The diagnosis of cancer is a stressful event, and it is the cause of both physical and mental symptoms. Many studies have shown the benefits of yoga for cancer patients during their treatment as well as afterward.
If you are recently diagnosed, you may be saying, "What? You want me to exercise? You want me to do yoga?" And the answer to your questions is a resounding "YES."
Yoga is the most likely complimentary therapy to help cancer patients increase their quality of life. Study after study has shown the benefits for both women and men.
So what is yoga? Yoga is physical exercises combined with mental and spiritual activities. The practice originated in India. During the last century, yoga has gained popularity in the western world. Both men and women practice yoga.
You may be thinking, "I am so tired from chemotherapy. How can you expect me to exercise?" Oncologists have learned that gentle exercise like yoga and walking help counteract the debilitating effects of fatigue and chemo-induced aches and pains. Yoga helps mental well-being too. Yoga can be practiced in a seated position, making it an ideal therapy for a wide variety of cancer patients.
Yoga introduces cancer patients to a new way of dressing too. Many patients find that wearing yoga pants for chemotherapy provides comfort on those long chemo days. They stretch with every movement and don't wrinkle.
Let's look at some of the quality of life issues where yoga can help you during cancer treatment.
Better Quality of Sleep
Many cancer patients experience drowsiness during the day and the inability to sleep at night. The reasons are complex but include stress, anxiety and chemo-induced fatigue as well as flu-like aches and pains.
Yoga improves your flexibility and strength. You will learn how to deep breathe-a practice that relaxes you and sharpens your mental skills (to help combat chemo brain).
Just taking one class per week and practicing the poses that you have learned at home several times a week is sufficient to enhance the quality of your sleep.
Cancer patients often complain about feeling stiff and inflexible. The truth is that cancer patients find themselves sitting for long periods of time. Long drives to the chemo center, sitting in the waiting room and the long sit in the chemo chair (sometimes up to six hours) leads to stiffness and joint pain and inflexibility.
The gentle nature of yoga stretches allows each patient to gradually loosen up tense muscles. As your muscles loosen up, not only do you gain improved flexibility, you'll find that aches and pains disappear too. Tension carried in the shoulders frequently causes pain between the shoulder blades; yoga often causes that pain to disappear without the use of pain medications.
You'll also enjoy wearing your yoga shirts to chemo. A yoga tank top and a yoga zipped yoga jacket are ideal for chemo day too. You'll have easy access to your chemo port and long sleeves to help keep you warm.
Relieves Stress and Anxiety
Many of the classic yoga poses relieve stress and anxiety and convey a feeling of well-being. Cancer patients face emotional stress every day. They experience new side effects from treatment. Their scans don't deliver good news about the response to a new chemotherapy. There is always financial stress of copays and travel expenses.
Most of the relaxing poses are stationary. You'll find that investing in a good yoga mat will add to your comfort and relaxation.
Joining a yoga class specifically for cancer patients and/or survivors extends your support system. Knowing that you are not alone in meeting and sharing experiences with other cancer patients help you realize that you too can conquer cancer.
Yoga helps instill a feeling of power and strength that you still have control over your life. Cancer patients often feel that they have lost control of their lives. By learning that others feel the same emotions, you'll gain the understanding that you still have the power to feel positive by living day by day.
Cancer patients also suffer body image issues because of the body-disfiguring surgeries that they may have had. The self-consciousness of having a mastectomy or a colostomy or being bald would probably prevent most patients from going to a gym. Knowing that there will be other people in your yoga class just like you allows you to be yourself. You'll gain self-confidence and learn coping skills from your fellow cancer warriors.
Change your mindset today. Reach out to your cancer treatment center and see if they offer yoga classes. Commit to attending the next class. Don't worry if you're the youngest or the older person in the class. Don't worry if you've gained some weight from the steroids that you've been given. Don't worry if you're too thin because you haven't been able to eat. There will be people just like you attending. You'll find new friends and gain strength and confidence by learning the benefits of yoga for yourself.