Yoga and Breast Cancer

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Understanding Yoga

The word yoga means "to unite," signifying a way of life favorable to union of creation (soul) with the creator (Lord). The primary role of yoga is to help a yogi (a practitioner of yoga) attain salvation. Mental and physical well being are secondary benefits to a yogi. Yoga can be practiced in various ways. Hatha yoga focuses on the use of various bodily postures to promote physical and mental health. Karma yoga focuses on the principle of good actions. Jnana yoga uses mental discipline to lead a simple life. Raja yoga uses both physical postures and mental discipline. Bhakti yoga seeks union with the Lord through force of love. Once all of these forms of yoga are mastered, a yogi gets ready for the highest form of yoga, better known as shabd yoga (meditation), or yoga of divine word. Some yogis start with shabd yoga, which lays fertile ground for the other forms of yoga. A true yogi is one who is able to live a balanced life with the practice of yoga. 

The Positive Effects of Yoga

Various high-quality research studies performed worldwide have shown specific benefits of yoga for women with breast cancer. Yoga has been demonstrated to reduce self-reported depression among women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, which in turn reduced symptom severity and improved the patient’s tolerance to therapy. Yoga has also been shown to improve quality of life among breast cancer survivors. The practice of yoga can result in better control of menopausal symptoms, especially among women on anti-estrogen therapy. A yogi breast cancer survivor may also have improved mental abilities and processes (cognition), as well as reduced fatigue and anxiety. All these outcomes were found to be greater when meditation (shabd yoga) was practiced along with physical exercise (hatha yoga). 

Considering these proven positive effects of yoga for women with breast cancer, it is also reasonable to recognize the possible role of yoga in preventing breast cancer. It is well-known that exercise and weight loss are two independent risk-reducing strategies for breast cancer. Therefore, a yogi, by virtue of living a healthy lifestyle, should be able to better achieve both weight control and exercise goals, resulting in a lower lifetime risk of breast cancer.

A Way of Life

Yoga is neither a religion, nor a simple 20-minute encounter with a personal trainer. It is a wholesome way of living life that can be easily practiced under the supervision of a yogi. A yogi may start her day with a few minutes of shabd yoga (meditation), followed by hatha yoga (exercise or stretching). This routine inspires healthy eating habits (jnana yoga) and a full day of hard work (karma yoga), interspersed with a few breaths of mindfulness (bhakti yoga) here and there.