Yoga and Breast Cancer: From Awareness to Personal Experience
The Season of Pink
October is upon us, and with it comes Breast Cancer Awareness month, a campaign designed to increase consciousness of the disease and encourage early detection.
It is estimated that 1 in 8 American women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. Hence the potent significance of pink this month – intended to trigger a collective realization as to just how serious and pervasive this epidemic is. We see swaths of the symbolic color in store windows and lapel ribbons and even increasingly on the nation's football fields and NASCAR speedways. Pink isn’t just for women struggling with cancer; it is for all of us – united in the struggle.
Inspired by the many amazing women, families, organizations, and advocates in this country who work to fight breast cancer, we’re bringing pink into the yoga room. Our THRIVE Yoga Eggs are special edition Pink Namasteggs (ergonomic yoga blocks in our classic size and shape) made in the USA with our exclusive 100% biodegradable ECO foam.Ten percent of gross sales of the Pink Eggs go to support organizations assisting people working to thrive and survive after a breast cancer diagnosis.
YOGA vs. CANCER
In the ever expanding realm of cancer treatment, anecdotal evidence and hard science line up to suggest that the practice of yoga has a lot to offer the multi-faceted fight against breast cancer. Indeed, personal stories and studies both reveal that yoga contributes to making both the healthy and sick of those living with cancer healthier. A 2014 study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that a regular yoga practice can ease and reduce levels of depression and anxiety, chronic pain, and exhaustion for women battling breast cancer.
More and more research suggests that ongoing and appropriate exercise not only improves patients’ quality of life, but in many cases can also enhance immunity and aid the body in its efforts to fight cancer. The American Cancer Society currently recommends that cancer survivors engage in a minimum of 150 minutes of exercise each week, and more and more doctors are suggesting patients turn to yoga. Yoga serves as both a form of physical exercise and a method of bolstering the nervous system during an incredibly stressful time of life.
A PERSONAL STORY
Lynda Meeder, an E-RYT 500 and Integrated Movement Therapy® certified therapist, understands first-hand just how vital a role yoga can play in the daily battle against cancer. She teaches a class for women living with cancer each week at Luma Yoga in Santa Cruz, California.
“Many of the women I work with talk about how they hated yoga before they were diagnosed with cancer, but that this class has changed that for them because they see and feel the benefits of a therapeutic experience that addresses not just the whole body, but the whole person.” Meeder says students report feeling less angry, note reduced stress and blood pressure levels, and even feel a rare absence of chronic pain. “One woman told me this was the one time all week when she didn’t feel pain ,” says Meeder.
Roughly 80 percent of the weekly students at Luma Yoga’s class are women who have (or have had) breast cancer. Meeder’s class, sponsored by the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Cancer Survivorship program, is designed to reach out to women living with all forms of cancer at all stages. The class description reads: Whether you’re newly diagnosed, receiving treatment, in remission, or cured, we invite you to join us. The goal of the class is to provide an opportunity for all participants to feel a sense of peace, power, and strength. The class features a healing combination of yoga postures, deep breathing, and meditation designed to enhance both physical and emotional wellness.
Yoga classes with a similar goal can be found at studios, hospitals, and cancer treatment facilities across the country and around the world. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has its own in-house Exercise and Yoga Program, as part of the center’s Integrative Medicine Service. Other services include acupuncture, hypnotherapy, nutrition, facilitated mindfulness practice groups, massage, Qi Gong, and music therapy - an impressive laundry list of complimentary modalities.
RESTORING BODY AND SOUL
One particularly challenging side effect of living with cancer can be a person’s relationship to sleep. It can be hard to fall asleep and the quality of sleep is reduced. Similarly, many cancer patients report an ongoing and chronic sense of fatigue. Yoga, in particular restorative yoga utilizing supportive yoga props, can work wonders in counteracting these difficulties. “My class always includes restorative poses in order to invite a deep release,” says Meeder. “Living with cancer is like living in a constant state of trauma with a continuously ignited ‘flight or flight’ reflex, so it is crucial that I offer ways to soothe the nervous system.”
Using yoga blocks and bolsters, women in Meeder’s class are invited to hold restorative poses that nourish and support the joints, encourage lymphatic release, and over time help to rebuild a compromised range of motion. Upper body mobility is a particularly challenging element of recovery from mastectomy. “Anything we can do to open and close the arms, and get into the shoulders and upper back really helps,” says Meeder.
Although classes like Meeder’s offer huge benefits for the weakened and exhausted physical body, ultimately they are not about bodily rebuilding. They are about holistically fueling the most elemental ingredient in the fight against cancer: hope. “The most amazing thing is to see women walk out of class feeling hopeful that they won’t stay stuck in a place of pain and restriction forever. Think about that. It is truly powerful.”
Do you offer yoga for cancer patients at your studio? Do you know of a venue that does in your community? We invite you to celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness month by becoming an Egg Donor! We’ll help you send THRIVE Pink Eggs to your local provider of yoga for cancer patients.
Bonus: Watch and practice this Restorative Yoga sequence with Cora Wen.