War on cancer sara ivarsson yoga yogobe

To live with cancer – take part in your own wellbeing

26 January 2020 | By Sara Ivarsson

Yoga can be a great tool to improve physical and psychological symptoms as well as emotional health – learn more here! 


This is the second blog post in a series on living with cancer that I'll be writing the coming months. The introduction to these blog posts, and to me, can be found in the first one; To live with, after and next to cancer.

Ease the process with yoga

“I learned that, having been hit by the hammer of Western medicine to save my life, I needed complementary therapies like yoga to regain my health” – Pauline Fray, Yoga teacher and acute myeloid leukemia patient

No matter what your experience with cancer is, there is no denying that being diagnosed with cancer and going through treatment is tough, both physically and psychologically. It often means great physical suffering combined with an emotional roller coaster of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, depression, and loss of security and control.

Being a cancer patient, it’s easy to feel like a passenger in one’s own life. Life is put on hold when treatment takes all focus and behind the steering wheel are the doctors who decide what will happen to you and your body. Sometimes it’s like you’re not even in a car seat, but rather lying in the trunk of the car.

Yoga for body and mind
While the tough treatments breaking you down are necessary for survival, there are things you can do to ease the process. To cope with cancer and its treatment-related side effects and toxicities, the use of yoga is increasingly popular. It’s proving to be very beneficial. Studies show that yoga improve physical and psychological symptoms and improve emotional health and quality of life in cancer patients.

The great thing about yoga is that it offers a way for you to take part in your own treatment. The moving, breathing, and meditating that YOU do are what make you better equipped to deal with symptoms and side effects. Cancer patients are used to having things done to them and for them all the time. To actively do something for your own wellbeing is empowering and gives a sense of participation. You step out of the car’s trunk and go riding shotgun instead. With your own actions you can make yourself feel better and create conditions for body and mind to handle the tough treatments better.

You can affect your everyday life. Studies show that yoga not only increases quality of life, but relieves side effects, increases stress resilience, helps with depression and anxiety, and decreases pain. Yoga strengthens both body and mind since it focuses both on physical activity and have space for recovery and stress reduction through breathing- and relaxation practices.

Exercises for balance and strength 
Below I have listed some classes and exercises directed to find more balance and strength in body and mind. While you sometimes notice an immediate effect, it’s often good to create a routine and repeat the exercises often to really reap the benefits. If you find a favorite, weave it into life. Yoga doesn’t only happen on the mat. Use the exercises in those moments where you need the effects they bring – like slow breathing while in chemo if that is a stressful situation for you, or the body scan while anxiously waiting for a test result.

Most of the suggested videos are in Swedish, for videos in English, check out the video library. 

MOVE

Doing physical yoga poses and sequences has many benefits. One is to reconnect with your body and gain better body awareness. When cancer is a fact so is changes in body and energy. Enter fatigue; loss of flexibility and strength; scars; loss of bodily functions; neuropathy; dizziness; the list is long. The mindfulness in yoga makes you aware of your body, how it feels, and how to move with respect of your current state and energy level.

After surgery, radiation or chemo, appropriate poses can realign scar tissue’s collagen strands and help the body to regain lost strength and flexibility and thus improve stability and balance. Yoga can also relieve joint and muscle aches that are common side effects from medications.

While some find breathing or seated meditation the perfect antidote to their anxiety, others find that stillness simply too agitating. The chatter in the mind is amplified. There is a need to get out of the head and onto the feet and feel the ground beneath. Here yoga poses and movement is great - not as a means of escape but as a way to calmly return to center.

Try one of our classes
Let Josefin Wikström guide you through a sequence that moves your whole body and brings you back to your body to regain stability and centeredness.

During this class Milla shows how you can practice the same poses free on the mat or with a chair. That gives you a nice opportunity to adjust movements day to day depending on where in treatment you are and your energy levels.

BREATHE

“Cancer took my breath away. Yoga gave it back” – Tari Prinster, founder of Yoga4Cancer and breast cancer survivor

The breath is said to be a mirror of our internal state. When the mind is calm the breath is calm, and when the mind gets agitated our breath follows. What’s awesome is that it’s a two-way street - changing the breath changes our internal landscape. Your breath is one of the best tools you have to work with your mental state.

Stressful events make us hold our breath and force it high up in the chest. Like a viscous cycle this kind of breath tells our bodies that we are under a threat, keeping the breath short and high up creating even more stress. Taking control of your breath, making it even and slow, puts you in the driver’s seat when it comes to dealing with stress and agitated emotions (you’re not even riding shotgun anymore!)

One reason for breathing practices’ effectiveness is its adaptability: Breathing practices can be done anywhere, anytime – in hospital beds; in treatment rooms; and during long, anxious periods of waiting for test results. And it can be done by people in all stages of illness or health.

Try one of our classes
Practice to slow down your breath to become resilient to stress.

Use this breathing and mindfulness practice to find center, focus, and calm when you feel overwhelmed.

PAUSE

Just relax. Sounds easy enough, right? But we all know that’s not the case. Relaxation is something we might need to practice. A restful state doesn’t just appear on its own. It is many times a result of the modern way of living – always on the go; always online, reachable; always performing and achieving, doing something. It is for sure a result of the trauma of being diagnosed with cancer.

With stress levels being high, and being high for a prolonged period, resting and relaxation can be a challenge – but very important to practice. Learning how to pause and rest is vital to improve both physical, mental, and emotional health. Worry, anxiety, and fear thrive when the body is full of stress hormones. When we practice, and learn, how to enter a relaxed state, these emotions can’t get the same grip around us. It will lead to a calmer state of mind, and also improve sleep, which is often compromised in the presence of cancer.

Try one of our classes
This kind of relaxation, and other body scans, helped my boyfriend find calm when he had cancer, and has greatly helped me with my insomnia.

Use this soft and easy sequence as a bedtime routine to help with relaxation and sleep.

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Photo cred: Mikael Björk

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Sara Ivarsson

Sara är bland annat yogalärare och lymfmassör som tidigare främst inriktat sig mot yoga för idrottare. Numera arbetar hon dock mer terapeutisk och rehabiliterande med fokus på cancer – såväl patienter och överlevare som anhöriga.

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