While some may say that teaching breathing techniques gives patients with cancer the “heebie-jeebies”, it can actually have a major impact on patients’ pain and stress, according to an expert.
Rabbi Elimelech Goldberg’s — also known as “Rabbi G” — 2-year-old daughter, Sara, was going through acute lymphocytic leukemia treatments in the 1980s. Goldberg, who is a black belt in Choi Kwang Do and clinical assistant of pediatrics at Wayne State University School of Medicine, taught her breathing techniques to manage her pain and stress during treatment.
Sara died of the disease, but his journey instructing martial arts and the benefits of breathing did not end there. Goldberg went on to found Kids Kicking Cancer, a nonprofit that teaches children with cancer evidence-based breathing and martial arts techniques to manage pain and stress.
While some may believe that breathing techniques are not an effective treatment for pain and should not be emphasized on an oncology unit, Goldberg said that is not the case. Research has shown that breathing can help manage the emotional and neurologic components of stress, especially during episodes of pain. Focusing on the breath can quell the “fight-or-flight” response that people experience during painful periods, thus decreasing stress,
When I first started, I was warned by my medical colleagues: Don't emphasize the breath work; it (can give them the) heebie-jeebie(s). I give grand rounds in hospitals across the world, and there's almost always somebody there who comes over afterwards and says, “I'm the one trained in the breathwork here.”
The evidence of the impact of breathing and regulating, not just the emotional, but the neurological components of stress, is profound. Breathing is the only part of the autonomic nervous system (that is the part that works by itself), that you can so easily control. And we have a somatic breath, which is a wave, so that we're breathing in. And then every time you breathe out, we go through what's called RSA, respiratory, sinus arrhythmia, which is a fancy way to say your body slows down.
When you have stress, your body is tight and focused, and pain is that staccato message that amplifies that stress. The ability to create that wave actually tells the adrenal gland that there's nobody running after you to kill you.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.