“Cancer” has, for a long time, been a taboo word. Slowly, however, we are seeing a shift in attitude; people are much more open to discussing cancer, but we still have a long way to go. Every October, a worldwide annual campaign takes place to highlight the importance of breast health awareness, education, and research. However, as Halloween creeps up around the corner, and the clock hands jump their way forward, signaling to our month's end, it doesn't mean that millions of people worldwide are facing the end of their journey with cancer. It's important to continue the conversation, awareness, and Share Knowledge in any way we can. While yoga may not be the CURE for cancer, it can certainly help balance body, mind, and spirit from an embodied perspective, to help people feel and function better during and after their treatment. Read on to find insight around yoga as an approach to managing the symptoms of cancer from Jude Murray - senior yoga teacher and complementary therapist, and course director – Healing Space Yoga for People Living with Cancer.
“Joy of living is sustainable; fear of dying is not." - Dean Ornish
Thankfully, things have moved on from the days when Cancer was a taboo, frightening word, referred to in a superstitious whisper as the “Big C.” We are much more willing to discuss it now, and people are very open about their diagnoses. Cancer charities and advocacy groups have done a lot to increase our awareness and understanding of cancer.
Treatments and screening methods have also come a long way, and many cancers can be treated effectively (cured) or made very liveable with. Cancer, for many, has become a long-term illness, like diabetes or heart disease, something that can be managed so that the person living with cancer can have a long, productive and pain-free life. Even if someone's life is shortened by cancer, the journey towards death can be comfortable, compassionate, dignified and fulfilling.
And yet cancer still has the power to instil fear, shame, and hopelessness in those who are diagnosed, and in their loved ones. Quality holistic support that helps people on all levels: physical; psychological; social and emotional is essential. Yoga is a powerful and effective practice that can assist in all these levels, working as it does with the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.
Yoga is not a cure for cancer, but it helps people feel, and function, better. Yoga can help in regulating the autonomic nervous system, calming body and mind so that people can cope better with their diagnosis and the treatments. It can also help to alleviate symptoms and side effects such as tiredness, pain, nausea, sleep problems and depression. Yoga can be a gentle way to help people stay physically active, to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, to help keep them calm and centered and help them reconnect with their bodies, to reclaim joy and celebrate life.
The emerging scientific evidence around Yoga for Cancer demonstrates some tangible benefits. Much of the existing evidence about yoga and cancer consisted of self-reported “quality of life" measures such as social function, happiness and so on. But studies are also now beginning to show that yoga also produces some empirically measurable changes. For example, yoga helps to regulate levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the bodies of people with breast cancer (and we can assume with other cancers too).
A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2014 stated that yoga “improved quality of life and physiological changes associated with radiotherapy treatment" for women with breast cancer, and – this is the important bit – that the benefits offered by yoga went "beyond [those] of simple stretching exercises, and these benefits appear to have long-term durability" ("Randomized, Controlled Trial of Yoga in Women with Breast Cancer Undergoing Radiotherapy", Chandwani et. al).
This is a powerful validation of that we yogis have always known, that Yoga works. But it provides us with greater support in offering Yoga for those with cancer and other life-limiting illness in - and in support of - the health care setting.
MA, Yoga Elder, YAP Senior Teacher & Teacher Trainer
Course Director – Healing Space Yoga for People Living with Cancer
Jude is a senior yoga teacher and complementary therapist who has worked extensively in acute, palliative, integrative and community cancer care settings. Her experience has brought her into contact with people who are either recovering or receiving active treatment for many types of cancer and are receiving a range of treatments including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, stem cell transplants, hormone, and targeted therapies as well as various scans, tests and invasive procedures. Jude has an in-depth understanding of the impact of these treatments and their side effects and has completed studies in cancer biology and clinical oncology. She continues to research and learn.
If you want to do specialist work with people living with cancer, or indeed any other health condition, then it is recommended to do in-depth additional training in Yoga for Cancer or Yoga Therapy. Find out more about the Yoga Alliance accredited Yoga for Cancer - 90H Teacher Training here.