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Yoga for Cancer Recovery

By Ancelyn Avila

You are diagnosed with cancer, receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment, recovering from surgical tumor removal, or in remission. You may be dealing with symptoms or side effect, anxiety or emotional issues.

What can you do for yourself that will help ease your symptoms, give you more energy, calm your mind, and give you tools for accepting, loving and motivating yourself? Try yoga as an adjunct to your medical treatment.

Yoga is an ancient practice of integrating the body, breath, and mind. There are many different styles and ways to practice yoga. For cancer recovery, try gentle yoga, yoga therapy, restorative yoga, yoga for healing, and yoga for beginners. There are several books and videos for different age groups, levels, and considerations. Another option you have is to take a group class or work with a yoga teacher or yoga therapist one-on-one. Go with what motivates you to continue to practice.

One big motivation may also be your body. It may be calling for your attention with fatigue, less range of motion, or pain. In yoga, the body is addressed by practicing physical postures (also called asanas). These stimulate and balance all the systems of the body: musculoskeletal, nervous system, circulatory, respiratory, digestive, endocrine, reproductive and urogenital. As we now know, the whole person is affected when something is out of balance, as a number of postures are practiced in a sequence to address the whole body.

Depending on what parts of your body are affected, what type of cancer you have (or had), and your physical abilities, your practice will be specific to you. You may not be able to safely or comfortably do the posture the way the teacher or someone else is doing it. That's okay. Modify or change the position so it feels good for you. You will find out what works for you, what you are able to do, and what helps you to move in a positive direction.

When you are practicing a posture, do what you can without creating more pain. You may feel discomfort, but going to the point of sharp pain is not going to benefit you. Sometimes the postures are easier if you don't try as hard - if you actually do less. Ask yourself if you can let go of something: it could be tension or holding in the body, or it could be an expectation or judgment you have about yourself.

An important aspect of yoga is the integration of the breath with the movement or posture. To get a feel for this, you can gently squeeze and release the hands with coordination of the breath with the movement. Next, move to raising the arms at the rhythm of the breath. Then move on to practicing the postures attuned to the breath.

Breathing practices (also called pranayama) are also done for the benefit of improving efficient movement and lung capacity, as well as promoting calm and relaxation.

Remember to start slowly, and create a practice that is comfortable as well as challenging enough to keep you progressing toward a healthier, happier life.



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