Practicing Yoga Eases Side Effects of Chemotherapy

Science is just beginning to verify what yoga practitioners have known for eons, namely, that regular yoga practice positively impacts and changes your mood, body and health. Yoga has even been shown to aide cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy according to a study done at NIH. And it teaches tools to help patients reclaim their lives both on and off the mat.

Asanas, or the physical poses, are the most obvious form of yoga. Moving standing, sitting, backbends, inversions and restorative poses strengthens the body, makes it more flexible and realigns collagen to help improve daily movement. Both the range of asanas and the basic tenants of yoga are ideal for cancer patients. All poses aren’t for everyone; if a practitioner experiences pain, they should alter the pose, or stop and move into a restorative position like child’s pose. Yoga Journal provides a great look at how chemotherapy affects yoga practice. Working and breathing through the asanas helps patients put the attention into their bodies and examine areas of discomfort. Breathing into problem areas causes a release of the tension. Often medication side effects cause aches and pains but are eased through yoga. And even if a patient is loosing hair, he or she finds a renewed self respect and strength.

Breath work is often called pranayama. Students practice breathing and moving energy into discomfort. Many people undergoing cancer treatment report using breath control whenever possible, from waiting for a doctor’s prognosis to undergoing an uncomfortable procedure. One such pranayama is big belly breathing, where you expand your belly in big, long breaths. This slows your heart rate and calms you down, bringing awareness and oxygen into your body without causing excitement or anxiousness. It is a technique everyone including people with cancers such as mesothelioma should put into practice.

Of course other factors play a part, like meditation, which helps a person find their true self and center. Studies have shown that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain. The concept of ahimsa, the practice of nonviolence to oneself and others, helps cancer patients find a non-harming way of viewing their bodies, the treatment process and the medicine, which is commonly defined as poison for the cancer. In this way, yoga provides a different outlook on the world and feeling in your body. Even in your darkest days, possibly even living with a big uncertainty, like an unknown mesothelioma life expectancy, your quality of life can significantly improve with practice.

Author Bio: 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 and check out the Cancer Alliance at @canceralliance on Twitter and

Stretching Into New Possibilities

When it comes right down to it Yoga is basically a form of stretching.

From stretching your ability to breathe; lengthening your inhales and exhales to stretching your mind’s capacity to quiet down, to become silent for longer and longer periods of time. To go further into the practice where it becomes not so much about the asana (postures) as it is about the ability to let go of desire, to allow for the spirit to move into the space you have created.

But really in the beginning, for me, it was all about the stretch, the movement into silence came later.

So sometimes I am surprised when people say: “Yoga?!! Oh, I could never do that”.

I try to ease them into it by saying: “Well, have you ever done any stretching after going for a walk, a run or any type of physical activity”. Actually most people have done some type of stretching in their lives. I ask them to start there; allow yourself the space to just stretch into yoga.

The asana are really a specific type of stretch; especially Yin Yoga where you stay closer to the ground and hold the stretches for a longer period of time.

As I am in my third week of recovery from an operation, I decided to try a Yin Yoga class at Yyoga Flow Wellness on Burrard Street.

The instructor, Megan Johnson, put everyone at ease by stating that as with all yoga, the length of the stretch is all up to the individual. I talked to Megan before class about my concerns and she was very reassuring by stating that although Yin can be very intense, I should allow my body to decide and just be very gentle.

I was game for that.

We started in Sukasana (easy cross legged), opening with Pranayama to settle into the space and relax into our bodies.

She then guided us slowly into little stretches of the neck where we allowed our head to drop to each of the shoulders, increasing the stretch by allowing one arm to lengthen to the floor.

Megan told us to deepen into the stretch, come to your edge and then breathe and settle in. But only go so far as to touch your edge; always bring it back if you feel any pain. Yin is about becoming comfortable in the stretch and then holding it for a specific length of time.

For the next 8 poses we stayed close to the ground, deepening our breath and allowing the body to relax.

What is interesting about Yin is that it is not about moving fast from one pose to the other, it is all about lengthening, stretching, breathing and relaxing into the pose, letting go and finally settle for awhile.

Yin does specific things that complements other types of yoga. It allows for a deepening of the stretch which in turns strengthens your muscles by creating little tears that the body repairs. Stretching into the deep connective tissues: the fascia. This is how the body keeps supple. That old saying: “use it or lose it” really does hold true for the body. To keep your body young and flexible, you need to actually use/move it. Yin is a gentle way of moving it.

Megan took us gently into this type of stretching, which is exactly what I needed after a few weeks off from yoga. Her voice is very calm and reassuring. She asks nothing of you except your willingness to try.

If you would like to give Yin Yoga a try, I can easily say it is something anyone can step into if you have done some stretching in your life. Remember that the length and depth of the stretch is always up to you, only go as far as your body allows and try to be kind to yourself. Yin only gets intense if you push yourself further than your body is willing to go. Remember to keep that ego in check.

You might notice that as you stretch further into your body, you might find yourself stretching into a yoga practice that is perfect for you.


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