River of Hope
HOW TO COPE: YOGA
Yoga is a natural choice for breast cancer patients trying to relieve the stress of diagnosis and treatment. Now researchers are finding that women who engage in a regular yoga program may reap even more benefits. In a 2006 study, scientists from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center compared two groups of women undergoing radiation treatment. One group took two hour-long yoga classes that included physical stretching, meditation, and breathing exercises each week; the other group was put on a waiting list for the class. The scientists found that women who engaged in yoga enjoyed better health and experienced less fatigue than the control group. Based on the results of the pilot study, researchers have received grants from the National Cancer Institute to conduct larger clinical trials of yoga for breast cancer. “There’s good reason to believe that yoga as well as other mind-body practices can be useful for people facing lifechanging illnesses,” says Lorenzo Cohen, M.D., director of the integrative medicine program at the cancer center. In another study, researchers at Washington State University, Spokane, found that Iyengar yoga—an active type of practice that stresses proper body alignment— not only promotes psychological wellbeing in breast cancer patients, but may cause potentially beneficial changes in immune-system cell activity. Recognizing the benefits of yoga, a number of cancer centers now offer yoga classes designed specifically for cancer patients. These may offer more gentle exercises or focus on particular skills, like arm movement and flexibility, that could become impaired as a result of cancer treatment. Even if you can’t find a yoga class tailored to people with cancer, a restorative, gentle yoga class can offer many of the same emotional, spiritual, and physical benefits.