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International Yoga Day: How yoga can help support cancer patients

International Yoga Day: How yoga can help support cancer patients

Though yoga may not cure cancer, it certainly alleviates the patients’ agony, helps them cope with stress and increases the quality of life.

Every individual in society has access to modern medicine. Though it helps cure the medical ailment repairing the disturbed machinery, all medication has been unable to look into the subtle dimensions of human personality. That’s where the concept of holistic medicine comes in. The principle of holistic health is a very old one in India which aimed at covering physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being of the patient. Unfortunately, the last century saw a gradual disappearance of this approach due to the overwhelming impact of Western medical science.

Though the modern era has added a lot of comfort to our lives, it has brought with it huge baggage of lifestyle diseases — cardiovascular ailments, hypertension, diabetes, arthritis, digestive disorders and above all, cancer.

More than 14 million people all over the world are afflicted with cancer and it is considered to be the second-largest killer. It is known that 30 to 50 per cent of cancers can be averted just by resorting to a healthy lifestyle. Sedentary nature of work, lack of physical activity, undue stress and negative emotions have all been scientifically proven to cause this deadly disease. There is mounting evidence that raised levels of stress hormones like catecholamines and cortisol can induce cancer. Studies have also shown that chronic stress enhances the metastatic potential of this disease, thereby reducing the overall quality of life of the patient and survival.

main_yoga_reuters_062120070421.jpgYoga may not cure cancer, but it certainly alleviates the patients’ agony, helps them cope with stress and increases the quality of life. (Photo: Reuters)

Cancer is known to initiate a vicious cascade. While stress causes cancer in the first place, the disease leads to further fear, depression, anxiety and panic. According to various studies, every fourth cancer patient is known to ask for psychological support. This is where the mind-body technique practised in yoga comes into play.

Till date, there are more than a hundred randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and uncontrolled trials which state the benefit or the therapeutic effects of yoga on cancer patients. The practise of yoga has been prevalent in our country for nearly four millennia now. Though it is being followed in different parts of the world, the system finds its fullest expression only in India. According to scientists, yoga therapy has been successful in treating various medical conditions because of the balance that it creates between the nervous and the endocrine system. It is through these yogic practices that one can reduce stress and maintain a healthy balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic arousal. The various body movements and poses, meditation and breathing exercises help bring a perfect harmony between the body and mind. A meta-analysis of patients with breast cancer who performed yoga has shown improved scores with respect to their functional, social and spiritual wellbeing. Positive moods, reduced negative thoughts, lowered hostility and an increased enthusiasm were appreciable changes in those who practised yoga. Improved sleep quality and reduced dependence on sedatives were found through a multicentric RCT among the cancer survivors.

Yoga for paediatric cancer patients has been incorporated for increasing their strength, balance, pain tolerance and quality of life. A study from Seattle Children’s Hospital showed that a five-week yoga class spread over two months improved physical function of children hospitalised with cancer. In fact, yoga proved therapeutic by stimulating the child’s activity, mobility and participation despite chronic illness. This has been scientifically proven through increased levels of neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain.

Though yoga may not cure cancer, it certainly alleviates the patients’ agony, helps them cope with stress and increases the quality of life. It is priceless, inexpensive and requires no infrastructure or maintenance. When coupled with lifestyle changes like regular exercises and dietary modifications, yoga has proved effective and has stood the test of time in harmonising the body, mind and soul.

Last updated: June 21, 2020 | 19:32
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