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Western medicine is rediscovering the power of ancient healing philosophies to restore balance between the mind and the body. Yoga, which has been practiced for many centuries, unites the individual with the universe. Researchers are finding that this union helps cancer patients sleep better, reduce stress, and improve overall quality of life.

How Does Yoga Work?

The term “yoga” originates from Sanskrit, and it means to join or unite. Approximately two centuries ago, the Indian philosopher Patanjali decided to collect all of the existing philosophies and methodologies of yoga into a book called, The Yoga Sutras, which is the basis for the types of yoga practiced today.

The Sutras outlined the eight disciplines, of yoga:

  • Ethical disciplines
  • Individual observances
  • Postures
  • Breath control
  • Withdrawal of senses
  • Concentration
  • Meditation
  • Self-realization and enlightenment

Many forms of this ancient philosophy are currently practiced. However, the basis for most of these forms is the integration of movement, breathing, and meditation to create a connection between mind and body. The objective of yoga is to achieve total awareness and eliminate all mental distractions.

Yoga should be performed at either the beginning or the end of the day. Sessions run from 20 minutes to an hour.

To begin the session, the individual sits in an upright position, usually on the floor. They then begin to engage in specific gentle movements, which are performed slowly as the individual takes deep breaths that originate in the abdomen. The yoga master guides the individual in relaxation techniques, meditation and/or visualizations. To help the individual to achieve awareness, they will be asked to chant a word or phrase, known as a mantra. The rhythm of the continued chanting guides the mind and body into a relaxed state.

Is Yoga Safe?

Although yoga is a non-invasive technique, there are some special considerations for persons with chronic conditions like mesothelioma. Here are some warnings from the American Cancer Society:

“People with cancer and chronic conditions such as arthritis and heart disease should talk to their doctor before starting any type of therapy that involves movement of joints and muscles. Some yoga postures are hard to achieve, and damage can occur from overstretching joints and ligaments. There have been rare reports of damaged nerves or discs in the spine. Rarely, eye damage can occur due to increased pressure in the eyes when doing headstands. This can also worsen glaucoma in some people. Blood vessels can sometimes become blocked due to yoga postures, damaging the brain or other parts of the body.”

Research Illustrates How Yoga Alleviates Symptoms Associated with Cancer

In an article titled “Perspectives on Yoga Inputs in the Management of Chronic Pain”, published January 2010 in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care, researchers explained the mechanisms underlying yoga’s ability to lessen many symptoms that cancer patients experience.

According to these scientists, the combination of breathing techniques and movement begin a “relaxation response” in the neuro endocrinal system, which includes:

  • Quieter breathing
  • Stable blood pressure
  • Reduced muscle tension
  • Lower heart rate
  • Slow brain wave pattern

As the brain wave pattern is altered, both the intensity of the nervous system’s arousal and the physiological consequences on the posture muscles resulting from this heightened response decrease. Organ function improves with the sense of relaxation and sleep gets deeper and sustained.

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