Studies have shown that when someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, they can suffer from symptoms consistent with post traumatic stress disorder and the chest can go into lockdown mode. I know mine certainly did.
But after committing to a yoga practice, things began to change for me. My tension released and energy began to flow more easily throughout my body, allowing me to experience an increased sense of well-being. I became stronger in my mind, body and spirit. My breath became deeper and my fears waned while my resolve to live life to the fullest expanded. I became better able to focus on the here and now — the only moment we truly have.
As a breast cancer survivor, I was so inspired by what yoga did for me that I felt called to teach other patients and survivors. There is a common misconception that yoga is limited to stretching and practicing difficult poses. But at its core, yoga is most concerned with connecting the mind, body, and spirit by using a combination of gentle movements and breathing techniques. By practicing awareness and deep relaxation, yoga is an invaluable resource to those experiencing breast cancer.
Here are five ways that breast cancer patients and survivors can benefit from the practice of yoga:
1. Students experience deep relaxation and a calmer resting state.
Healing requires us to slow down and let go of tightness and tension of the body, eventually calming the mind’s incessant worrying and projecting of dreadful possibilities. For a cancer patient, this seems like a daunting if not impossible task. Chronic stress — the daily worry that can plague a cancer patient — diminishes the effectiveness of the immune system, leaving that person even more vulnerable to the disease.
Relaxation is achieved through yoga and and allows you to develop a subtle control of the mind/body interaction. Yoga reinforces a calmer resting state in the body and mind, helping to bring the bodily systems into balance.
2. Students gain strength both physically and mentally.
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons cancer patients are coming to the mat is that yoga can show them how to embrace the situation, when faced with a serious illness. Yoga helps patients connect more strongly to their threatened bodies, creating self-empowerment and a sense of well-being instead of disconnect. Survivors can regain trust in their bodies as they build the inner strength needed to respond to life’s challenges.
3. Students experience a reduction in symptoms associated with cancer and treatment.
Research has shown positive benefits in sleep quality, mood and stress levels. Yoga may also relieve cancer-related symptoms such as pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression and anxiety, improving the patient’s overall quality of life.
4. Students become a part of a strong support group of like-minded individuals.
There is a community component to yoga classes that is invaluable, providing connection with others who are going through similar life-changing experiences. There are many shared heart-felt moments of both good and the bad, yet there is always an underlying hope. Hope raises the possibilities of a new tomorrow, one that is free from pain and suffering. A hope that includes more ease, joy and laughter, and a new sense of living in the present moment.
5. Students find inspiration to help them make positive choices.
Managing cancer can be a difficult task. Each day can bring a new struggle against the side effects of treatment and the worry about what comes next. Yoga helps us to break down barriers, bringing us in close contact with our sensations and feelings. From this place we can make decisions that can more positively affect healing.
With a skilled and sensitive teacher, and a safe environment, yoga offers many potential gifts — a moment of peace or joy, a quieting of the mind, a knowing of who we are at our truest essence, and a connection to a strength and resiliency that may have been lost.