The practice of yoga began approximately 5,000 years ago in India. Yoga was and continues on as Buddhist and Hindu spiritual practice. As a spiritual practice in the East, yoga is thought to unite opposite forces in the universe (for example, Yin and Yang; Day and Night); in harmonizing these “opposite” forces balance, practitioners achieve integration and peace.
Since its introduction to the West in the late 19th century, the practice and teaching of yoga has evolved to emphasize the health aspects of yoga practice. Today, over 20 million people practice yoga in the U.S.; someone who practices yoga is known as a yogi.
Some common yoga styles include:
- Hatha: This is the most common style of yoga practiced in the United States and is great for new learners due to its gentleness. Through the alignment of postures and breathing, a yogi achieves a state of relaxation while practicing the Hatha yoga style.
- Modified Chair Yoga: This gentle-style of yoga is practiced while seated in a chair or using a chair for support while standing. Chair yoga movements are typically adaptations of Hatha asanas. Typically, chair yoga is accessible for people living with even the most extreme physical limitations.
- Vinyasa: Otherwise known as “flow” yoga, vinyasa yoga is a smooth and gentle style of yoga. The asanas in vinyasa synchronize with breathing patterns to allow for flowing movement between postures. Emphasis is placed on transitioning between asanas in Vinyasa yoga.
- Bikram: The Bikram style of yoga is performed in a heated enviornment. As such, Bikram yoga is a more rigorous style of yoga that emphasizes stretching ligaments and muscles and cleansing the body of toxins.
- Yin Yoga: Yin is a slower-paced, more mindful style of yoga that emphasizes stillness, relaxation and rejuvenation of the joints and connective tissue. Poses in Yin yoga are usually passive and are held for extended periods of time (around 5 minutes each).
Why should I use Yoga?
The relationship between yoga and cancer treatment is an ongoing research topic. However, research reveals that yoga practice can improve overall quality of life for cancer survivors. Yoga may be effective in:
- Improving personal quality of Life
- Enhancing mobility
- Reducing cancer-related fatigue
- Improving psychological health (anxiety and depression)
- Enhancing emotional and social functioning
- Improving sleep quality
How does Yoga work?
Yoga means “to join or unite” which refers to bringing the mind, breath and body together as one. Much of yoga’s roots are built on the philosophy of “body as temple”, treating the body with care and respect. Yoga instructors believe that the body needs to be relieved of daily stress and allowed time for silence, both of which provide for healing to occur. In turn, when yoga is practiced daily, a clear mind and strong body develop which supports mental health and facilitates illness prevention.
While practicing yoga, yogis hold and transition into different poses (including standing poses and ground work) activating various muscle groups within the body. Most yoga classes start and end with meditation to clear the mind and set an intention for the practice. During practice, students are encouraged to focus on the present moment, focusing on their body movement and breath, allowing for a deep mind, body, spirit connection.
Is Yoga right for me?
Yoga is adaptable to most people, even those with physical limitations.
Yoga only requires:
- clothes that do not limit movement
- a thin mat between you and the floor/carpet
- quiet, peaceful surroundings where you can focus on breathing and comfortable stretching can occur without injury
Yoga can be modified to meet individual needs using various equipment, like yoga straps, bands and blocks. Whether yoga is practiced in home or in a class setting, when first starting it is import to learn under guidance of a yoga teacher to ensure poses are being performed correctly and correct breathing.
- Yoga classes are usually between 50-75 minutes long
- Classes cost between $10-15.00 per session, or purchased at a discount in blocks of sessions
In community settings, the cost can sometimes be as low as $4.00 per session or by donation.
How do I choose a Yoga provider/class?
Yoga techniques are passed on from teacher to student, which leads to great variations in its teaching and practice. Researching different styles of yoga, talking with other yogis, and observing classes oftentimes allows an individual to find a style best suited for him or her.
There are no licensing/credentialing requirements for yoga teachers. The National Yoga Alliance independently credentials instructors, but the NYA credentialing is not a requirement in order to teach a yoga class. That said, many instructors and schools belong to this organization and follow their recommendations, guidelines and standards.
With this in mind, some guidelines when choosing a yoga class and instructor include:
- Finding an instructor with a RYT® credential; this means they have more than 200+ hours of specific training where guidelines have been followed
- Asking a potential instructor if they have had training in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology; if they do have this training it indicates they understand how the body works and moves
- Seeking an instructor who provides feedback on whether or not you are doing the posture correctly and breathing appropriately
- Asking how the instructor might modify yoga postures to accommodate any physical limitations which may affect you
- Watching a class to determine if the pace and postures used during the class are right for you
Learning about safety measures the instructor has in place to protect students from injury
How do I talk to my healthcare provider about using Yoga?
Many elements of yoga are suitable for those with physical impairments. Still, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider to understand how these limitations will impact your ability to practice yoga and to get an idea about possible limitations and/or need for practice modification based on your current state of health and/or medications you are taking.
Have others with cancer used Yoga?
In a study of breast cancer survivors with aromatase inhibitor-associated arthralgia who completed a yoga program, study participants reported:
“I am amazed how much more flexible I have become … since starting yoga and adding more days to my practice. The benefits just keep growing”
“My body was aching, so I finally did a good 20 minute yoga practice … I love yoga! It cures all that ails ya! I feel much better already.”
“As usual I feel so relaxed and ready to face my day with a more mellow approach … after yoga class … yoga helps me breathe and be more patient”
“Had to get a mammogram and while waiting there did pranayama. Just the thing to tune your mind off”
What is Yoga like?
If you are interested in yoga but would like to see a session before you try it yourself, we invite you to watch a video featuring Sandi Fox, RYT, RN.