September is National Yoga Month

Although yoga has been a trend for years, It is such a complex practice, that speaking in Sanscrit is only part of it.   Iyengar, Ashtanga, yin (which speaks Chinese, not Sanscrit)–hot yoga, power yoga, peace yoga, and more,  While it takes work to master, anyone can get started;  observe the photo: man attempting Warrior III.


Here’s some good news for you practitioners (yoga people don’t work out; they practice):  hand–stander or corpse–poser, if you’ve got cancer, it turns out yoga can do a lot to help you through the treatment process.

So for National Yoga Month (which also happens to be Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, Leukemia, Lymphoma and Myeloma Awareness Month, and [as you might recall from an earlier blog] Thyroid Cancer Awareness Month) you can–and should–join the Yoga Health Foundation.  Search for an event near you, but before you click, spend a few minutes with us as we look at yoga’s role is in the face of devastating illness.

It turns out that fatigue related to cancer and its treatments affects up to 33% of breast cancer survivors–but there is no medically approved treatment for this rather debilitating side effect. Bower et al (2012) looked at 31 breast cancer survivors who had completed their treatment 6 months before the study but still reported cancer-related fatigue.  The control group underwent health education, while the experimental group took a 12-week Iyengar yoga program. (Iyengar yoga, for those not in the know, is much more along the lines of the handstand/headstand variety, and it’s also got lots of props. It seems like you can’t make a move without a belt or a block or a blanket–it’s definitely a detail-oriented practice.)

Fatigue was indeed improved in the strap-and-blanket yoga group–improved enough that researchers called the effect “considerably larger” than that of the control group.  At the 3-month follow-up, scores indicating improvement were still high in the Iyengar group, with “significant reductions in fatigue and increases in vigor from baseline to post-treatment.”

“Results from this RCT indicate that a yoga intervention targeted at improving fatigue may be a feasible and effective treatment for breast cancer survivors who have persistent cancer-related fatigue.” Sounds pretty promising to me.  And, even better, Bower and her colleagues found a “significant effect” regarding depressive symptoms, in the yoga group, which remained at a 3-month follow-up assessment.

Study after study shows yoga can make a difference. Danhauer et al (2009) studied restorative yoga, which is a more gentle type of yoga (more along my corpse-pose style of practice than Mom’s feet in the air kind) for breast cancer patients and survivors.  Scores for mental health, improvement in depressive symptoms as well as fatigue, and positive affect all went up in the yoga group when compared to the control group.

Moadel et al (2007) studied the impact of Hatha yoga (a strapless, handstand-less kind for this group; just “physical poses, breathing and meditation exercises”–and a mat, for good luck) on a whole host of issues, which can basically be boiled down to quality of life (QOL), specifically in minority women. The researchers quote a growing body of evidence that minorities are at a greater risk for QOL impairment than are white breast cancer survivors.

The yoga intervention group took 12 1.5-hour weekly classes; the other group was ‘waitlisted’ for yoga classes (this involved no props at all).

The results:  yoga does appear to have a strong impact on QOL in minority breast cancer survivors.  Social functioning in the yoga group improved significantly,  women  in the control group experienced a greater decrease in social well-being than the yogis (13% to 2%), and improvement in emotional well-being was significantly higher among the intervention group as well.

OF course, there are many more forms of cancer, and some more of yoga .  How about: “Psychological adjustment and sleep quality in a randomized trial of the effects of a Tibetan yoga intervention in patients with lymphoma“?

Tibetan yoga (TY) is news to me, and, worse luck, Wikipedia had not a word to  say on it.  The authors helpfully clarify that it is the practice of Tsa lung and Trul khor (of course!), and then they do reveal that it’s the same basic idea, just kind of a yoga-light compared to the detail-oriented heavy-duty postures of Iyengar (some breathing–which I always recommend–some visualization, mindfulness, you get the picture).

39 lymphoma patients, either still in treatment or who had just finished, were assigned to a TY class or a waitlist. The expectations here were amazingly low. 89% of the patients completed (ready for this?) 2-3 sessions, and 58% completed 5.  They don’t give any more data, so I guess 5 sessions of breathing and making pictures in your head can really work wonders, if you  do it the Tibetan way.

As the title indicates, it’s all about sleep. And although the numbers differentiating the groups aren’t really big, and I wonder if my brother who does statistics in his sleep wouldn’t have some questions on the statistical validity of the following conclusion, it’s hard to argue with self-report.  The researchers claim those who showed up for yoga (at least twice, right?) “reported significantly better overall sleep quality and subjective sleep quality, faster sleep latency, longer sleep duration,  and less use of sleep medications during the follow-up compared with the control group.”

Don’t say I didn’t address different types of cancers, and mention several types of yogas.  In fact, this whole effort has worn me out. If you need me, I’ll be in corpse-pose.

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