There is no doubt that facing down a cancer diagnosis can be one of life’s greatest challenges. Increasingly, breast cancer patients and survivors are turning to yoga as a way to manage stress and the side effects of cancer and its many invasive treatments.
Chemotherapy and radiation can cause unpleasant side effects that ravage both body and mind. Symptoms range from digestive troubles to insomnia to a confused “chemo brain.” Fortunately, yoga’s vast array of physical postures, breathing techniques and focused meditations can help to soften the edges of harsh treatments, encourage healing from within, and provide respite from the grind of visiting doctors, hospitals and treatment centers.
Post treatment, the development of scar tissue may cause limited mobility for many women. Simple yoga stretches can help one regain strength, flexibility and stamina. Additionally, adapting to life post cancer can present emotional challenges, including anxiety and depression. Yoga and meditation have been shown to slow down the sympathetic nervous system, which helps to alleviate stress and anxiety.
Try these simple yoga postures and breathing techniques at home:
To open the chest:
Cat/Cow: Start on all fours, with the wrists directly underneath the shoulders, and the knees hip-distance apart. Inhale and release the heart and belly towards the floor. Let the head follow with the spine as you draw your gaze upwards. Exhale and round the back up towards the ceiling, drawing the belly into the spine and the chin towards the chest. Continue 1-3 minutes.
To calm the nerves:
Anti-anxiety breathing: Inhale through the nose. Exhale through a rounded mouth. Inhale through a rounded mouth (as though you are sipping through a straw). Exhale through the nose. Continue this cycle for 3 minutes.
Left nostril breathing: Block off your right nostril with your right thumb. Breathe long and deep through your right nostril. Continue 1-3 minutes.
Healing meditation: Sit in a chair or lay down on the floor. Begin to breathe long and deep. Visualize drawing in a bright white beam of light into the crown of your head. Let this healing light expand throughout the entire body, especially focusing on any part that needs healing. As you exhale, visualize a cleansing blue light releasing from your body, as though it can be released through your pores. Continue 2-5 minutes.
To relieve insomnia:
Vipariti Karani (legs-up-the-wall pose): Lie on your side next to the wall with your knees towards your chest, as though you are in the fetal position. Bring your buttocks close to the wall and walk your legs up the wall. Rest on your back with your legs up against the wall. Release your hands by your sides, with the palms up. Rest for 3-5 minutes.
To aid digestion:
Apanasana (knees-to-chest pose): Lie on your back and draw the knees into the chest. Feel the stretch in the lower back and breath long and deep through the nose. Rest for 1-2 minutes.