Top 5 benefits of yoga therapy for cancer care

By Laura Kupperman

Ample scientific literature supports the benefits of yoga for cancer care, pointing toward improvements in quality of life, well-being, sleep, strength, and energy. Studies also show diminished anxiety, depression, stress, PTSD symptoms, heart rate, and more. (If you’re interested in the research, this is a great place to start, and yogatherapy.health lists relevant studies, too.)

What I’d like to share with you here, though, are the benefits I’ve witnessed, and experienced, personally. Since 2005, I’ve offered yoga to hundreds of women and men diagnosed with cancer, as well as trained other teachers how to do so safely. Over and over, I’ve been awed and humbled by the positive effects of integrating yoga therapy into cancer care. And as a 15+ year cancer survivor myself, I’ve also been on the receiving end of everything I’m sharing with you.

Here then, are my top five benefits of incorporating yoga therapy into cancer care.

  1. Befriending and supporting your post-diagnosis body. The physical side of cancer treatment may include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, transplant, hormone therapy, and immunotherapy. Even under the best of circumstances, your body likely will have been poked, prodded, and cut, resulting in asymmetries, imbalances, weakness, and tightness. Yoga therapy can help you gently explore your body’s “new normal” so you can safely begin to address these side-effects.
  2. Breathing deeply. Breath is a central pillar of yoga therapy, and the breath is never more important than when you’ve received a life-changing diagnosis. When you breathe deeply you massage your internal organs, improve lymphatic flow, and help calm your nervous system, among other benefits.
  3. Standing up straight. This one sounds basic, but think about it: If you’ve ever had a bad cold, all you want to do is curl up in the fetal position and lie on the couch. Multiply that by 20 with a cancer diagnosis and by 100 if you’ve had surgery in your chest, and you may end up walking around like Quasimodo. Adopting a slumped, heart-protective posture is totally normal under the circumstances, but your organs and glands function best when they’re not mushed together. Chemotherapy and other treatments exact quite a toll on many body parts, and we need to support their health by giving the
    m the space to work. There’s a reason the “Wonder Woman Power Pose” (shown to increase confidence and pain tolerance) involves standing up straight, and yoga therapy can you help experience this power for yourself.
  4. Paying attention to the present moment. If you’ve been diagnosed with cancer you may be spending a lot of time in your head. Pondering treatment options and incessantly thinking about “what if” can both create stress and rob you of the present moments that are still yours to enjoy. Yoga therapy can teach you how to mindfully engage with what is actually happening in the present moment, and take a vacation from mind chatter. Doesn’t that sound great?
  5. Making peace with whatever is, or isn’t. Yogic philosophy is rooted in helping practitioners find peace of mind. One of the best definitions of yoga I’ve heard is “the ability to make peace with whatever is or isn’t happening in your life.” Let’s face it—cancer sucks. Nobody asks to be dealt that hand of cards. But it’s also true that there are ways of experiencing an illness that can increase suffering, and other paths that can help decrease suffering. Yoga therapy is a terrific path for learning how to decrease suffering.

Many students I’ve worked with over the years began their yoga practices after completing chemotherapy or other treatment, and the one comment I repeatedly hear is, “Why didn’t I start this sooner?!” So regardless of whether you’ve tried yoga before, my encouragement to you is DON’T WAIT. If you want individualized support from a caring professional who has the tools to help you start feeling better now, it’s time to check out yoga therapy.

Laura Kupperman, MA, C-IAYT, is a yoga therapist specializing in yoga for people with cancer. She also trains others to work with cancer survivors, presents at medical conferences on the benefits of yoga for cancer wellness, and serves as a business coach for other wellness professionals.

What Are the Benefits of Yoga for Men? | Power Yoga Blog

Specifically, What Are the Health Benefits of Yoga for Men?

Whether it’s Power Yoga or Hot Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga or Flow, Yin or Restorative, whether it’s physical or mental (meditative), the benefits are most likely more than we even know. Yet so many of these benefits are obvious and need to be addressed, as it seems men are much less likely to participate in yoga than women, even though they both benefit equally and yoga is such a great counter-balance to the male mentality and the common male fitness regime.

I think of man as aggressive, compared to women who are more passive, and this is not a judgement, as both these qualities (yin and yang) have purpose and value, and both these qualities create physical and mental tendencies. These tendencies in males tend to be very cognitive, competitive and domineering. These qualities have their evolutionary benefits, yet also pose some health consequences. Yoga was created to channel these benefits in a benevolent direction, while nullifying the consequences. The aggressiveness of males can lead to aggressive activities which will ultimately break the body down, leading to the opposite of any goal of health and wellness, just like an aggressive mind state is certainly a precursor to stress and tension.  The leading cause of premature death for men in our country in heart disease, of which stress is a leading factor, as well as stress being responsible for 80% of disease (according to the American Medical Association).

Mindfulness is Stronger Than Aggression

Seeing the obvious, that the harder you are on anything the faster you destroy it, the mindful practices of yoga and meditation can bring awareness to the male tendencies of aggression and dominance, which may have their place on occasion but also can be seriously out of place on occasion.

This awareness creates choice, and this choice is golden, as this choice can be a decision that these tendencies, qualities or mind states are inappropriate in a particular situation. This is a pathway to less conflict and more harmony, which leads to less stress and more wellness physically as well as mentally. It’s kind of like you become the captain of your own ship as you are now steering yourself as opposed to being steered by genetic tendencies, learned behaviors and testosterone. The high testosterone, aggressiveness and competitiveness translate easily to physical tension which is the precursor of many other physical issues, whether it’s skeletal displacement, decrease in range of motion, or muscular and connective tissue injury.

A well-rounded yoga regime can nullify these harmful effects through mindful stretching, which will dissolve the tension without injury, due to the lack of aggressiveness and competitiveness, increase circulation to every nook and cranny, due to the multiplicity of movement which is the prerequisite for regeneration and create tone, suppleness, cardio, stamina and balance, rendering yoga the most complete exercise I’ve ever known. This is just a fraction of yoga’s health benefits and its health benefits for men as well as women.

Ultimately, for most men and women we want not the biggest muscles, strongest cardio, loosest hamstring and thinnest waist. We want the best exercise defined by the highest degree of vitality, wellness and peacefulness. Remember, Power Yoga unlike most other exercises does not want to change you, it wants to care for you! If this is you, try Power Yoga or any other yoga you are drawn to.

The Benefits of Yoga for Runners | SELF

“Down Dog,” the teacher says. It’s the last one of class; by now my body is dripping in sweat and my muscles are particularly loose. With 10 minutes until beloved Savasana, I know which pose is coming next.

“Lift your right leg to the sky and pull it through for Sleeping Pigeon. Keep your right thigh parallel to the mat, and make sure your foot stays flexed.”

I glide my foot forward just as she says, anticipating what I’m about to feel. Sleeping Pigeon, a deep hip opener, is one of those love-hate poses for lots of yoga enthusiasts, but I presume even more so for runners like myself who have notoriously tight hips. I bend forward, the yoga pose directly targeting the part of my body that always feels like it’s taking the brunt of my daily runs on road or trail. I inhale deeply, trying to watch my exhale like the teacher often suggests, as I feel the effects of my 50-mile week.

I’ve been a runner for 15 years and a yoga practitioner for two. In those two years, yoga has become an irreplaceable complement to my training. When I started doing yoga more regularly (three to four times a week) I simultaneously became both stronger and faster. I’m not sure yoga can take all the credit, but I know it must deserve some.

Yoga can strengthen particular muscle groups that may get neglected when you run.

To find out, I hopped on the phone with one of my favorite yoga teachers from Colorado, Peter Michaelsen. With a B.A. in yoga studies from Naropa University, I figured he’d know a thing or two about how the practice might benefit other runners like me.

“One of the things that running does in our body is strengthen particular muscle groups,” he says. Most runners primarily use their quads and hamstrings, he says, which over time can lead to fatigue and pain from overuse. It can also lead to imbalances: If you’re only ever working a few muscle groups, other areas may end up a lot weaker and more prone to aches and injuries.

This makes sense to me; before I did yoga I often experienced lower back pain, which was due to a lack of hip mobility and core strength. I’m happy to say that doing yoga regularly has helped with this discomfort.

“Yoga is comprehensive,” Michaelsen adds. When you do this sort of total-body strengthening work, it can have a big impact on your running. “You can become faster because your [core] is [contributing to your run] as much as your legs, and your shoulders are now helping your arms swing.” Yoga helps get the whole body involved while running, he says.

Like any good patient (and writer), I decided to get a second opinion. I spoke with yoga instructor and running coach Cara Gilman. She was an all-in marathon runner until she suffered consecutive injuries and found her way onto a yoga mat. Interestingly, she echoed many of Michaelsen’s statements:

“Yoga is a great way to activate the muscles we don’t typically use when running alone,” she confirms. “As runners, we’re not used to activating our glutes and hips. Many key poses and postures in yoga force us to strengthen those muscles.”

Gilman asked if I ever found standing in one-legged postures in yoga, like Warrior III and Airplane, particularly challenging. I shake my head vigorously, saying yes. The reason, she suggests, is because those poses require me to use my hips and glutes, muscles that are often a runner’s biggest weakness.

It also helps to increase range of motion—something many runners may need to work on.

I wanted to run this concept by someone who wasn’t a yoga instructor. I was curious to hear from someone who was trained in exercise physiology.

Enter Alex Harrison, Ph.D., a sport performance coach who works with triathletes, runners, and weightlifters. I wanted to know: If a runner only runs, what happens? And how could inserting different types of movement—such as yoga—impact their performance?

Harrison explains that devout runners will most likely have limited ranges of motion for doing non-running kinds of movements. This is because when we run, our bodies are only moving forward and backward (also called the sagittal plane). This means that moving in other ways, say, laterally to do a side lunge, or diagonally to do a wood chop, might feel difficult and unfamiliar. If you only ever run and don’t do exercises that get you moving in other directions, you end up not only overworking the muscles you are using but also making it difficult to move in other ways, potentially increasing your risk of injury on the rare occasions you do.

This is where yoga comes in; it requires the body to move in frontal and transverse planes in poses like twists, lunges, and Warrior II.

Still, I wondered (and asked): So what? How does having better hip mobility and a larger range of motion affect my running performance? Harrison argues that a larger range of motion might not make you faster, but it will certainly help you avoid injury. That’s because if we’re used to staying stuck in one type of motion, any small change we make to our running form, from wearing new shoes to opening up our legs during strides, can cause the body to go beyond our typical range of motion, which could lead to strains, sprains, and tears galore. When you’re more used to working in a broader range, there’s less of a chance you’ll do something outside of your body’s capabilities.

Learning to breathe mindfully in the studio may also help you on a run.

OK, so the muscle stuff made sense to me. But you can arguably target ignored muscle groups and planes of movement with other activities besides yoga. So I wanted to dig deeper and find out: What other benefits can yoga provide runners that you can’t necessarily find in a weight room?

One particularly interesting physical benefit of yoga for runners has to do with breathing. I’m a big fan of Baptiste Yoga, which emphasizes ujjayi breathing, in which you inhale and exhale out of your nose. Many forms of yoga utilize specific breathing techniques, teaching you how to breathe in a purposeful way. “There is a focus on diaphragm breathing and expanding your lungs and the space around your chest,” says Michaelsen.

This can be helpful for a few reasons, says Marta Montenegro, M.S., C.S.C.S., adjunct professor of exercise science at Florida International University in Miami. When you focus on your breathing pattern during exercise, you’re actively connecting your mind and your body. This, she says, will help you better control your respiration rate, so you can maintain your pace for longer. Being acutely aware of your breathing (and not just zoning out for the duration of your run) will also get you focusing on other things like your body positioning and core engagement, both of which can help you run more efficiently.

“Also, yoga focuses on working the core, and the respiratory muscles are part of the core,” says Montenegro. When these muscle are stronger, it takes longer for them to tire out. “If yoga is training you to keep your core engaged and your respiratory muscles expanding and contracting, you will use less energy doing those things and that will improve your running economy.”

The mental benefits of yoga can help you stay focused when things get challenging.

I would argue I’ve personally experienced more mental gains from yoga than physical ones. As a runner, my mental game used to always be my biggest weakness; my brain would give up way before my body. During a race, as soon as I started feeling fatigued, I’d convince myself why it was OK to ease up and not chase a new PR. Instead of embracing a runner’s beloved nemesis—the pain cave—I ran (slowly) away from it. Yet my normal yoga practice has forced me to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, through sitting in the poses that incorporate a lot of hamstrings or core strength, focused on just noticing what it feels like versus reacting to the discomfort and trying to get out of it. This has translated to my running; now when I traverse up hills, I notice where my mind is going versus freaking out right away and slowing my pace down to that of a snail’s.

“Your body is capable of doing so much more than the mind thinks. In yoga, we try to be in each breath, which is like being in each step of a running practice. That’s the freedom of the ‘now, here’ moment. Not the one we think is going to come up in a mile or two from now,” Michaelsen says.

Another basic element of the mind-practice in yoga is concentration, or directing our mental awareness in a certain direction. “The mental component with yoga translates to all parts of our life, but especially when things start to get tough,” Michaelsen describes. In his words, the practice of yoga brings us to more of a central space of listening.

Gilman says that mental strength from yoga is crucial when it comes to running. “Your mental game during speed work, a hill workout, or balancing in half-moon pose [hinges on] what you’re thinking while these things are happening. [Yoga] allows you to practice mindfulness and to simply show up, no matter how hard a hill or holding a pose may be.”

You can add yoga to your routine in a couple different ways.

Yoga can definitely be a great item in a runner’s toolbox for both your physical and mental self. I for one have found immense value in it, and have more mobile muscles and mind because of it. There are so many different types of yoga too—from restorative Yin to vigorous vinyasa—so don’t hesitate to try a few different styles out to see what works for you, your body, and your training schedule.

Whether you’re a newbie or seasoned yogi, Gilman recommends that runners hit their yoga mats two to three times a week. The best part? Every class is guaranteed to end in Savasana.