Yoga is a practice that combines aligned postures, breathing techniques and meditation. In ancient Sanskrit the word yoga means 'union' and I like to think of it as a method of bringing together mind, body and spirit.
A number of studies have now been undertaken which illustrate the multiple benefits to cancer patients and survivors who undertake a regular practice. Yoga Journal sums it up well in their article "Yoga for Cancer" when they wrote:
"Perhaps the most compelling reason cancer patients are turning to yoga is this: It shows us how a person stricken with a serious illness, instead of "running away" from their threatened body, can connect more strongly to that body and begin to experience self-empowerment and well-being. As we engage our physical selves in the precise body gestures of yoga, our minds come along, growing accustomed to focusing on the affairs of this moment and leaving worries and future-thinking behind. As we breathe and meditate, our minds grow more clear and steady."
Beyond the calming of the mind, the more obvious physical benefits of yoga include increased range of motion, flexibility, strength, relaxation, and a sense of bodily well-being. This inforgraphic beautifully illustrates some of the benefits you can expect to see with a regular yoga practice.
When Mahala Grant-Grierson was 32, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As everything in her world began to crumble away, she found that her "Yoga for Survivors" class was a constant that was able to carry her through.
My world quickly turned upside down. That was the longest year of my life. I lost my breasts, hair, feminity, health, career, lifestyle, and later husband. I spent a lot of time alone and very ill. It was a gift just being able to feel well.
To get through something so traumatic and life altering, you need something to rely on. There are many people and things that helped me along the way. It was the small gestures and moments that helped me keep my spirits up when I felt I couldn’t continue.
During my treatment, I turned to yoga classes and other cancer survivors. I didn’t feel normal enough to go to yoga at the gym and was vulnerable to infection, so I joined the survivors class. It was the best thing I ever did for myself during that time. It was like a mini support group, and the love that I felt there helped me immensely. I was able to make only small movements, focusing on my breathing and relaxing on my yoga mat, but it meant the world to me.
Mahala describes how yoga changed her life and had such a positive effect that decided to become a yoga teacher once treatment finished.
I became a yoga teacher first off because I love it, but ultimately to give back. Yoga carried me through my illness and literally saved me. I don’t know what I would have done without it. At the time, I could only imagine what it was like to be able to teach others yoga. Now I’m standing on the other side of the mat, changing lives and helping others.
At the Whole Lotta Life Foundation we support and help fund people to get into a yoga practice. We will work with you to find someone in your community who has the skill and confidence to work with you and has the expertise to be able to modify the poses to suit you physically right where you are. Contact us for more information.
To read about Kristin's experience with integrating a yoga practice into her fitness routine, read Yoga Part One: A Lesson in Trust