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Yoga is an ancient practice that combines movement, specific poses, controlled breathing, and relaxation or meditation. It is also a philosophy and a way of life to which some people devote themselves. You don’t have to be completely devoted to yoga to benefit from this ancient practice. Many people practice it weekly or daily and are able to manage pain, maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress, and more.

For mesothelioma patients, there are many benefits of practicing yoga regularly. It can help to mitigate the effects of treatment and simply help patients relax, take their minds off of cancer, and learn to better cope with terminal illness. Practicing yoga as a cancer patient may mean making some modifications, but with the guidance of a trained and experienced instructor, anyone can see positive results.

yoga

What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India. Exactly when it was developed and first practiced is under debate, but yoga could have been around as long as 3,000 or more years. Yoga in its original form includes physical, mental, and spiritual practices that center around mindfulness, discipline, control of the body and mind, and achieving a state of enlightenment. There are many different branches and philosophies of yoga, and what most Americans practice when doing yoga is Hatha yoga.

Hatha yoga is a discipline that focuses on uniting the spirit, mind, and body through physical acts: the asanas, which are yoga poses, pranayama, which is focused, yoga breathing, and dhyana, or meditation, concentration, and relaxation. Most basic yoga classes are Hatha yoga, but there are variations developed by different practitioners, like Bikram yoga which is done in a hot room, or Iyengar yoga, which focuses on alignment in poses and uses props to help achieve and hold a pose.

Yoga’s Health Benefits

Many people practice yoga or take regular yoga classes because it feels good. While not usually an intense strength or cardiovascular workout, it can elevate the heart, strengthen muscles, and improve flexibility and balance. Yoga is also known to help reduce stress and reduce risk factors, like high blood pressure that can cause chronic health conditions. It also may help relieve symptoms of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety and can reduce pain and reduce insomnia.

Some of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence, but there is also research to back up many of them. For example, studies have found that people suffering from lower back pain were able to reduce pain and improve their mobility through practicing yoga. Research has also proven a link between yoga and relief from depression, that it can lead to more mindful eating with weight loss or maintenance, and that it improves cardiovascular fitness and reduces blood sugar levels and blood pressure.

Yoga and Benefits for Cancer Patients

People living with mesothelioma may think that any kind of exercise is out of bounds, but yoga can be modified for anyone and cancer patients can get significant benefits from it. Here are some of those benefits and the evidence from research:

  • Relief from pain and fatigue. Mesothelioma patients often experience pain, sometimes from the tumor itself, pushing on the lungs or abdominal organs, and also as side effects from treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Studies have found that practicing yoga while undergoing treatment reduced both overall pain and fatigue in cancer patients to at least a small degree.
  • Reduce depression and anxiety. Even in someone not predisposed to these mental health conditions, living with terminal cancer, undergoing painful treatments, and seeing unpleasant changes in appearance and abilities can cause anyone to experience depression and anxiety. The good news is that research shows that yoga has a strong positive effect on mood and can significantly relieve depression and anxiety, as well as stress, in patients undergoing treatments for cancer.
  • Sleep better. Sleeping is often disrupted simply by the fact of having mesothelioma, but also for specific reasons like pain, nausea, or depression. One study found that mindfulness training, which is a part of most yoga practice, can significantly improve mood, reduce stress, and improve the duration and quality of sleep.
  • Breathe easier. Difficulty breathing and shortness of breath are common side effects of mesothelioma. Exercise helps, but most patients cannot or are afraid to engage in most types of exercise. Yoga has been proven to be a gentle way to help patients with cancer or survivors of cancer breathe easier.
  • Improve overall quality of life. All of these factors come together to demonstrate that yoga can help improve the quality of life for a patient living with cancer. Some studies have specifically measured that based on patient response and found outcomes were good for those practicing yoga.

Although it has not been quantified by research, yoga can also be an enjoyable social activity for cancer patients. People with mesothelioma may feel isolated and alone, but joining in classes with other people that have specialized medical needs can provide a safe and supportive place to socialize, share, and learn with others who understand what it is like to be sick and suffering.

Working with an Experienced Instructor

When practicing yoga it is important to learn from a trained and licensed instructor, but for mesothelioma patients, it is especially important to work with someone who understands the limitations and needs of cancer patients. If you or someone you care about is interested in trying yoga as a mesothelioma patient, start with your doctor or other health care professional to get a recommendation. Some health care centers may even have classes on hand or staff members who work with patients to try yoga and other gentle physical exercises. It is important to never attempt any kind of exercise or new treatment without consulting with your medical team.

It is also important to remember that as a cancer patient you have limitations and you may not be able to achieve the full range of poses. You can still benefit from yoga by working with modified poses, by stretching, by learning to control and focus on breathing, and by learning to be mindful of controlling stress and other negative feelings.

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