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Yoga for Mesothelioma Patients

Yoga is an ancient practice that combines movement, poses, controlled breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Some practitioners also consider yoga a philosophy and way of life. However, you don’t have to devote yourself to yoga to benefit from this ancient practice. Many people practice yoga regularly to manage pain, maintain healthy weight, and reduce stress.

For mesothelioma patients there are many benefits of a regular yoga practice. Yoga helps mitigate the effects of treatment and can help patients relax, take their minds off of cancer, and learn to cope with terminal illness. Cancer patients may need to modify their yoga practice, but with the guidance of a trained and experienced instructor, anyone can see positive results.


What is Yoga?

Yoga is an ancient practice that originated in India. Its specific origins are often debated, but yoga could be more than 3,000 years old. In its original form, yoga includes physical, mental, and spiritual practices that center around mindfulness, discipline, control of the body and mind, and pursuing enlightenment.

There are many different branches and philosophies of yoga. Hatha yoga is the type most commonly practiced in the United States. Hatha yoga as a discipline focuses uniting spirit, mind, and body through physical acts. Specific popses, called asanas are used in conjunction with pranayama, which is focused breathing, and dhyana, which is meditation or concentration. Most basic yoga classes are Hatha yoga, but there are variations developed by different practitioners. These variations include Bikram yoga, which is done in a hot room and Iyengar yoga, which focuses on alignment in poses using props.

Yoga’s Health Benefits

Many people practice yoga or take regular yoga classes because they enjoy it. While is not typically an intense workout, it can elevate heart rate, strengthen muscles, and improve flexibility and balance. Yoga also helps reduce stress. It can also help reduce high blood pressure that can cause chronic health conditions. Yoga can also relieve symptoms of mental health conditions including depression and anxiety. Pain and insomnia can also be alleviated through a regular yoga practice.

Although some of these claims are based on anecdotal evidence, there is also ample research that backs up many health claims. For example, studies have found that people suffering from lower back pain reduced pain levels and improved mobility with yoga. Research also shows yoga can relive depression, result in more mindful eating, improve cardiovascular fitness, and reduce blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

Yoga and Benefits for Cancer Patients

People living with mesothelioma may think they are incapable of exercising. However, yoga can be modified and still benefit cancer patients. Here are just a few of those benefits:

  • Relief from pain and fatigue. Mesothelioma patients often experience pain, sometimes from the tumor itself pushing on the lungs or abdominal organs. Pain can also be a result of treatments like chemotherapy and radiation. Studies have found that practicing yoga during treatment reduced overall pain and fatigue in cancer patients.
  • Reduce depression and anxiety. Even for those who are not predisposed to these mental health conditions, living with a terminal cancer can lead to depression and anxiety for many reasons.  Research shows that yoga has a strong positive effect on mood and can significantly relieve depression and anxiety for patients undergoing cancer treatment.
  • Better Sleep. Pain, nausea, and depression can interrupt a patient’s natural sleep cycle. One study found that mindfulness training, which is part of 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 many patients are unable to engage in most types of exercise. Yoga is a gentle way to help patients with cancer breathe easier.
  • Improve overall quality of life. All of these factors come together to demonstrate that yoga can improve the quality of life for cancer patients. Some studies have specifically measured life quality based on patient response. This research showed improved outcomes for those patients who practiced yoga.

Although not yet supported by research, yoga can also provide a social outlet for patients. Cancer patients often feel isolated. A class of others with specialized medical needs can provide a supportive place to socialize.

Working with an Experienced Instructor

When practicing yoga, it is important to learn from a trained and licensed instructor. For mesothelioma patients, it is also important to work with someone who understands the specific limitations and needs of cancer patients. If you or someone you care about is interested in trying yoga, start with your doctor or medical team. They may be able to recommend a class or an instructor.  Some health care centers have classes or staff members who can help cancer patients begin a yoga practice. Never attempt any kind of exercise without first consulting your medical team.

Remember, as a cancer patient you have limitations and may not be able to achieve the full range of poses. However, you can still benefit from yoga through modification, stretching, learning to control and focus your breathing, and practicing mindfulness.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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