Everyone is touched by cancer. If not ourselves we all have a family member or a friend who has had to face this dreaded disease. The very mention of cancer instills fear. It is a disease that attacks the body, disrupts the mind and grips at the very fabric of our soul.
I know firsthand. I’m a cancer survivor. So is my mother, my father and my husband. I grew up with cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was a young child. I remember her leaving for the hospital and the long recovery time until my mother was once again able to care for her children. She recovered. However, she never let a day go by or a problem arise without reminding us to be grateful for our health. That message never truly hit home until the day I was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo a radical surgery and long recovery.
It is like a hammer comes down from nowhere and hits you on the head and you say to yourself, “I might not get through this one.” “Why me?” But with good health care and a little luck you might just dodge the bullet of time and live on. But the living is different. There is a realization that we are all immortal beings. There is also the realization that if a problem arises and you can fix it, you don’t have a problem. A real problem is unfixable. Life will always flow onward with ups and downs. But that’s OK because life is a gift. It would be meaningless if we could not see both sides of the coin. Its’ not something we should squandered or fretted about. Life is a lesson. We are only here on earth to learn, know and master.
Exercise is one of the wonderful tools that we can use to both support and rebuild our health. The body primarily relies on good nutrition, exercise, sleep, water, sunshine and fresh air for life and health. When we undergo cancer treatments the body is insulted with radiation, chemotherapy and loss of function through surgery. All of these severely stress the body. Therefore, what the body needs to rebuild itself is all the “good stuff.” Exercise is one of the good stuff.
Why exercise? Because exercise has been shown to support immune functioning and it is the immune system that is compromised during and after cancer treatments. The immune system is part of the circulatory system.
Circulation and respiration are essential parts of a well-functioning body. The circulatory system is stimulated by movement. That is one of the reasons exercise is so beneficial. This transport system brings important nutrients to the organs of our body and this supports life. The problems come when circulation is limited because the body is too laden down with toxins, such as excess fat, infections or toxic chemicals.
Part of the circulatory system is the lymphatic system. Its primary role is to stimulate the spleen and the thymus into releasing lymph, a clear colorless fluid containing white blood cells that help to detoxify the body and support immune functioning. It is the lymphatic system that actually detoxifies the body.
The lymphatic system has no heart to pump the lymph fluid through its vessels .The lymph fluid is driven through the vessels when the vessels are squeezed by the movement of the body. So in fact, exercise and especially yoga, is good for supporting health during and post cancer treatment.
Another reason that exercise is so good is that it gives us an element of control and something that can be easily done with tremendous results. Fear is a major factor when it comes to cancer. Yoga teaches that there are three basic fears. All other fears spring from these three. They are the fear of not being accepted, not being loved and the fear of dying. Yoga reminds us that we are here on earth as infinite divine energy. In this, we are all accepted and loved by the divine nature of life. Because we are infinite energy, life is never lost, it simply changes form. Yoga is about letting of our fears and learning to live fully in each and every moment of life.
So in yoga we use meditation, breath, the philosophy and the poses to instill a sense of balance and health in body, mind and spirit. This can ease fear and give an individual a sense of control.
Twisting poses such as Half Lord of the Fish and Seated Twist really work to move the lymphatic system and this pushes lymph through the body bringing the white blood cells that are need for healing. Poses like Down Dog and Triangle also help the circulatory system do its job. Warrior and Plank are weight bearing poses and as such push blood that is rich in calcium to our bones.
Yoga breathing assists the respiratory system. The respiratory system’s role is to supply the blood with oxygen so that the blood can supply oxygen to other parts of the body. When we breathe we inhale life sustaining oxygen and when we exhale we release waste or carbon dioxide.
We breathe through the mouth, nose, trachea, lungs and diaphragm. The diaphragm is responsible for about 45% of the air that enters the lungs during quiet breathing. Yoga and meditation teach us how to sit tall, give the diaphragm plenty of room to move, and focus on deep quiet breathes so that we both relax and at the same time allow for a fresh flow of oxygen to enter the body and support health. The deep exhale then allows the body to dispel waste.
Deep quiet breathing reduces stress and reducing stress is a major factor when it comes to cancer recovery and remission.
It is important to sit tall, lifting the rib cage and giving the diaphragm plenty of room to move. A simple yoga pose to use for breathing is called Lightning Bolt or Hero’s Pose. This pose is done sitting on our heels with the knees bent. We pull in at the solar plexus or belly area and lift tall.
Then I ask my students to imagine they are making a cup. With one hand I ask them to draw to themselves peace and with the other contentment. For when we are at peace and when we are content our cup is always full. We then close our eyes and focus on taking three deep long breathes. The mind becomes quiet because it is focused on breathing and not thinking. Then we sit quiet for a moment. It only takes a moment to find peace and serenity.
Yoga is a wonderful form of exercise for cancer recovery and remission. It gently moves the body into healthy healing poses while reminding us to focus and breathe. It helps to reduce stress and quiet a fearful mind. But most of all it reminds all of us that life is precious. Taking the time to honor and support our health is the greatest healer of all. The human spirit is infinite and strong. Willpower is a mighty force and gratitude humbles us all. We are all here on earth for a brief walk. Make the most of each moment.
As long as there is movement there is life. So get up and move! Dance and sing! Life has given you a gift…another day.
Leonard Cohen in the Anthem sings, “ Ring the bell that rings. Don’t look for the perfect offering. There’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
Namaste – may you go with health, happiness and peace.