Yoga proves its worth in the battle against childhood cancer

Article by Phil Smulian

Yoga has got over its handicap as a celebrity trend and regained its respectability as a physical, mental and spiritual discipline. It has also gained ground as a complementary treatment option for a number of diseases, most notably cancer. As a recent study shows, yoga has benefits for adult and children cancer patients, as well as their immediate families.

The study was conducted at the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, USA and the findings were published in the September/October 2010 edition of Journal of Paediatric Oncology Nursing. According to the study, teenage cancer sufferers who practiced yoga twice a week were less anxious and experienced a greater sense of well-being than cancer patients who didn’t attend yoga classes.

For a long time, knowledge of yoga’s healing benefits was largely anecdotal with very little scientific evidence to prove it. These days, greater share of research budgets is being released for studies into alternative therapies, which means that yoga, acupuncture and shiatsu are finally being given the recognition they deserve.

The trend is more pronounced in developed countries, where some of the most prominent cancer treatment centres have started offering yoga as a complementary therapy to provide a more holistic approach to treatment. Most studies have been done with breast and prostate cancer patients but the Minnesota study demonstrates that a wider view is now being considered.

The effect of yoga on the disease itself has not yet been properly determined, although it is considered to be negligible. The primary benefits of yoga relate to quality of life. For instance, a 2007 study by Alyson Moadel (Albert Einstein College of Medicine) on the effects of yoga in breast cancer patients revealed that yoga improves patients’ social and emotional well-being. Yoga also has physical benefits, as patients report quicker recovery after chemotherapy sessions and increased stamina and strength to carry out every day activities.

A ccording to a study by the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute, there are several factors which influence the degree to which yoga helps cancer sufferers, namely: the patients themselves, the location, type, and progression of the cancer and the type and stage of treatment.

In addition to suffering less fatigue related to radiation therapy and chemotherapy and increased resilience and stress-coping capabilities, patients who practice yoga experience improved immune functioning, improved mood and improved sleep patterns and suffer less chronic pain.

Yoga and children

Yoga has numerous benefits for children: it builds physical strength and improves flexibility and coordination; it enhances self-awareness and self-esteem; it teaches self-discipline; and provides healthy coping mechanisms through meditation and breathing techniques.

All of these benefits are even more important for children battling cancer, as their immune systems are compromised and they have more emotional and mental stress to cope with than the average child. The greatest benefits are gained when children practice yoga with their parents, as it strengthens the parent/child bond and provides some common ground on which teenage cancer patients and their parents can relate.

Interestingly, children between the ages of seven and twelve don’t seem to derive the same benefits from yoga as teenagers. This could be for a number of reasons, all of which need further study. But from a layman’s perspective, it could be that these children don’t yet have the maturity to realise the full impact of their disease, or to benefit from the calming effects of yoga. Older children are more aware of what’s at stake and are more likely to take their yoga practice seriously to experience all the benefits. Perhaps, the younger cancer suffers are when the start yoga, the greater the long-term impact will be, as their bodies and minds receive greater conditioning.

Shakta Kaur Khalsa, who has been practicing yo ga for o ver 30 years and is something of an expert on children’s yoga, says: “Children are naturally radiant, aware, and full of innocent wisdom. Yoga helps them maintain their natural radiance, or if their light has been dulled by events in their lives, it helps them regain their inherent state of being.”

Is that not even more true for children who have cancer?

About the Author

Phil writes about health for the South African travel & adventure directory, Leeulekker.

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