Yoga and Breast Cancer

Cancer is not a topic we like to talk about or think about, but it affects so many of us, either directly or someone we know and love. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought it would be appropriate to devote this space to some ideas about how yoga can help.

While I’d never suggest that yoga can cure cancer, there are a lot of ways that yoga can help with healing, mental state, and quality of life. Cancer is a multifaceted condition, and often the treatments can cause more distress that in turn needs to be addressed. Chemotherapy, for example, can cause brain fog, nausea, and fatigue. Other secondary symptoms include depressed immune system, lymphedema, neuropathy, muscle cramps, and poor sleep. After surgery, it can be difficult to regain range of motion. And uncertain prognoses along with inability to resume one’s “normal” life can cause anxiety and depression. Side effects can steamroll. For example, anxiety can make it hard to sleep, causing an increase in fatigue, making it harder to build up the will power to exercise, causing muscle cramps and fatigue, causing more anxiety…

Yoga can help with all of this.We have many techniques, including guided imagery and focused breathing, that help to calm and soothe our minds. We offer contralateral movements to shine a light through that fog in the brain, nourishing movements and breathing practices to build energy, gentle contracting and relaxing movements to start to work on range of motion. SInce cancer affects each person differently, it’s important to offer a targeted practice to each individual so she gets exactly what she needs – this is what we do in yoga therapy.

Many hospitals now offer integrative medicine to their patients. This usually includes yoga and meditation as well as other techniques such as TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), Ayurveda, massage, or aromatherapy.

There’s been a lot written about how yoga can help cancer patients. An article in the October 16 issue of Time Magazine cites yoga as one of “six surprising things” recommended in the treatment of breast cancer: This is no surprise to the people who attend my yoga class for cancer patients at Northwell Hospital in Mount Kisco!

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