Yoga Has Stepped Onto Center Stage as an Integrated Complementary Therapy
for balancing the mind, body and spirit. It includes postures, breathing exercises, meditations, chanting, a healthy lifestyle and most importantly relaxation techniques. There are numerous studies worldwide providing scientific evidence of yoga’s therapeutic potential. It is now known that when the nervous system is balanced, the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems function correctly and the brain works together to create a balance of both action and calmness. The body’s immune system is revitalized to create dynamic responses that maintain health. When the body experiences this balance, the mind also experiences it and a higher knowledge or spirit prevails. Yoga is that vehicle to bring the mind, body and spirit together as one.
How Does Yoga Help Those Undergoing Treatment For Breast Cancer?
Yoga addresses the side effect distresses of (breast) cancer. These side effects can include lymphedema (swelling), cancer-related fatigue, nausea, pain, weight loss, sleep disorders, stress, fear, anxiety, depression and restlessness. In current studies of women managing these symptoms of distress the following was reported: those doing yoga therapy showed a significant reduction in side effect and symptom distresses. Their (QOL) Quality of Life was shown to be significantly higher when practicing yoga. Anxiety, emotional stress, fear and negative moods are common causes of poor (QOL). The entire recovery process can disrupt routines, relationships, careers and other aspects of life. Yoga offers the opportunity to alleviate these obstacles and decrease there interference with recovery. Yoga assists in diminishing suffering from common chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Depression is also important to address with (breast) cancer patients. The uncertainty about prognosis and treatment, concerns of pain or even death, lack of physical and functional abilities and social changes contribute to depression. Patients who practice yoga appear to cope better with symptoms of illness, and the side effects and distresses of treatments. It is sited that the physical poses, breathing exercises, meditation techniques are especially helpful components of a yoga practice.
It is Well Documented That Yoga Decreases Stress Hormones
GABA (gamma-Aminonbutyric acid) is an important calming chemical produced by the brain that counteracts anxiety and stress. GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter chemical in the brain. GABA is responsible for balancing mood levels. It is believed that certain physical reaction disorders are due to the failure to produce adequate levels of GABA. Through brain imaging it has been shown that a restorative yoga practice increases GABA levels markedly. When GABA levels are maintained with breast cancer patients, physical stamina increases. Daily activities like climbing stairs, walking and doing the laundry become easier compared with those that don’t engage in a yoga practice or exercise. GABA is very important for sustained recovery and optimal health. Stress reduces the levels of GABA in our brains. The primary stress hormones, which inhibits GABA levels are cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. Cortisol is a steroid hormone that is manufactured in the adrenal glands and synthesized from cholesterol. They are small glands alongside to the kidneys. The hormone cortisol is released into the body during stress; hence it is called the "stress hormone." However cortisol is necessary for the overall function of the entire body. It is when there is an excess of cortisol that there is excess stress so when cortisol is secreted and remains in the bloodstream over prolonged periods of time, one may lose bone mass, or experience increased blood pressure, suppressed thyroid function, and weakened cognitive performance. The consequences of sustained cortisol levels include a compromised immune response as well as increased inflammation in the muscle tissue, hyperglycemia, and increased abdominal fat. The proper balancing of the physical, and then emotional body are key to recovery, and good health. We need both but they need to be in balance, and yoga works directly at balancing them.
Where do You Begin?
Not everyone is disciplined enough to do their yoga at home and others thrive with a home routine. There are some easy suggestions on how to start a yoga practice with this understanding of differences. Start slow, make sure you create a practice that can grow as you regain strength and stamina. Find a place at home that is quiet and well ventilated. Set a time each day or every other day that encourages a routine. Find a competent yoga teacher that teaches to the cancer community or a special breast cancer yoga DVD. Dress comfortably, there should be no constriction for the breath. Eat a light breakfast at least a hour beforehand. Don’t be hard on yourself just persevere. It does get easier, and it is important to manage a self care practice. One of the many benefits of yoga therapy is that the practice awakens positive emotions, builds self-confidence and reduces depression. There is an openness of spirit that leads to greater understanding when the practice of yoga is embraced. This all can be achieved but there must be determination and fortitude.
Yoga Can be a Lot of Fun
Enjoy every deep, slow breath while moving your arms, legs and torso. It is so important to evenly pace the movement with the breath. The breath is key to your wellness. It too balances the mind, body and spirit. It is the cosmic gas station. “If the mind wanders the breath will follow.” Take it slow, take a big conscious breath, come into the present moment and just Be.
Diana Ross, E-RYT500, CYT, Certified TriYoga
Founder, Breast Cancer Yoga