Fitness / 22.10.2015

Watch: How to practise yoga for cancer care

By Roisin Dervish-O'Kane
One cancer survivor-turned-yogi reveals how it got her through

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As anyone who has lived with cancer – whether it’s barged in on their own body, that of a good friend or a family member – will know, exercise is pretty low down on the priority list.

Even the thought of lacing up your trainers or getting in a swimming costume can make you want to crawl back into bed. Therefore, it makes total sense that the average fitness levels of cancer survivors are around 30 per cent lower than of those who’ve never had to deal with the big C.

But if you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, yoga is one workout worth doing. If even the ‘W’ word is putting you off – think of it as your ‘practice’: less neon and cardio backbeat; more candles and a lilting soundtrack that makes your shoulders soften.

Read more: Which type of yoga is for you?

Cancer or no cancer, yoga has been proven to boost gains in flexibility, strength – and even lower blood pressure. Everyone from OM-happy celebrities like Gwyneth and Miranda Kerr to famous healthies like Madeleine Shaw are evangelical about its calming qualities. And if you – or someone you know – is undergoing treatment, science says a session on the yoga mat is time well spent.

Yoga can help people deal with a diagnosis
While going through a cancer diagnosis is a uniquely horrific experience for everyone – certain emotions are, sadly, a common theme. ‘For me, this was fear, denial, desperation – and sadly – isolation,’ says ovarian cancer survivor and yoga teacher Sierra Campbell.

And yoga is – according to recent research – a highly effective way to tackle the emotional fallout of diagnosis, by reducing stress and anxiety – and with them heart rate, blood pressure and breathing problems.

Check out Campbell’s 20-minute gentle post-diagnosis yoga practice

It can help us to sleep more soundly Our ability to switch off and stay asleep is nothing short of a national epidemic, especially for women. But for cancer patients, the situation is even worse, with as many as 30-50 per cent experiencing trouble sleeping, according to a review from the US University of Pennsylvania.  But research from Duke University has shown that yoga, along with meditation, can help ease insomnia – and its anxious, unsettled side effects. It makes sense; proper, restorative sleep needs a relaxed mind – and yoga is proven as one of the most effective ways to do just that. To rest deeply, relax and restore try Campbell’s specially-tailored nighttime routine.

Yoga can alleviate depression
‘Throughout my journey as a cancer survivor, I found myself periodically in deep depression,’ says Campbell, adding – ‘my moods were whacked by a deep undercurrent of sadness and grief.’ And she’s not alone; as hard as cancer diagnosis and treatment can be on the body – they’re equally as straining on the mind.
However, the deep breathing at the core of yoga has been proven to help regulate the respiratory system. The brain’s levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA – a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in regulating the nervous system – are also boosted by getting it OM. One study found they were upped by 27 per cent, post-yoga, compared with after reading a book. ‘But when I allowed myself to really rest in deep states of relaxation, my life really changed,’ continues Campbell. Watch the video below to try it for yourself.
  It could help manage pain When it comes to soothing more than just emotional hurt – the science is inconclusive. Though Harvard Medical School experts have reported that patients who practiced yoga were less sensitive to pain than subjects who did not, and therefore better able to tolerate treatment. And anecdotal evidence backs them up. ‘I find that by practicing meditation and yoga, I can control my pain, and begin listening to my body in new ways,’ says Campbell. ‘It enables me to listen to my body’s messages and give it exactly what it’s asking for,’ she continues. Try her pain-reliving practice yourself. It’s suitable for patients both before, during and after treatment.  

Yoga decreases markers of inflammation
This oft-used term is an unhealthy springboard into a massive range of conditions – from heart disease and diabetes to cancer recurrence. To learn more about inflammation and its various effects on the body, pick up the December/January issue of healthy – on sale 7 November.

The good news is that just two regular weekly sessions of Hatha yoga have been shown to significantly decrease the presence of pro-inflammatory cytokines in cancer survivors, according to a recent study in the American Journal Of Clinical Oncology. Those two sessions also saw boosted levels of energy and ‘vitality’ – and the more participants tried their downface dogs and child’s poses – the greater the benefits.

Did you like these yoga for cancer care tips? Got any more to add to add? Tweet and tell us @healthymag or join in the conversation on our Facebook page

Watch: How to practise yoga for cancer care
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Watch: How to practise yoga for cancer care
The calming, soothing benefits of yoga for cancer care are vast and can help with everything from depression to insomnia
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