yoga teacher trainingBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

Chemotherapy, used most often in cancer treatment, is a powerful tool. However, like killing bugs with a sledgehammer, it packs a powerful punch to the entire body, not just the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy indiscriminately kills cells that divide rapidly, meaning that it also harms non-cancerous cells dividing rapidly under normal circumstances. Bone marrow cells, digestive tract cells, and hair follicles are all targeted by the chemotherapy, resulting in the most common side effects of the treatment: alopecia (hair loss), myelosuppression (decreased production of blood cells), and mucositis (inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract).

With cancer already taking a toll on the body, the debilitating effects of chemotherapy can be dismal. However, a number of studies have shown that Yoga training is a useful tool in coping with the nausea, and lowered immune system, common in treatment.

According to Raghuram Nagarathna MD, the author of a research summary, which was published within the European Journal of Cancer Care, in 2007, a clinical study examined the effects of an integrated Yoga program on “chemotherapy-related nausea and emesis (vomiting) in early operable breast cancer outpatients.” Sixty-two patients participated in Yogic techniques, either supervised by a Yoga teacher or at home, for an hour a day, while a support group received counseling and was told to do gentle exercise.

Following the Yoga practice, there was a “significant decrease in post-chemotherapy-induced nausea frequency, nausea intensity, and anticipatory vomiting, as compared with the control group.”  Raghuram Nagarathna, is the Dean at the Division of Life Sciences, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana, Bangalore, India.  There have been other articles, dating back to 1997, which support non-pharmacologic management of chemotherapy-induced nausea, and vomiting, with Yoga, and behavioral modification techniques.

Due to the inflammation of the digestive tract, which makes the patient feel nauseated, he or she experiences classic conditioning, while undergoing the therapy. Like Pavlov’s dogs, after only a few times sitting in the chair and feeling nauseated, the patient need only look at the chair to feel ill. Yoga techniques and relaxation can help the person “break the cycle” of conditioning and decrease the feelings of upset. A number of poses also support the immune system, and can help those undergoing chemotherapy, fight off opportunistic infections and generally feeling run down.

A sample of the suggested Yoga techniques, for those who are undergoing chemotherapy, include the following:

1. Kurmasana, or Tortoise pose, to support the thymus gland and gradually release anxiety from the upper and lower body.

2. Modified Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog pose, to improve sinus flow and help flush mucous from the lungs.  This posture can be modified to make it less taxing, by practicing Half Downward Dog, or using a chair Yoga modification.

3. Ustrasana, or Camel pose, or Bhujangasana or Cobra pose to increase lung mobility.  This posture can be modified by performing Camel, while seated in a chair.

4. Balasana, or Pose of a Child, helps to relax most of the upper body’s musculature, and can be modified by bringing the knees wider and extending the arms forward (Extended Child’s Pose).

5. Restorative Poses (asanas), which are ground based postures that do not tax one’s energy reserves, to help the body relax and nourish itself.

The thymus gland produces peptide hormones, essential for the normal development of T lymphocytes- also known as T cells – and the immune system. It is located in the sternum and can be stimulated with a gentle tapping exercise. Using your fingers and a light, firm touch, tap on the center of the sternum for several minutes a day.  Some practitioners believe that the vibration reaches the gland and improves its activity.

Please bear in mind that asanas are only part of Yoga training.  Yogic breathing (pranayama), relaxation, Yoga nidra, and meditation, will also restore one’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.  Laughter Yoga is also a viable option to lift one’s spirit and bring about positive states of mind.

© Copyright 2011 – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division

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