Yoga for the Cancer Patient: A Physical and Spiritual Alternative

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Yoga for the Cancer Patient: A Physical and Spiritual Alternative

Guest blog by: Jillian McKee

Knowing what cancer does to the human body is one thing, regardless of the area of the body it’s affecting. It is, however, impossible to know how cancer will affect an individual’s mind and spirit. Because of this, it is so important for the cancer patient to determine the best path in maintaining a healthy emotional and spiritual life while in treatment. Supportive family and friends are essential but not enough to do this. The patient needs to do if for himself or herself. Yoga is one option that can help.

Cancer is not just a diagnosis but also a lifestyle adjustment. Yoga is one option for the cancer patient to incorporate into that new lifestyle. It renews not just the body, but mind and spirit as well. Yoga is most certainly not a substitute for medical care but can make the treatments a bit easier to bear.

A serious diagnosis, for example, can exacerbate stress in anyone with an ailment, be it illness or disability, and cancer is no different. A study in Japan resolved that Yoga can play a part in alleviating the anxiety and stress associated with the daily struggle of the cancer patient. Yoga has also been studied to combat fatigue in those diagnosed with breast cancer. For patients with mesothelioma, yoga’s focus on breathing, a very important aspect of Yoga therapy, complements the respiratory strengthening needed.

Practicing yoga also has the ability to improve coping skills, reduce insomnia and even boost the immune system, according to a study done at the University of California. In addition, with regular participation, yoga keeps muscles from becoming atrophied. As some muscle mass may be lost over the course of cancer therapy, practicing gentle poses can protect and slow this loss. Many Hatha and Restorative yoga classes have been found to be especially therapeutic given their softer poses. Studies have also shown that backbends, standing poses and inversions have the power to enhance mood and alleviate feelings of depression.

Although by no means is it a cure for cancer, yoga has the potential to ease the effect of treatments and increase daily coping skills when living with a diagnosis.  For those who think they cannot bend and twist the way some yoga exercises require,  do not fret. All yoga exercises can be modified for the individual doing them. Find a class or teacher specializing in yoga for cancer patients. By all means, consult your physician before participating in any exercise regimen.

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Jillian McKee works as the Complementary Medicine Advocate at the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Her time is spent mostly on outreach efforts and spreading information on complementary and alternative medicine use in cancer treatment. You can contact her at [email protected] and check out the Cancer Alliance at @canceralliance on Twitter and




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