Yoga for Oncology

The word “yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root, “yuj”, etymologically connected to the English word yoke meaning union, to bind, or to join, also to direct and concentrate one’s attention. It can also be understood as union with God, or union with the divine Self or the infinite Spirit.

What is Yoga?

Yoga is a very ancient tradition – thousands of years old – rooted in Indian Philosophy. The classical aim of yoga is liberation from suffering in this lifetime. The ancient traditional texts described how mental and physical illness or lack of good health are impediments to this aim. Yoga was developed to help overcome these physical and mental limitations.

Although ancient masters recognized the health and healing benefits of yoga, those were not the main goal of yoga, as it is viewed in most of the Western world today, where it has become increasingly popular. yoga in the West can be considered a form of mind-body medicine that integrates an individual’s physical, mental and spiritual components to improve aspects of their health (1). The healing and health effects of yoga are highly recognized in the West nowadays, where yoga is regarded as part of a holistic approach to health and has been classified as a form of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) (2).

Many people also confuse yoga with asana practice, the system of bodily postures. In fact, yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline. Although practicing asanas is indeed very important to keep the body healthy and supple, and to allow for the development of higher practices, Yoga is much more than just its physical aspect.

Yoga involves yamas, guidelines for how we relate to the world (non-violence or non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-indulgence, non-possessiveness) and niyamas, personal habits we should cultivate for a more fulfilling, meaningful existence (purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study, connection with Divinity). Then there is asana, the yoga postures (referred as mastering the body to sit still for meditation), pranayama, the breathing techniques designed to control the vital life force. The higher practices are pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and finally samadhi (merging with the divine) (3).

Knowing that, yoga at Oasis is designed to incorporate the rich yogic traditions, through body and mind practices, but also through daily actions and relationship with ourselves and the world around us.

Why is this harmonization of body and mind so important?

A good example to shed light on this connectedness, is that very often the mind cannot concentrate simply because of pain or illness in the body. This does not allow the focus and energy flow to the brain, necessary for deeper concentration/ meditation. The opposite also happens, the body can be often weakened by harmful emotions and negative thought patterns.

Therefore, the body must be kept strong, flexible and balanced, using the asana or bodily postures practice along with breathing and concentration techniques, so we can sit for meditation, be present and calm. Yoga, as a form of mind-body practice, involves combining muscular activity and an internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy, allowing for the higher practices of meditation (4).  As a complementary therapy, yoga integrates awareness of breath, relaxation, exercise, and social support, essential elements to enhance quality of life in cancer patients (5).

Yoga works primarily with the energy in the body, teaching how, through breath-control and concentration, you can still the mind and attain higher states of awareness. To work with your mind, we use different meditation techniques that help harmonize human consciousness.

Oasis Yoga considers individual characteristics and offers practical, yet individualized and gentle methods for balancing body and mind. Our therapeutic application of yoga adapts the different practices to address the specific problems associated with each patient needs, physical and mental condition and medical status. Body and mind balancing techniques make deeper meditations possible, a very important part of the Mental Wellbeing and Emotional Healing program.

Mind/body-based stress reduction practices, such as yoga and meditation, have been studied and are promising for stress management, mainly among cancer patients. These practices have been shown to produce a physiological state opposite to that of the flight-or-fight stress response (so common in cancer patients). That interruption in the stress response, can bring a sense of balance and union between the mind and body, essential for true deep healing to happen. Furthermore, relaxation techniques used in yoga and meditation may contribute to regulate the cytokine levels and associated immune responses during stress (6, 7).

Yoga is not a system of beliefs. Yoga is not a religion. Yoga practiced intuitively and sensitively will allow the achievement of deeper, meaningful results, at all levels of your life. Yoga will help you heal, body and mind.

Research studies outline some of the great benefits of regular practice of yoga:

  • Better management of pain and cancer treatment related symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting (8)
  • Lower levels of pain and fatigue, and higher levels of invigoration, acceptance, and relaxation in cancer patients (9)
  • Improved quality of life, physical and psychological health, emotional well-being, mood and stress levels and social outcomes in cancer patients (10,11, 12, 13)
  • Associated with a decrease in overall sleep disturbances and an improvement in subjective sleep quality, sleep latency, sleep duration, and use of sleep medications (particularly salient in a cancer population) and increase endogenous secretion of melatonin (14, 15)
  • Help reduce levels of inflammation in the body and inflammatory markers in cancer survivors (16, 17)
  • Assist cancer survivors in managing symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, and fatigue (6)
  • May improve heart health, cardiorespiratory performance, breathing and lung function. (15,18, 19, 20, 21)
  • Promote strength, endurance, flexibility, mobility and balance (21, 22)
  • Encourage characteristics of friendliness, compassion, and greater self-control and help cultivate a sense of calmness and well-being (4, 22)
  • Sustained practice also leads to important outcomes such as changes in life perspective, self-awareness and an improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment (22)
  • Decrease the secretion of cortisol, the primary stress hormone (23, 24)
  • Lower levels of anxiety, stress, fatigue and depression (25, 26)
  • There are many other general benefits suggested in scientific research such as relief of lower-back pain and neck pain, aids weight loss and weight management, ameliorates menopause and menstruation symptoms and helps with addictions, such as quitting smoking (27)

Oasis International Yoga, developed specifically for our patients, improves quality of life by relieving stress, supporting good health habits, and improving mental/emotional health, sleep and balance. For cancer patients yoga is extremely important for reducing stress, anxiety and depression, along with the physical benefits of strength, endurance and flexibility. Its therapeutic benefits extend to reducing pain and other treatment related symptoms. Yoga at Oasis also helps improve patients energy levels, calmness, mental health and an overall more positive perspective on life and healing.

References

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