Can Yoga Help Cancer? This Charity Says ‘Yes’
Yoga is a form of gentle exercise that incorporates stretching postures and breathing techniques to improve your mental wellbeing, flexibility and physical health. The practice started in India at least 5,000 years ago and has evolved into a popular pastime.
Sue De Cesare is Executive Director of the cancer care charity, Yes To Life, which offers numerous yoga workshops for cancer patients.
“Yes to Life is the UK’s integrative cancer care charity. We provide support, information and financial assistance to those with cancer seeking to pursue approaches that are currently unavailable on the NHS. By integrative we mean using the best of orthodox, complementary and alternative medicine combined, so more people have the best chance of reclaiming their health. We aim to change attitudes based on evidence and the personal experiences of thousands of people we have been able to help since the charity started 10 years ago.
“We also run a series of workshops and seminars which are open to members of the public and practitioners who are keen to understand more about the options available for people with cancer.”
Health Benefits of Yoga
Yoga is suitable for all ages, abilities and fitness levels, and is known to have numerous health benefits, improving your overall strength, flexibility and balance. But the advantages aren’t just physical, as Sue explains.
“Most people understand from a philosophical perspective the benefits of harmony between body and mind, and that yoga is a great tool to enable this. More importantly, clinical studies reveal instances where yoga has been seen to improve recovery, not only showing drastic improvements in wellbeing but also reductions in inflammation.
“Physically, yoga does many incredible things for the body, but for cancer patients and in particular breast cancer patients, the improvement of lymphatic flow, encouragement of thoracic emptying, improvement of the stability and function of the girdle and thoracic spine are particularly relevant.”
Poor posture can lead to back and neck pain, plus muscle and joint problems. Yoga helps to improve your posture by opening up your shoulders, making you stand taller and straighter, and releases tension in your spine and limbs. When practising yoga, you learn the areas where you hold tension and how to relax them.
Prevents Cartilage and Joint Breakdown
Cartilage is a type of connective tissues, usually found in joints, that creates a smooth surface for joints and has a cushioning effect. Cartilage isn’t supplied by blood vessels but gets nutrients through what is called the matrix. Yoga postures move your joints through their full range which helps to increase the flow of nutrients to the cartilage. Keeping your joints mobile and supple also helps with arthritis symptoms, which is caused by cartilage levels decreasing to an extent that the joints rub against each other when moving.
Increases blood flow/heart rate
We all know that aerobic exercise is good for us as it raises our heart rate. Yoga can help your blood flow more effectively to areas that may have poor circulation or swelling (e.g. feet, hands or legs).
Improves Relaxation & Improves sleep
Through its focus on concentrated breathing, yoga encourages you to relax, clear your mind and focus on the present situation. It has a very calming effect, which in turn can help you to sleep better at night.
Practising yoga can also help health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, depression and stress.
Helping Others Through Cancer
Yes To Life runs numerous yoga classes plus other fundraising events throughout the year. Event information and class booking is available via their website.
“Yes to Life has been fortunate to work with two incredible yoga teachers: Barbara Gallani, a physicist and cancer specialist yoga teacher, and Bridget Clarence-Smith, an experienced oncology specialist nurse, who runs therapeutic yoga sessions for patients at UCLH Cancer Centre.
“We aim to search for places of calm and serenity to run our workshops. People need to feel safe as they will be sharing their own personal experience with cancer and the limitations they face. The great thing about working with yoga teachers who specialise in helping people with cancer, is they understand the fears people may have and are able to work with them individually, allowing them to try positions which will help but not harm them.
“Our website hosts a unique searchable directory of therapies, practitioners and organisations, and LIFE>TALK is an interactive forum where people can share their knowledge and experience of the therapies held in our Life Directory.”