By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Is Yoga for leukemia a viable option? Leukemia, or cancer of the blood or bone marrow, is a terrifying disease that strikes both young and old. Damage to the blood stream, from the cancer, results in reduced immune response, anemia from lack of red blood cells, and other conditions. In the U.S., about 245,000 people are affected with some form of leukemia, including those currently in remission. Treatment of leukemia typically involves medication, chemotherapy and/or bone marrow transplantation. The most common form of leukemia has a five-year survival rate between 15–70%, and a relapse rate from 33-78%.
Like Yoga for cancer in general, Yoga for leukemia can provide physical and emotional support for those with leukemia specifically. A study with 410 participants, highlighted at the 2010 American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, demonstrated that Yoga stretching and breathing exercises reduced dependence on sedatives, improved sleep, and helped cancer patients resume the routine activities of everyday life. Meditative breathing helps to clear the mental fog of chemotherapy, and stretching decreases stress levels while it rebuilds the immune system.
Asanas recommended for those diagnosed with leukemia include those that open the chest and prevent pneumonia, which is common in people with compromised immune systems. Ustrasana, or Camel pose, Gomukhasana, or Cow Face pose, and Balasana or Child’s pose with arms extended in front, combined with Bhujangasana or Cobra pose are all excellent chest openers.
All of the above named postures can be modified and the use of props is recommended. A certified Yoga teacher should know how to modify any pose for a student. If one’s goal is to restore energy, physically taxing or hot classes are not recommended.
Pranayama, or Yogic breathing, can be very powerful in calming the mind during invasive procedures like chemotherapy. Connecting with the body is important during any illness. It can be tempting to see one’s own body as having “betrayed” one, or to see the body as the enemy itself. Emphasizing the body, the spirit, and staying in the moment can help bring the focus needed for healing.
Practicing restorative poses, like moving gently in and out of Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose can be helpful as well. Remember to use props, while allowing the body to rest, relax, and restore, in each asana, rather than pushing through them. A peaceful savasana should end every restorative Yoga practice.
Visualization techniques, such as picturing the cancer cells disappearing, are sometimes used in conjunction with complimentary practices like Yoga. These kinds of actions are not only beneficial to the physical health of the body, but also give the individual actions to take during a time when many feel powerless. While it is not a cure, Yoga for leukemia improves the quality of life.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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