Yoga and Breast Cancer
When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you may seek tools to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia or fatigue. Studies suggest yoga may help with these challenges during and after treatment. Early research also shows yoga may help improve quality of life.
Reducing stress with yoga may address many health concerns. Some women who take part in yoga studies report less pain, fewer hot flashes and improved strength and body image.
Even if you don’t share these concerns, yoga may serve as one part of your ongoing health regimen or spiritual practice.
Yoga describes a set of activities practiced on physical, mental and spiritual levels. It is one of many exercise and wellness options for people of all ages during and after treatment.
Modern yoga is based on five basic principles, which are the basis of achieving a healthy body and mind:
- Proper relaxation
- Proper exercise
- Proper breathing
- Proper diet
- Positive thinking and meditation
Yoga’s physical practice features movement. A person moves the body into a position, holds it, and then moves into a new position. A physical yoga practice can look similar to some forms of martial arts, dance or tai chi.
A well-designed yoga program may help restore mobility and strength after breast cancer surgery. You can adapt yoga to your fitness level and stage of treatment and recovery, changing your poses, called asanas, as you grow stronger or face new challenges over time.
Yoga also aims to slow down mental chatter or racing thoughts and help you feel present in each moment. Yoga’s mental exercises, such as meditation and breathing, can be done on their own or added to the physical practice. Yoga exercises that regulate breathing are called pranayama. Pranayama can be calming and have been shown to improve immune function in people in active cancer treatment.
When you think of yoga, you may think of the poses, physical movements and breathing exercises the practice involves. But well-rounded yoga also involves meditation, one of the Five Principles of Yoga. Research shows meditation has many benefits, especially to people with breast cancer.
Meditation means connecting to a relaxed, aware state of mind. There are many different types of meditation, but all encourage you to relax. You may focus on your breath, on sounds or on the movement of the body itself.
Meditation helps you to let go of any upsetting thoughts you may have. Your practice may improve your concentration and make it easier for you to redirect your thoughts, without judgment, during stressful times. It may also help you feel more connected to yourself and to those around you.
You don’t need to practice yoga in order to meditate, nor do you need to formally meditate in order to practice yoga. But both practices support each other. Yoga helps you to concentrate and relax, both of which are important to meditate.
Yoga meditation is about quieting a busy mind by bringing the body, mind and senses into balance. This relaxes the nervous system, helping you to be in the moment and creating the beneficial mind-body connection yoga is known for.
It may be difficult to focus your mind at first, even in a yoga class where the yoga instructor sets aside time to meditate, so try not to be discouraged. Meditation becomes easier the more often you practice.
Here are some tips for beginning a yoga meditation practice:
- Set aside just a few minutes at first, and choose a time of day where you aren’t likely to be interrupted.
- Find a quiet place to be alone. Sit upright in a chair, without shoes, with your feet slightly apart. You may also sit on the floor with your legs crossed.
- Place your palms on both knees.
- Look at a simple object, such as a flower in a vase or a spot on the floor, or close your eyes and direct your attention to your breathing.
- As you become more familiar with how to meditate, increase your practice by a minute or two at a time.
Yoga can complement religion, or it can stand alone as a spiritual practice. If you lack a spiritual setting and now find yourself searching for one, yoga might meet your needs.
The practices taught in yoga don’t ask you to hide negative feelings but to instead acknowledge them and try to be understanding to yourself. Sometimes, doing so can relieve difficult feelings or help you understand what you’re going through in a different way.
Instructors guide a spiritual practice in various ways. Some use readings or chants to help students center themselves and shift away from the day’s worries. Others use a simple meditation that focuses on your breath.
Yoga can help you understand your thoughts and emotions through many techniques.
Even if a spiritual practice isn’t for you, yoga may still appeal to you because it can help you develop a quiet mind and more peace within yourself. Feel free to ask your teacher about his or her style and methods. The key is to find an instructor who makes you feel safe and who practices a yoga style that works for you.