Role of Yoga in Cancer Treatment

The body is but a corporeal existence; its true essence lies in the spirit which is eternal. On this earthly abode, we are mere spectators. As with most cultural traditions and belief systems, we are told that mortal existence is brief with its share of happiness and grief. Although it might seem unfair that we or our loved ones have to undergo pain and suffering, it is how the general state of earthly existence is, and there’s no escape. However, recognising that the agony is merely temporary and can be obliterated in the mind to a large extent paves the way for greater joy. The ancient teachings and wisdom we derive from Vedas lays emphasis on one such mind and body intervention in terms of the practice of Yoga. Although the roots of Yoga and its philosophy dates back to many centuries, its significance and global propagation has achieved a new zest in recent years. One now recognizes that with the passage of time, the teachings of yoga have not become obsolete, but is the need of the hour, more than it was ever before

For a disease like cancer, which has wreaked havoc over the years, despite the advancement in science and technology, we understand through recent studies that it is a disease that requires multimodal treatment. We are already aware how cancer can affect the physical health of a patient but added to it is the mental turmoil that can be endless. One might think of cancer treatment as merely including surgery, chemotherapy or immunotherapy, but one might ask what is the relevance of yoga in cancer treatment. But before we elaborate on the role of yoga in cancer treatment, we need to understand what yoga actually is.

Yoga is the holistic practice of mental and physical exercises that is aimed at the union of the mind and the soul, leading to spiritual awakening. Traditional practice of yoga involves the 8 fold limb or what is known as Ashtanga yoga. The systematic practice for this involves Yama (moral doctrines), Niyamas (disciplines), Asanas (postures), Pranayama (breathing exercise), Pratyahara (introspection), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and ultimately, Samadhi (spiritual salvation). The concern here for Cancer Patients and survivors is how to use Yoga in their daily lives to enable them to wade through the period of turmoil.

As we are already aware, cancer often leads to fear and anxiety about an impending death. The treatment for cancer often includes procedures that can lead to hair loss, appetite loss, change in appearance, infertility, fatigue, low blood count etc. In other words, the cumulative physical and mental experience for a cancer patient can be quite debilitating and hence the need for a holistic approach that enables one to recover faster and effectively from cancer. Following are the pain points where yoga can play a pivotal role in cancer .

● Boosting a stronger immune system- Cancer cells or carcinoma is responsible for weakening of the body’s natural immune system and the presence of the malignant cells causes fatigue. Consistent practices of yoga helps to stimulate not just the muscles but also increase the blood flow in the lymphatic system, which helps in the internal cleansing of the body and helps in creating a strong antibody in the system and in the better absorption of the nutrients.

● Yoga as a stress buster- Studies have already proven that guided meditation practices coupled with breathing practices or pranayama helps in regulating mood cycles. For a cancer patient, deeply anxious about his or her life expectancy, stress can be an additional burden that can lower down the morale of the person.. A well start is half done and hence mental make-up aided by yoga goes a long way in helping a person to not only win half the battle but also recover and win the full battle of psychological and psychomatic disease. With regular mindfulness practices accompanied with yoga, patients have reported a sense of calm, which has considerably improved recovery rates.Consistent yoga have shown reduction in stress hormones, improved parasympathetic function that enables the patient to have more control over their mind and body. Yoga has shown to modulate psychoneuroendocrine and psychoneuroimmune axis, thereby restoring balance in the body.

● Yoga as an exercise for cancer patients- The importance of exercise in our daily lives goes without any doubt, but for a cancer patient, exercises should be the second nature. However, not all cancer patients cannot undergo strenuous exercise regimes as it can be physically limiting and not advisable. When it comes to yoga, however, doctors do advise certain types of yoga that can be beneficial for the easy mobility and flexibility of the patients. One must also keep in mind that the prior consultation with the physician is mandatory before choosing to opt for a particular type of yoga for exercise. The reason why a cancer patient must maintain caution when it comes to certain types of yoga because although it has no reported side effects, in certain cases, it can be injurious. For example, bone metastasis present an increased risk of fracture with some asanas, especially in elderly population. Same goes for patients who have undergone abdominal surgeries who need to maintain extra caution with yoga intervention & adopt slower breathing techniques.

Overall, yoga has shown to bring about a holistic approach in a cancer patient’s life; an approach that is strongly advocated by senior oncologist, Dr. Vikash Kumar Agarwal. In more than 20 years of medical expertise and reputation as one of the best oncosurgeons in kolkata, Dr. Vikash Kumar Agarwal is known as not just a surgeon, but a healer with a spiritual inclination of mind. For him, yoga is a highly advanced science that has reportedly been used in the management of a variety of cancer symptoms. These include fatigue, sleep disturbances, chemotherapy induced-vomitting (CINV), and pain in cancer patients. Pranayama techniques such as Sheetali, Sheetakari have been beneficial in managing CINV. Moreover, Mind Sound Resonance Technique that involves chanting the ‘aum’ sound while meditating has shown to reduce fear and instill a calmer mind. The ultimate aim of Dr. Agarwal, the Global Cancer Trust and V Care Cancer Centre is to restore a sense of wellbeing, that stretches itself beyond the operation theatre or clinic.


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