Yoga postures to help you through cancer
Raising money for Cancer Research UK
Following my fund raising session with the staff and customers of M&Co in Brighouse, my last blog discussed how beneficial yoga can be for those living with cancer, particularly relaxation and yogic breathing. There are also some great recommendations for physical yoga to practice which I’m going to explore a little in this blog. As before please do share this blog with anyone you feel could benefit.
My first piece of advice remains the same regardless of your reason for taking up yoga. Yoga is non-competitive and is most definitely not about pain! We encourage all our students to listen to their bodies, ease back, rest or modify postures when needed. I know it can be difficult to ease back, particularly if you are used to being active or if you get a surge of energy between treatment sessions, but you really will achieve more if focus on healing and nurturing rather than pushing through. Not only that, this is a great opportunity for you to listen to your body and respond to what it needs, this may not seem like much but believe me, it is a huge part of building trust in yourself.
If you are undergoing cancer treatment always check with your health care provider that they are happy for you to practice yoga, and if you are coming to class please do let us know what is happening for you, so that we can best help you.
There are a couple of considerations to mention. On a practical note, if you’ve had surgery there will be specific postures that may not be for you at this time. Your tutor will be able to guide you as to what these are, and give alternatives where necessary. You might also find it useful to use extra blankets or cushions to provide extra padding for delicate areas. Avoid full inverted postures too (eg. shoulder stand or plough) as these can put strain on surgical incision points. Also, chemotherapy can weaken bones. Prevent extra stress on bones by avoiding strong forward bending postures, such as the full sitting forward bend or head to knee pose, which can be a strain on the vertebrae.
In my experience yoga provides the perfect balance of postures to both help build strength and confidence, and relax mind and body. As we discussed last time, make relaxation and proper breathing your priority, to give your body the space it needs to heal. Add in yoga postures as and when you feel up to it. I would focus on those that make you feel strong and open you up, as I notice that students going through treatment are often rounding forwards, as if protecting themselves, understandably, from further hurt.
Dru Yoga’s energy block release sequences are a wonderful place to start. When we are not moving as much energy does block up in the narrows of the body, so these help energy to flow again, get the physical body moving and help us to release emotional tension. Warriors are great (remember you don’t have to do the full postures, they can all be modified, can even be done in a chair), as they build both physical and emotional strength. I’m also a fan of balance postures. Tree pose is perfect. Feel free to keep the toes of the bent foot on the floor or rest against a wall – this is your tree and there are many many different trees out in the world :). Balances bring us right into the present moment, they help us to feel in control, and they open our heart chakra so we can send ourselves extra love.
I know many students who have used yoga to help them manage painful lymphodema and cording. Cat pose with some additions and tweaks, such as bending the elbows as you move are useful, along with lying twists and side stretches.
We’ve already mentioned the benefits of yoga breathing, and there are some specific breathing practices that are particularly beneficial. A study from the University of California found that chemotherapy patients who practiced breath awareness with pranayama such as ujjayi breathing (strong throat sound), kapalbhatti and alternate nostril breathing had less anxiety, more restful sleep and improved emotional well being.
If you’re not feeling too energetic we also have some great mudras (gestures) to help you negotiate difficult times and emotions. I like the Ganesha mudra (see picture) which helps us to shift unhelpful thoughts and emotions. One of the reasons I like it is because you don’t need to identify or get wrapped up in the pain, just have the intention that you are letting them go.
There are plenty of studies and evidence available now on the benefits of yoga for cancer patients. You might have seen a round up of studies I recently posted on my Facebook page, so have a look if you’ve not already read it. I also hear plenty of anecdotal feedback about how yoga has helped people through this challenging time. One of the best comments I ever heard though was from a lady who came to our classes with bone cancer (I have permission to share this). After a visit to her oncologist she was thrilled to tell us that he had asked what she had been doing differently since her last appointment. The oncologist told her that where the cancer had eaten away at the bones they were now seeing significant regeneration of the bone cells. She told him that the only thing she’d done differently was come to yoga class twice a week. He told her not to stop! 🙂
Please do get in touch if you would like further information on anything I’ve covered in these last couple of blogs, and feel free to share with anyone you think this would help. Ix