Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is widely sought by cancer patients and survivors. In fact, a recent study estimates that it is used by over 75% of cancer patients. In 2008, the National Cancer Institute supported over $121 million in CAM-related research.
When we have cancer – or care for someone who has cancer – we know we need to rest and relax our bodies and minds, but that is often easier said than done. Yoga is a tool that helps patients to rest and relax, and naturally calms anxiety. We are only now beginning to understand the profound impact of the mind-body connection as it relates to cancer, and yoga – an ancient tradition involving meditation, deep breathing and movement – can be beneficial for many serious and chronic health conditions. This is not a theory – according to the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual report on progress against cancer, those who add palliative care, like yoga, to their treatment programs live longer and have better lives than those who focus strictly on their physical well-being.
For instance, researchers recently discovered that more than seventy-five percent of patients being treated with chemotherapy suffer from insomnia — three times as many found in the public at large. In addition to the normal wear and tear on the body, patients who develop insomnia are also much more likely to suffer from fatigue and depression – something cancer patients (and their caregivers and loved ones) simply cannot afford.
A study focused on cancer survivors found that only 4 weeks of yoga actually helped them sleep better, experience less fatigue and improved their overall quality of life. And as we know all too well, cancer patients not only fight to stay alive, they also fight to maintain quality of life.
Another powerful example of this is the research done by Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral sciences at UCLA. Dr. Irwin is researching the use of tai chi in cancer survivors. Like yoga, tai chi incorporates stretching, gentle movement and emphasizes the mind-body connection.
For cancer patients with stage three or stage four malignancies, quality of life is essential. While we all know that every day of life is precious, these patients and their families live with a constant reminder of the clock ticking. Every moment spent in fatigue or depression is literally a lost treasure. The simple gifts of yoga – increased flexibility, healing energy, a calming influence on the nervous system, and relaxed mind and body, are literally priceless.
The restorative poses of yoga and tai chi, the long slow deep breaths, the mental focus – all of these things combine to give the body a chance to rest and give the mind a chance to relax. And fortunately, in today’s online society, a yoga practice can still be done with a trainer in a studio – or even in the privacy of one’s home, with family and friends. In fact, this may provide a strong bonding exercise and a natural support group for the patient and their loved ones.
For MUCH more information on the topic, please visit the article “Yoga for Cancer Patients and Survivors,” by Julienne E. Bower, PhD, Alison Woolery, MA, Beth Sternlieb, and Deborah Garet, MPH. You can find that article at http://bit.ly/YogaForCancerPatients.
Camelot Cancer Care