Yoga’s Role in Treating and Preventing Cancer

December 20, 2019

You’ve probably heard that yoga is a great way to stay healthy and feel better. This mind-body practice originating over 5,000 years ago in India has surged in popularity throughout the United States. 

 

And for good reason. After all yoga:

  • Is adaptable to just about anyone

  • Doesn’t require expensive gym equipment

  • Can be done just about anywhere

  • Promotes physical and emotional well-being

 

But what about those with cancer or concerned about developing the disease? Can yoga actually help?

 

Before we get too far into the article, understand there is no hard scientific evidence saying yoga “cures” cancer or even prevents it. As you will see, however, the health-promoting benefits of yoga can be used as a complementary therapy for those fighting cancer, and, well, just about anyone else.

 

 

A Short List of Yoga Benefits 

 

The internet is ripe with studies and anecdotal evidence about the benefits of yoga. For example, an article in the Yoga Journal lists almost 40 benefits of yoga.

 

Let’s take a look at a few yoga benefits:

  • Increasing flexibility and muscle tone: A regular yoga routine will have you stretching into what initially seemed like impossible poses with time and practice. As a result, you will be more flexible while strengthening your muscles. 

  • Improving posture: Being mindful of your movements during yoga also helps you stay mindful about your body position throughout the day.

  • Increasing circulation: Different poses have different effects on your circulation. The better your circulation, the more oxygen that gets to your cells.

  • Improving respiration: The breathing practices of yoga help to improve lung function and teach more “complete breathing.”

  • Lowering blood pressure: Some studies have found routine yoga helps lower both systolic (top number) and diastolic (lower number) blood pressure.

  • Improving mood: Yoga positively affects the brain and neurotransmitters that play a role in your mood.

  • Decreasing anxiety: With a focus on the present, yoga takes you out of the steady loop of thoughts running through your head that may be causing you anxiety and worry. Mindfulness activities, like yoga, teach that your thoughts and emotions aren’t you--just something that passes through you.  

  • Promoting social interactions: Many people choose to attend yoga classes to learn and practice. This actually creates a supportive social network where you meet like-minded individuals and have more incentive to attend your classes. 

 

 

Yoga and Cancer

 

So how do these yoga benefits transfer to someone who is battling cancer? The benefits of yoga can be used as complementary therapy for those suffering from many forms of cancer. Of course, you should always check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routines--especially if you have been recently diagnosed with cancer. 

 

One of the main benefits: improving quality of life. Those diagnosed with cancer deal with the stress, anxiety, and even insomnia of living with a life-threatening disease. Yoga has been shown to reduce fatigue, sleep disturbances, anxiety, and stress for those battling cancer.

 

Lack of sleep and chronic stress is hard on the body--especially your immune system. Routinely practicing yoga can reduce the stress response in the body making your immune system more effective. 

 

Also, practicing yoga can help reduce painful symptoms, side effects of chemo or medications, and keep you grounded during some of the more difficult days of treatment. 

 

 

Lipids and Cancer: A Dangerous Relationship

 

Lipids are organic molecules found in living organisms that contribute to the structure and function of living cells. Lipids include fats, waxes, oils, hormones, and some vitamins. They do not dissolve in water--known as hydrophobic. Lipids are mostly made of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. 

 

One key function of lipids is the formation of biological membranes. A thin layer of lipids surrounds the cells and protects them. Lipids also store energy. When the hydrocarbons oxidize, they release large amounts of energy to the cells. Other lipids--steroid hormones--help to regulate cell activity. 

 

A lipid you’re probably very familiar with is cholesterol. This molecule is formed when lipids combine with proteins in the blood. There is both good and bad cholesterol. High density cholesterol (HDL)--the healthy stuff--keeps cholesterol from building up in your arteries. Low density cholesterol (LDL) is the bad cholesterol which may lead to heart attack, stroke, cancer, obesity, and other health conditions. 

 

Through scientific studies, we learned cancer growth and spreading can be related to excess lipids in the body due to foods consumed. Tumors are abnormal and uncontrolled growths of the cells. They need a steady source of energy to divide and proliferate. Lipids play a role in a complex process that may actually help cancer cells thrive. High lipid content in the body may provide the energy and body chemistry to increase the likelihood of some tumors. 

 

How Can Yoga Help with Lipids in the Body?
 

Adopting a healthy lifestyle including proper diet, exercise, and self-care has been shown to reduce cholesterol levels in the body. 

 

Yoga can be added to a healthy lifestyle regimen to help reduce harmful cholesterol in the body. According to a recent study, women who participated in yoga three times a week for 26 weeks showed a significant decrease in total cholesterol and LDL. Although more research is needed over a larger sample size, this is a very encouraging indication on another way yoga can help the body.

 

 

 

Before You Buy That Yoga Mat…

 

As mentioned earlier, you want to make sure you talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine--especially if you have been diagnosed with cancer. If you are cleared to practice yoga, you want to make sure you have an experienced instructor that understands the special needs of those battling cancer. 

 

Yoga is easily adapted to just about any ability level. A trained, experienced instructor will ensure your yoga experience is beneficial and safe. If possible, seek out a certified yoga therapist in your area to help you start your practice.

 

Learn More About Using Yoga to Help with Cancer

 

Relay for Life Cobb County is teaming up with Red Hare Brewing Company and The Rolling Mat for a unique opportunity to experience yoga and support those battling cancer. 

 

The NamaSLAY Cancer event is Saturday, January 25, 2020 at the Red Hare Brewing Company in Marietta, Georgia. Enjoy an hour of restorative yoga, a couple craft beers, and information from related vendors to support a cause that affects just about everyone directly or indirectly.

 

Twenty percent of the ticket sales goes back to the American Cancer Society. 

 

 

 

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