Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Yoga for Cancer Patients

According to, one in eight women (around 13%) in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her life. The risk doubles for anyone who has a history of breast cancer in their family. Anyone who has ever lived through or witnessed the chaos that the symptoms and disease (of any cancer really), understands the pain, destruction and imbalance that cancer inflicts.

I find it hopeful, therefore, as I see more and more studies showing that yoga and meditation can benefit breast cancer patients. It does not surprise me when I see these studies because my existing relationship with yoga has already proven to me that yoga can bring peace to the mind and create radical physical improvements in the body. I also believe that yoga has immense potential in helping cancer patients (and families) endure the intense physical suffering induced by chemotherapy given the focus on breathwork training.

But, part of the reason that I am a believer and that my world revolves around yoga as of late may be because I somehow miraculously managed to find myself in the yoga capital of the USA, Los Angeles, when I most needed to commit to a practice. I know the cat has been let out of the bag here. (It's actually running rabid around these parts - you can hardly walk five blocks in Santa Monica without finding a new yoga studio or seeing someone walking or riding a bike with mat in town.) I also know that the word is spreading, since it's now estimated that 16 million Americans practice yoga. Still though, I may wail from Los Angeles but I don't hail from here. I am certain there are plenty of patients out there that are not aware of a treatment that could help bring them some peace, in body and of mind. 

Some of the studies I have found include:

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) funded a study that showed that
 yoga boosts energy and aids sleep for cancer survivors. It was quoted as the largest study of its kind to date (in May). They looked at 410 cancer survivors who were having chronic sleep problems and had them practice low-impact, restorative yoga (more focused on breathing exercises, gentle asanas and meditation) for a month. The test group also showed measurable difference in levels of fatigue and daytime sleepiness compared to the control group. (Just one month and look at the results!) 

Another study published in Cancer Nursing in August showed that breast cancer survivors and women being treated for breast cancer felt yoga made a difference in their recovery. This and this press release quoted that a WHOPPING 94 per cent of the women in the study said they had improvements in their quality of life due to yoga.

This study on the effect of yoga on weight and fatigue in breast cancer patients is currently on-going so the results and conclusions are not available. They are having the patients practice specific poses five days a week. I think it has a lot of promise and I’m sure it is especially interesting for anyone whose life has been affected by breast cancer. 

I'm sure more studies are forthcoming. The CNN article above also says that the MD Anderson Cancer Center received an unprecedented $4.5 million grant in April from the NCI to investigate the benefits of yoga on breast cancer treatment. Hooray! Sounds good to me!

For additional reading, check out this thoughtful article in Yoga Journal subtitled "while it's not a cure for cancer, yoga enhances physical and emotional wellness - and brings a peace many patients thought they'd lost forever."

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