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Yin Yoga for Cancer Patients

I am not shy or guarded when it comes to talking about cancer. The topic both fascinates me and terrifies me, in the same moment. It is an interesting response, and not having had the experience of diagnosed cancer within my own body, it is a topic that still hits very close to home for me.

About 2 years ago, both of my parents died from aggressive cancer. First my Dad of a rare spinal tumour, and then two and a half months later (ouch) my Mom died of uterine cancer that metastasized into her abdomen and lungs. I sat bed-side with both of them, and watched as they faded away...2 months in hospital for my Dad, and 5 weeks in and out of hospital for my Mom. I learned the dire seriousness of advanced cancer, and it woke something up in me... something that stresses the absolute importance of actively participating in preventative measures for cancer, whether it is present or not... and certainly MUCH before it reaches an advanced stage.

It feels to me that blocked or stagnant energy may be a large contributor to the growth of cancer within a person's body. My parents both had emotions that they refused to 'deal with' or work through constructively with each other. Instead they pushed those negative emotions down. My mom allowed those negative emotions to be the driving force of her existence and my brothers and I witnessed the slow deterioration of her health over the years. The state of her mental health was the hardest for us to witness. What was going on in her body was reflected in the health of her mind. And I feel her mind directly affected the state of her body as well.

I'm sure there were many other factors contributing to the death of my parents as cancer is a complicated illness, and this blocked energy part felt quite significant to me. If there had been some way for my parents to release that energy from their bodies, would that have helped them in the end? I don't know, and yet it makes sense to me that clearing all that out would allow for a free-flow of energy throughout the body, feeding and replenishing cells and tissues, and allowing for the immune system to ramp up and fight off the intruding cancer cells.

Our immune system is a huge part of healing (immunotherapy is being explored as a treatment for cancer, as well as high dose vitamin C therapy). And it is based on our lymphatic system which travels throughout the body in the form of glands and lymph channels. Our meridian channels, or lines of 'Chi' energy, run throughout the body as well, so if that system is running clear, I believe our immune system would also get a charge of energy to work at optimum levels.

Enter Yin yoga. There are many ways in which Yin yoga mimics an acupuncture session. Certain points are pressured during the long-held poses, stimulating the meridian lines running between major organs, glands, and energy centers of the body. Stagnant or blocked areas may release, creating new space for energetic flow over time. For a person with cancer practicing Yin (with the approval from their doctor), the poses can easily be adapted for those who are less flexible, or those needing to protect specific areas of the body, such as breasts, or liver. Using extra blankets, bolsters, and other props can make Yin very cozy and more relaxing, quite like restorative yoga, which is also very suitable for cancer patients.

Yin yoga can also be very therapeutic with regards to the emotional aspects of having cancer. There is time in the poses to reflect, to pause, to release or explore negativities. Quite often a person diagnosed with cancer gets put onto a very fast moving track of treatments by their doctor, if that's what they choose. They can be barraged by appointments and scans and surgeries, chemo and radiation, and hardly have time to regroup with themselves. An hour and a half of yoga can be just what they need to calm their very overstimulated nervous system. Taking the time to breathe, to move the body, to reflect and relax back into themselves...they will no doubt find the inner nourishment they need to continue with whatever form of treatments they are undergoing. Symptoms will find relief, as well as pain. Yoga, and Yin yoga have been proven to help with pain relief. Neurotransmitters (GABA and seratonin) are released, causing a 'feel good' effect. This can also help with better sleep, if performed a couple hours before bedtime. The perfect unwinding to a stressful day.

Yoga classes help ease the feeling of isolation that may be associated with having cancer. You may find yourself in a class with other cancer patients, and have a sense of connection... that you are all finding ways toward healing... together. That you all understand the value behind calming the nervous system by uniting with your breath, your body, and tranquility of mind.

For myself, personally, I practice yoga as a preventative measure and not just to ward off cancer. I practice to stay close to my energetic self and to stay calm in a world that is pretty amped up. I practice to notice my breath and participate actively with it. I practice to release my grief, my trauma, my sometimes overwhelming sensitivities (yes, I am a highly sensitive person), and to bring about more compassion, openness and more joy into my life. I believe that by doing this daily, I will continue to thrive. And, if for whatever reason the balance changes... well, I will just keep doing yoga with the trust that my body knows exactly what it is doing, and all I need to do is notice.

Sending big LOVE and healing out to all those who are living with cancer... stay in touch with yourself, and look for ways to find the deep energetic healing you need.

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