As a part of my yoga therapy training with the Inner Peace Yoga Therapy School (IPYTS), I completed a mentoring program this Winter to increase my skills in working with cancer patients. The original and continuing courses are taught by Inner Peace faculty member Laura Kupperman, herself a bi-lateral mastectomy survivor. I am in her debt for this work and learned a good deal as I worked with four patients in various phases of their treatment.
Yoga and other integrative therapies such as Ayurvedic and Chinese herbs, sound dietary recommendations and exercise regimen can create a hostile environment in the body for cancer. Many patients often live longer and also achieve long-term cures. Much of this work has been pioneered by Keith Block, M.D. at the Block Center for Cancer in Evanston, Illinois. The entire program is detailed in his book, Life Over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Treatment.
With the teachings of Ms. Kupperman and Dr. Block I’ve been able to approach this unique population of patients with humility and confidence. Ms. Kupperman’s comprehensive knowledge about cancer, anatomy and physiology has helped me to empower cancer patients to be active participants in their treatment as they work through their recovery. The Block center, with its integrative treatment program has given hope and longer life to many.
So what does yoga offer cancer patients who want more tools to help them reclaim their health? The list is long and may surprise you. First, yoga helps rev up the immune response to produce more natural killer cells to attack malignant cells. One way it does that is to stimulate lymph circulation with the many massaging movements of the yoga postures and deep breathing. Unlike the arteries and veins, the lymph nodes and vessels have no pumping heart to move immune bolstering components through the lymph network. Yoga’s many postures, orientations to gravity, and deep breathing techniques literally push the lymph system into action.
The same postures and techniques enhance blood circulation to help oxygenate the body as it fights the spread of cancer. For example, yoga postures can help prevent and relieve the hypercoagulation of platelets. “Tumors cause clot forming platelets to become overactive, and they stimulate production of a protein called fibrin, which knits blood cells together and thus makes the blood “sticky.” Deep vein thrombosis or clotting may result. If a clot breaks loose and travels to the heart or lungs, a fatal embolism or obstruction of the blood vessel can occur. Sticky blood can also result in “tumor progression and metastasis.”
The weight bearing and gravity resisting poses of yoga also help to build bone, muscle strength and balance when the body is under the immune compromising assault of necessary cancer medications. Bone thinning can occur during the administration of chemo, radiation and other immunosupressing cancer meds. When immunity is low, bone cell formation is also suppressed. Regular yoga practice provides the patient with the tools to resist bone thinning and breaking. Yoga, through weight bearing and gravity resistance, stimulates the osteoblasts, the bone building cells, to make more bone.
Meditation helps construct the mental fortitude and focus that cancer patients need to rebuild health. By using simple meditation and breathing techniques, yoga practitioners, during the physical and contemplative practices of yoga, can literally reshape their brains to help them develop an attitude of healing. Affirmations, mantra, chanting and the use of singing and other musical sound also reinforce the physical and mental practices that re-establish health. Oncologist Mitch Gaynor uses many forms of sound to help his patients: singing bowls, gongs, drums, chanting and other musical instruments.
The scientific concept that supports the use of sound to heal disease is called cymatics. From the Greek word meaning “wave” cymatics demonstrates how vibration forms matter into optimal, beautiful designs depending on its frequency. (Use your browser to find lots of fascinating information about cymatics.)
It would be difficult to catalogue all the nearly incalculable ways yoga and its many techniques can be beneficial to cancer patients and those suffering from other diseases. As research continues, more and more benefits are being found for this ancient art and science. It is thrilling to be part of this great awakening to the power of mind/body technologies.
Next week part two of Yoga and Cancer Patients.
I really love hearing from you. If you have any stories about yoga practice and cancer or other diseases, please drop me a comment. Thanks!