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To Yoga or Not To Yoga with Cancer

April 18, 2018

By Kimberly Carson, MPH, C-IAYT, E-RYT

Yoga has gained a notable reputation for helping us feel stronger, more balanced and more at ease. What about when we are going through some of the most difficult medical territory of our modern world, the cancer journey? Is yoga still an important tool for self-care? Our research suggests that it is. 1-5

Therapeutic Practices Within and Beyond the Poses

Over the last several decades, as yoga poses have become popularized in Western countries, the term “yoga” in common usage has largely become synonymous with this single aspect of the fuller discipline. The practices of meditation (dhyana), breathing exercises (pranayama), self-study (swadhyaya), and community sharing and support (satsanga). Mindful Yoga is an evidence-based program that focuses strongly on cultivating a mindful perspective during asana (posture) practice, in conjunction with substantial time engaged in these additional yogic tools and has demonstrated consistent improvements in pain, fatigue, emotional distress, relaxation, acceptance, and invigoration in women living with metastatic breast cancer, in survivors of early stage breast cancer, and also in women suffering from other conditions that make them vulnerable.

Folding-in Elements of Yoga Philosophy

Foundations of Yoga Practicea

  • Simple Being
  • Awareness
  • Love
  • Acceptance
  • Riding the Waves

a From Yoga of Awareness Teacher Training Manual, ©2014 James W. Carson and Kimberly M. Carson.

Expanding What You Do and How You Do It

Gentle postures should be chosen that are appropriate for the body based on disease process, stage, treatments and side effects. Exploring appropriate postures as a forum for developing awareness not only of bodily sensations but related thoughts and emotional currents. This approach offers a context for becoming aware of, and freeing ourselves from, subtle patterns of reactivity, such as shallow breathing, excessive muscle tension, guarding patterns that prevent fluidity, and anxious or judgmental thoughts.

Greater awareness builds an ability to relate to cancer-related difficulties—such as bodily changes, pain, fatigue, and emotional distress—in a less reactive way. As insight grows, one finds oneself more at peace and more able to access the courage, flexibility, and patience to face the adversities at hand. One discovers how to “ride the waves” of such experiences with equanimity and some measure of freedom from the suffering that comes from trying to hold on to what can’t be held or stopping what can’t be stopped

Yoga can provide those with cancer powerful and transformative tools to support their healing process. However, refined teaching and therapeutic skills are essential for maximizing the potential benefit for those navigating the cancer journey. To deepen these therapeutic skills and refine teaching techniques, join us for the Mindful Yoga for Cancer Professional Training.

Not a Prescribed Set of Postures but a Canvas for Deepening Insight

  • Discovering and observing the wave-like pattern (arising, cresting, subsiding) of all types of sensations, whether pleasant or unpleasant: touch (e.g., warm or cool, rough or smooth, painful or comforting), sights, sounds, smells, tastes;
  • Distinguishing between actual events that occur in daily life and the minds’ tendencies for creating “stories” about these events; and
  • Practicing kindness and patience with themselves and others.

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