Dealing with a cancer diagnosis of a family member or partner is a highly stressful and challenging time.
We can all name someone who has suffered from cancer. Fortunately, science and medicine have been working on finding cures and survival rates have risen in recent years. According to recent research, the American Medical Association has found "the death rate attributed to various types of cancer declined 20 per cent between 1980 and 2014".
As survival rates improve, researchers have been searching for alternative therapies to aid cancer recovery. Yoga has moved from being considered fringe, in Western medicine, to being a highly studied and useful therapy for cancer recovery.
One of the ways yoga has helped cancer recovery is with helping the body heal.
Medical treatment can be quite invasive and getting life back to normal can be a challenge.
Yoga has been found to get people moving again and help supercharge their rehabilitation. According to research cited in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, "[cancer] survivors who participated in both regular exercise and yoga had higher scores in physical functioning, fewer limitations with physical and emotional health, less pain, and more vitality than survivors who reported participating in regular exercise only".
Yoga is a gentle and effective way to stay limber and active, especially if you've spent time stiffening up in a hospital bed or sick at home. Regular yoga practice can help improve overall function, making it easier to move and complete your daily tasks and aid in rehabilitation.
This brings us to another aspect of yoga: meditation. When the body is weak and fighting and getting through treatment, the mind can go through some serious challenges. Depression, anxiety, and fear can be dominant states of being and yoga and meditation can help. When the body is not able to do as much physically, meditation can be used to strengthen the mind.
Research in the journal Current Oncology, in 2014, found that "mind-body techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong have been found to lower distress and lead to improvements in different aspects of quality of life. It is essential the standard of care in oncology include distress screening and the delivery of different techniques to help patients manage the psychosocial challenges of diagnosis and treatment of cancer."
The benefits from yoga extend past just doing stretches and working on the body; yoga and meditation clear the mind and help relieve stress, improving quality of life.
A third way yoga can aid post-cancer recovery is after chemotherapy or surgery. Many life-saving treatments have serious side effects and make recovery challenging. Yoga is one of the new ways to assist people through chemo treatment.
According to the European Journal of Cancer Care, practitioners should "suggest a possible use for stress reduction interventions such as yoga in complementing conventional antiemetics to manage chemotherapy-related nausea and emesis. Following yoga, there was a significant decrease in [frequency and intensity of] post-chemotherapy-induced nausea …[and] anticipatory nausea."
To get these effects, you can do some simple breathing techniques or some restorative yoga poses. Check with your health care provider before beginning any exercise programme, including yoga.
Getting a handle on stress, through cancer diagnosis and recovery, is one of yoga's most useful attributes. Yoga helps us gain the internal strength so that we can use every tool possible to help win this fight against cancer.
■ Tim Seutter is a firefighter, yoga teacher and manager at the Loft Yoga and Pilates Studio, Whangārei.