancer care. Cancer has been adopted in the treatment of various different types of cancer, including breast cancer and mesothelioma.
A goal is to decrease the symptoms associated with cancer and traditional cancer treatments while potentially aiding to extend life expectancy. Improvement in mesothelioma prognosis is highly sought and is indirectly tied to quality of life.
A foundation of yoga is the assumption of particular poses or postures. These are called the asanas in historical yoga nomenclature, meaning postures conceived to manipulate glands and organs into heightened body awareness and to produce beneficial physical conditions. There are hundreds of poses practiced in yoga, intended to achieve particular benefits and to lead to unique levels of physical and meditative perception.
A collection of these poses has been refined for specific use by cancer patients. Like all yoga postures, these are expected to yield a variety of results and benefits, including those both physical and emotional. Physically, the expectation is that these postures will counteract cancer symptoms by stimulating organs to produce overriding sensations and qualities. Emotionally, it is a reduction in stress and anxiety and a discovery of optimism in body imaging that are most highly sought.
Four particular body positions have been tried and explored by cancer researchers, as well as patients themselves. The patients have reported first hand success and benefit, and researchers have concluded that these postures are some of the most promising for cancer patients.
The first is known as alternate nostril breathing. The goal is to eliminate or reduce any feelings of anxiety or worry, and the method is simply one of closing each nostril alternately using a finger, and then breathing only through the other. This is to be repeated four times in a single set of exercises, and can be repeated as needed or desired.
A second posture used in yoga and recommended for use in cancer therapy is the cat/cow pose. This is designed to closely coordinate breathing with movement through an extension of the leg and spine. The participant begins on hands and knees, with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. He or she then exhales deeply, curves the spine upward, and looks behind to legs. Then inhale and gaze straight ahead. The cycle is to be repeated for several minutes, and full breaths are to be carefully taken with each movement.
Next is the supta baddha konasana. Despite the obscure name, this simple procedure is designed to release tension and lift the spirits. Using a yoga mat, lie back and stretch your arms overhead. Relax the shoulders with arms at your sides, slightly away from your body, with the palms facing up. Then close your eyes and breath slowly and mindfully. Maintain this pose for up to 15 minutes.
The last of the four recommended postures is the savasana. This name, too, is arcane, but the process is simple. It is considered especially beneficial to the nervous system, encouraging stillness of mind and a release of focus. Lie down on your back with your legs spread slightly apart and your arms rested slightly apart from your body. Then simply inhale and exhale slowly and completely, with no contemplation of movement or breathing.