The benefits of yoga for cancer patients
According to a new study, yoga may help ease the pain and fatigue of cancer treatment.
Researchers from the University of Rochester found that cancer patients who practiced yoga showed a 37% reduction in ‘daytime dysfunction’. Po-Ju Lin from the University in New York said: “We recommend that doctors prescribe this low-risk, low-cost treatment to all cancer patients with cancer-related fatigue.”
Mood benefits among those who add yoga to exercise
In a separate study, researchers found that cancer patients who practiced yoga and exercise (as opposed to exercise alone) were nearly twice as likely to report improved mood (66% versus 34%). And they also reported less difficulty with general activities (59% versus 41%).
This isn’t the first time the benefits of yoga for cancer patients have been reported.
In 2014, leading cancer specialist Prof Lorenzo Cohen published a clinical trial. He reported that women who did yoga during radiotherapy for breast cancer had a much better quality of life. And better control of stress hormones.
Dr Jimmy Kwok
But how soon can a cancer patient expect to start seeing the results of a regular yoga practice? How fit and bendy do you really need to be? And what other symptoms is yoga thought to alleviate? We asked registered Ashtanga yoga instructor, Dr Jimmy Kwok.
You’re Head of Oncology Service at a leading private hospital group. And you’re also a registered Ashtanga yoga instructor. What insight from your healthcare background have you been able to apply in your yoga practice for the benefit of those you teach?
“Yoga isn’t only about how bendy you are. Cancer patients and survivors with no previous experience can still do yoga and reap its benefits.”
You’ve practised Ashtanga yoga for over a decade now. And you’re passionate about promoting the benefits of yoga for cancer patients and survivors. Can you give me some examples of the types of problems or symptoms yoga can help with please?
The benefits of yoga for cancer patients are many and varied. Not only is it a natural way to help you relax and cope with the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis. But it can also help reduce side effects and symptoms such as pain, sleep problems and fatigue.
Less swelling and pain
Patients with tumours like uterine cancer, prostate cancer, lymphoma, melanoma, vulvar cancer and ovarian cancer may experience leg lymphedema after surgery. Lymphedema is a chronic condition in which excess fluid (lymph) collects in tissues causing edema (swelling). The swelling is commonly caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. And with regular yoga practice, patients have reported less swelling and less pain.
Reduced fatigue and chemo brain
After cancer treatment, some people notice changes in their memory, concentration and the way they think. Symptoms of this ‘chemo brain’ vary from person to person. But they typically include extreme fatique or mental fogginess. People also have trouble concentrating or focusing on one thing. With regular yoga practice however, cancer patients have reported less fatigue as well as other chemo brain symptoms easing.
After a breast reconstruction, one of the things cancer patients often struggle with is tight shoulders. And there’s a particular yoga pose called Sphinx Pose that can help with that. It can increase flexibility in these patients and also reduce pain and tightness after a reconstruction.
“Not only is it a natural way to help you relax and cope with the stress and anxiety of a cancer diagnosis. But it can also help reduce side effects and symptoms such as pain, sleep problems and fatigue.”
You’ve designed a series of materials to support people affected by cancer and struggling with the symptoms. And we love that people can use them from the comfort of their own homes. What would you say to someone who loves the idea of yoga. But they think they need to be super bendy or athletic to buy your materials and give it a go?
Yoga is about making more space in your body, one step at a time. And it’s suitable for everyone, including complete beginners. Cancer patients and survivors with no previous experience can still do yoga and reap its benefits.
“In my experience, most patients report improvement within a week to two. That’s assuming someone does 2-3 sessions a week.”
Can you give some examples of poses your materials introduce cancer patients to. And how each benefits the patient?
Supported Shoulder Stand
Alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) is a powerful technique that settles the mind, body, and emotions. And it’s so simple to do. This technique is particularly helpful to ease the stress associated with a cancer diagnosis. And it’s also beneficial for those experiencing fatigue – yet struggling to fall asleep.
“Alternate nostril breathing is a powerful technique that settles the mind, body and emotions. And it’s so simple to do.”
“We recommend that doctors prescribe this low-risk, low-cost treatment to all cancer patients with cancer-related fatigue.”
How soon will someone with cancer start to feel the benefits of regular yoga practice?
It can vary from person to person. But it’s often earlier than they may think. In my experience, most patients report improvement within a week to two. That’s assuming someone does 2-3 sessions a week.
Over to you
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About Dr Jimmy Kwok
Dr Jimmy Kwok is Head of Oncology Service at a leading private hospital group in London. And he also founded Dr Yoga® in 2016. He’s passionate about promoting the beneﬁts of yoga for cancer patients and survivors. As a registered Ashtanga yoga instructor, Jimmy has supported cancer patients through his classes at Maggie’s and within the Charing Cross Hospital Campus.
Dr Kwok believes the psychological, emotional and physical support for cancer patients is often missing. And so he’s developed a series of home-based support materials to help. 10% of all sales of his book, Yoga For Breast Cancer Survivors and Patients, will be donated to Maggie’s.