Yoga has a number of benefits for survivors who are recovering from cancer treatments.
In April, during the “Day of Caring Miami,” I had the unique opportunity to speak on a panel alongside fellow medical and exercise professionals on the importance of fitness when recovering from breast cancer. According to audience feedback, it was a helpful presentation about the importance of exercise during the healing process.
From my perspective, exercise and movement helps with mind and body healing. During my early journey with breast cancer in 2015, I became a certified yoga teacher, and in 2017, I went on to become certified in Yoga 4 Cancer (Y4C). I can speak directly about some of the benefits of exercise and diet.
While each member of the panel shared their own statistics and experience, I focused on sharing the benefits I obtained from yoga — both while healing and now as an instructor.
Some of the takeaways from a supportive yoga practice which I shared with the audience are:
Pain Management: I have recently began working with more individuals who have not yet undergone treatments to help them prepare for post-surgery discomfort. Learning to breathe to relax the body can aid in increasing blood flow. Conscious breathing also helps an individual have increased control over the healing process, as they can slowly learn to relax muscles by using their breath. Over time, they can rely less on medication and find improved support in their own ability to help manage pain.
Constipation and Joint Pain: Pain medications are known to lead to constipation and bloating. There are poses in yoga that, when combined with conscious breathing, can help to relieve pressure and bloating and detox intestines and other organs. Think about squeezing out a dish cloth. Water is released when we squeeze. Similarly, when we practice poses, the squeezing and movement of muscles helps to release water back to parts of our body. This can help lubricate joints and flush the lymphatic system. Not to mention, exercise protects bones while building flexibility. Therefore, it is recommended that you drink water after class to replenish.
Weight and Stress Management: A change in hormones, activity levels and medications can contribute to weight gain. Exercise helps to keep the cardiovascular system fit and supports weight management. It can also provide increased energy to the body. Movement-based yoga classes provide all these benefits, they also build endurance, strength and flexibility — all while burning calories.
Range of Motion: After cancer procedures, range of motion can be restricted. Movement will be restored with time, but in a supportive yoga for cancer class, you can practice poses at your pace, level and ability, which will assist in getting back range of motion.
Lymphedema: While movement can help move the fluid in the lymphatic system, it is also important that you exercise and move in a manner that supports — not worsens – lymphedema. If you normally wear a compression sleeve, you are encouraged to wear one when exercising, unless your medical professional indicates otherwise.
A supportive yoga practice will focus on poses that help move lymphatic fluid back toward the center of the body and remove excess from the body. Seated sun salutations or movements that bring the arms and fluid up and away from your fingers are meant to support movement and the detoxification process. In a supportive class, you will learn poses you can do on a regular basis to help with flexibility, stretching and endurance while possibly mitigating lymphedema symptoms.
Think about making a fist. When you make a fist, you restrict blood flow. The same is true when we tense and hold our muscles when in pain. If you open your hand and relax the muscles, blood flow increases thus getting nutrients to the body which supports the healing process.
Consider trying yoga for healing if you haven’t already. Seek clearance from a medical professional before beginning any exercise, but once cleared, look for a class or individuals who are experienced in working with people who are healing from cancer. Not every class is supportive, so look around and maybe ask for a referral to a supportive class from professionals in the field.