Yoga Heats Up Around the World: Yoga and Cancer


We are learning how to respond to the growing population of long-term care needs of survivors. Here in the wealthiest country in the world, we have the responsibility to not only lead other countries by example. Yoga teachers around the world are responding to the needs and demands of their country's survivors.

"Bahrain is 50°Celsius right now," my yoga student informed me. My brain scrambled to convert Celsius to Fahrenheit. Bahrain is a very hot place! And where exactly is it? Saudi Arabia? Details to fill in later. For now, I needed to focus on my Skype session with a yoga teacher interested in taking my online yoga course. Someone in Bahrain wanted to learn how to teach yoga to cancer patients. I am both excited to reach across the globe and fascinated to learn about yoga in another country.

My yoga students in training are from England, France, Australia, Puerto Rico and as far away as Slovenia. They tell me that yoga for cancer survivors is not as readily available where they live. They find my class online because it is the only completely online training for cancer survivors. After they finish my training, they often ask me how to approach hospitals to start a class. My best advice is to talk to doctors in the language they best understand: research.

Ten years ago, when I began attending medical conferences and speaking about yoga, many doctors approached me with a sense of curiosity and a bit of skepticism. Early yoga studies reported ‘soft’ scientific findings — self-reported questionnaires. Patients participated in yoga and then were asked how they felt about their lives: sleep, fatigue, social connectedness, depression or outlook on life. Quality of life factors are important for patients, but doctors were more focused on treatment protocols and new drugs.

Yoga has made great inroads in the West as a complementary wellness activity for cancer patients. However, it has taken over a decade for yoga to become recognized as efficacious within the medical community. Doctors waited for scientific studies to be conducted before giving yoga their personal stamp of approval. The medical community is now supportive of yoga’s benefits for cancer patients and yoga programs for cancer patients are popping up like mushrooms in the United States.

Solid research has been coming out on other complementary therapies, with yoga as its star. Yoga addresses the physical aspects of healing, as well as mental, social, and spiritual ones.

At the American Society of Clinical Oncology Gastrointestinal Cancers Symposium conference, held annually in San Francisco, I approached Dr. Charles Balch, founder of Patient Resources newsletters. I took a deep breath and started in on a well-honed, short speech about the benefits of yoga for cancer patients. Dr. Balch agreed with me whole-heartedly, and asked me to set up an interview for his magazine, to further discuss my work with cancer patients. “Yoga has arrived!” I smiled to myself.

Many cancers are being treated like a chronic illness; much like diabetes. People are living longer with remitting and relapsing cancer. Treatments are being personalized and immunotherapy has all of us giddily hopeful about the future of cancer treatments. To address the needs of the survivor, the U.S. government has decreed that each cancer patient be given a personalized document of aftercare. The document needs to include local resources and suggestions, addressing the multifaceted needs of surviorship. It may include nutrition, exercise, therapy and financial assistance. The goal is that the resources be local and available, especially the exercise and wellness recommendations. Thus, the plethora yoga for cancer survivors classes cropping up in hospitals.

We are learning how to respond to the growing population of long-term care needs of survivors. Here, in the wealthiest country in the world, we have the responsibility to only lead other countries by example. Yoga teachers around the world are responding to the needs and demands of their country’s survivors.

Fifty degrees Celsius is 122° Fahrenheit. It’s a challenge for a healthy person to breathe in such weather. Cancer patients in Bahrain not only have to deal with intense heat, but also the hassle of flying off the island to receive care. Yoga classes on the island of Bahrain can help survivors improve their health whilst receiving treatment and afterward. Challenges exist, but my student has already bridged the cultural gaps by offering yoga and attracting cancer patients from diverse religious backgrounds. She has also learned how to navigate the way in which she intends to fill her own gap of knowledge by taking my training online.

My hope is to reach out to the larger yoga community in Bahrain, so I can reach the widest audience of teachers. I have offered to trade my service as their teacher, if each yoga teacher records a gentle yoga class in their native language. We have to start where we are and keep building.

Today’s Practice: Cultivating compassion is an ancient form of Loving Kindness or Metta Meditation. We begin by quieting yourself and breathing normally. Breathe in and find compassion for yourself. You may use the mantra: May All Beings Know Peace. Repeat this for yourself and allow your heart center to become filled with self-compassion. Now, mentally envision your loved ones. Offer them the same compassion. Breathe in and out, offering compassion to your loved ones. Over time, begin to add the people in your life who help you live. Think of the people who help you in the market, in the shops and along your busy day. Include as many people as you can think of and offer them compassion using the mantra. Continue honing your skills of compassion to include those with whom you have conflict. Allow the compassion you are building to be offered to them, too. And then expand to your wider community, your country, the world’s countries and all creatures and living things.



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