The ancient mind body practice of yoga has been around for some 4,000 years. There is one simple reason why yoga has been around so long and gained so much popularity in the west in recent decades – it is effective at improving your physical and mental wellbeing.
Contrary to popular belief you don’t have to be super slim, fit or flexible to do yoga. In fact, yoga was originally taught as something akin to a health prescription. The teacher would consult with the student about their health and wellbeing, recommending specific poses that would be most beneficial for the student. This practice of using yoga to directly improve a health condition is called yoga therapy.
What is yoga therapy?
Yoga therapy is all about using yoga as a self-help tool when you are unwell or experiencing pain, fatigue, low mood or anxiety. Yoga is relatively low cost as it can be done at home or in a group setting.
Our LivingRoom yoga instructors are trained to work with cancer patients and teach yoga in a healthcare context. They always put the safety of patients first and may adjust certain movements or lead groups in a gentle, restorative practice that can maximise the benefits of yoga for patients, whilst minimising any physical impact or stress.
What will happen to me in a yoga class?
Yoga classes take place in the LivingRoom’s group room. You should wear something comfortable and something that you can move in – leggings, shorts and a t-shirt or stretchy workout gear are ideal.
At the beginning of the class your teacher will ask you about any injuries or current health complaints you may have. It’s important that you raise any aches, pains or discomfort you are experiencing so that your teacher may suggest alternative poses or movements to accommodate your needs.
To begin the practice you may be asked to get a yoga mat or chair and remove your shoes. Classes often start with a gentle warm up, some breathing exercises and maybe even a short meditation. Once the group is warmed up, your instructor will lead you through a therapeutic practice, explaining the movements and correcting your postures and poses as needed to ensure you get the most benefit from the class.
A therapeutic yoga practice may include a mix of any of the following:
These are gentle whole body movements and sustained poses that facilitate strength, reduce muscle tension and promote a sense of confidence and wellbeing. These are the familiar shapes with which we associate yoga but these poses can be adapted for any person at any time depending on level of health and fitness.
Breath awareness – yoga and the stress response
The foundation of yoga is in breath awareness and regulation. Mastering your breath awareness can help you actively reduce stress by disrupting the “fight or flight” part of your nervous system. When you experience a lot of stress, your adrenal glands can work overtime, keeping your body in fight or flight mode for long periods. Chronic stress has been shown to reduce immune function, increase a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease, disturb digestive function and contribute directly to anxiety and depression. Yoga can teach you to manage the stress response through breath awareness and regulation, enhancing your overall health and wellbeing.
Deep relaxation – Yoga Nidra
This yoga tool can be used by anyone at anytime and is profoundly relaxing and beneficial for both mind and body. Yoga Nidra is a guided relaxation practice using body scan and visualisation techniques. This easy-to-learn technique can be practised pre- or post surgery for enhanced coping and healing as well as to reduce the side effects of cancer and its treatment such as anxiety and depression.
Restorative yoga uses props and sustained postures to release muscle tension when the body is depleted or in pain. Restorative postures do just as the name says – restore you and reduce symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatment such as fatigue and muscle tension caused by stress.
Yoga emphasises the importance of being aware and alert in the present moment. This simple act is profound as it leads us to greater acceptance and appreciation for whatever is going on in our lives and gratitude for the simple pleasures. Our LivingRoom yoga classes encourage you to be mindful in movement and breath, facilitating your connection to yourself despite any challenges you may be facing. Short, seated meditations are part of every LivingRoom yoga class to encourage students to learn these valuable mindfulness skills that you can also practice in your own time.
If you feel any pain during a LivingRoom yoga class you should stop and let your instructor know. You are also welcome to rest seated, lying down or in child’s pose if you need a break at any point during the practice. Yoga poses may sometimes be a little uncomfortable and you may feel a very deep muscular stretch, but the poses should never feel painful.
What will yoga do for me?
Emerging research shows promising results supporting yoga therapy as a means for managing symptoms and treatment side effects in people living with cancer.
The benefits of yoga practice for those living with cancer include:
- Improved strength and freedom of movement.
- Management of fatigue and improved energy.
- Reduced depression or anxiety levels.
- Enhanced wellbeing.
- Stress relief.
- Deep relaxation, which has been shown to benefit the immune system.
- Increased feelings of acceptance and coping.
- Can be done in a chair or in bed by anyone with or without an instructor.
Evidence for yoga
An increasing body of research supports yoga as an effective tool for those living with cancer.
A recent study undertaken by researchers at Mind/Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Genomics Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in the United States found that mind body techniques that induce a relaxation response (such as yoga, mindfulness and meditation) can change how the body’s genes respond to stress. The research, though still in the early stages, seems to indicate that yoga can actually change gene expression in both short- and long-term practitioners.
Another US-based study by researchers at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center concluded that breast cancer patients who practise yoga experience lower stress and improved quality of life compared to those who only do stretching exercises. The study found that the patients who practised yoga reported lower fatigue levels, improved wellbeing and general health than those who just did simple stretches or neither yoga nor stretches. The yoga group also tested with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which is important considering that high cortisol levels are linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer patients. The study’s lead author Lorenzo Cohen commented that yoga can be a useful coping tool to ease cancer patients’ transition from active therapy back into daily life, a process which some find very stressful.
Who is my yoga teacher?
Margery Hellman is the LivingRoom’s yoga therapist. She began her professional career as an occupational therapist at Prince Henry Hospital, working with people who had strokes and head injuries, and has over 25 years’ experience in health care.
Margery supports people during and after treatment by adapting yoga practice to suit the needs of the individual in order to help improve their energy and mood, and to help manage the stress cause by a cancer diagnosis and treatment. She teaches a broad range of yoga tools, including Asana (movements), breathing practices for enhanced health, deep relaxation, restorative yoga and mindfulness meditation.
How much does it cost?
1 session (1 hour) – $15
5 sessions (1 hour each) – $60
Call 02 8514 0038 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Bower J.E., Garet D., Sternlieb B., et al (2011). “Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors: A randomized control trial”. Cancer 118(15) 3766-3775.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K.Bennett J.M., Andridge R, et al (2014) “Yoga’s impact on inflammation, mood and fatigue in breast cancer survivors: A randomized control trial”. Journal of Clinical Oncology.
- Bower JE, Woolery A, Sternlieb B, Garet D (2005) “Yoga for cancer patients and survivors”.Cancer Control 12(3): 165-71.
- Raghavendra RM, Akaikumar BS, Vadiraja HS et al (2010) “Role of Yoga in modulating fatigue, sleep disturbances , salivary cortisol, and immune measures in breast cancer survivors :a randomized controlled trial”. Journal of Clinical Oncology.