Therapeutic application of Yoga in life limiting illnesses

Benefits of Yoga for Life limiting Illnesses

How Yoga Can Benefit Those Suffering from Life Limiting Illness

Yoga has been used throughout the centuries to boost physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, yet new findings are constantly revealing hitherto unknown benefits of this millenary practice. One area in which yoga is gaining ground is as a complementary therapy for many life limiting illnesses that push body, mind and spirit to sometimes unbearable limits. Whether patients are suffering from HIV, cancer or heart disease, they often share core obstacles that need to be overcome so that they can enjoy the maximum quality of life possible: these include stress and anxiety, pain, and fatigue. In this article we discuss just a few of the most interesting findings on the positive effects yoga can bestow on those suffering from chronic and serious illness:

  • Yoga Battles Stress and Increases Vitality In Women Receiving Radiotherapy for Breast Cancer: Chronically high levels of stress can reduce the likelihood of positive outcomes for patients suffering from serious illness, yet it is difficult not to feel anxious or even depressed when diagnosed with diseases like cancer or heart disease. A recent study on a group of women receiving radiotherapy for breast cancer found that the regular practice of yoga reduced levels of stress hormone, cortisol, and also led to lower levels of fatigue. For women undergoing strong treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, fatigue is often a major stumbling block when it comes to performing necessary exercise and moving about; yoga is an ideal activity that can be adapted to all levels; likewise, it can stop those who are ill from becoming obese owing to a lack of physical activity, since yoga burns calories and promotes joint and bone strength.
  • Yoga Boosts the Immunity: From the moment that one is diagnosed with HIV, protecting one’s immunity becomes a key goal. One recent study sought to investigate the effect of integrated yoga practices on immune responses of a group of participants suffering from stress. Yoga was found to control the negative factors associated with stress, such as an increased heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, etc. Not only did yoga curb these effects, it also buffered the negative effects of stress on the immunity of cells. Yet another study carried out at the University of Oslo involved 10 participants, who took a one-week yoga retreat to practice yoga postures, pranayamic breathing and meditation. When scientists examined their blood before and after the yoga sessions, they found that yoga changed the expression of 11 genes in circulating immune cells; music and walking, on the other hand, changed the expression of only 38 genes. Yoga has also been found to aid immunity by curbing the immune system’s inflammation response  i.e. if stress increases inflammation, yoga curbs it, which is good news considering that inflammation is linked to a host of serious diseases, including heart disease and cancer.
  • Yoga Helps with Pain: Often, one of the most difficult symptoms of life-limiting illnesses, is pain. Yoga has been found to help with pain (lower back pain, migraines, etc.), thus reducing the need to rely on addictive painkillers, which often have serious side-effects. Yoga can also help soothe muscular pain, by gently stretching and strengthening tight muscles and promoting circulation throughout the body.
  • Yoga helps patients feel in control: Patients suffering from life limiting illness are usually subject to a host of rules regarding food intake, medication, etc. Yoga is one special place in which they can redeem a sense of control over their body and mind, and feel in touch with their body and its needs. As they build up their confidence and fitness levels, their self-confidence grows exponentially.
  • Yoga helps patients get a better night’s sleep: If pain and anxiety are two big challenges for those with life limiting illnesses, so is a good night’s sleep. Since yoga reduces stress levels and helps with pain, it enables practitioners to get the rest they need. One recent study showed that women who participated in yoga classes for eight weeks were able to significantly improve the quality of their sleep.
  • Yoga vs atherosclerosis: A study published in the Journal of the Association of Physicians of India found that yoga halts progression and increases regression of coronary atherosclerosis in patients suffering from severe coronary heart disease.

Yoga has many more benefits, the extent to which can perhaps only be discovered by taking part in a yoga class yourself. If you have  life limiting illness, speak to your doctor or therapist about your intention to do yoga and experience the life affirming powers of this beautiful practice.

Contributed by Jenni Falconer

jenni@calibri.org