By Susan Whitaker
“The real meaning of yoga is to discover our real condition, no matter what it is.” This is a comment from a recent conference that I attended on Yoga, Massage, and Acupuncture at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. It was incredibly rich and inspiring, based on ongoing scientific studies about how yoga can improve health and support the body as it battles cancer. Many studies have found that the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, such as sleep loss, lymphedema, fatigue, and other conditions can be helped with yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture. The information was a graceful blend of science and spirit.
The staff and presenters spoke of the need to bring more depth into treatment, more openness into the whole process, and more understanding of how people can find help and support when they are working to get healthy again. There were also heart-expanding stories told by cancer survivors who used mind-body therapies to help the medical process as their lives were interrupted by the disease. We were encouraged to approach yoga by teaching about the life force through breathing and opening the upper body. “It’s the feeling you get through yoga that’s the most important.” The process of meditation is also a way to tune in to what’s going on within. When you begin an in-depth practice like yoga or meditation, there can be great beginnings.
I also learned that disease begins in the energetic field before it manifests in the physical being. It seems to be a combination of both hereditary and environmental factors, but no one really knows how, when or why cancer can appear. We can begin to support the body-mind in small ways just as a matter of lifestyle; looking at how we eat, how we deal with stress, adding yoga and meditation to our days, and learning to relax.
Begin with small things, like breathing deeply several times a day. Doing 5-10 minutes of yoga daily or meditating for 5 minutes in the morning are greatly supportive to the immune system. Go for a walk or a swim and enjoy Nature. If you already have a yoga practice, good for you! Keep it going. As one teacher said, ” There are 84,000 ways to get back home.” Invite yourself to open up your heart and mind to the possibility that no matter what’s happening in your life, you can meet it, adjust to it, and practice breathing. For many of us, a cancer diagnosis opens the eyes to what really matters and a desire to ask for what we really need. It’s good to know that support is out there.
The Integrative Medicine Center at M.D. Anderson offers services similar to those at Wellness Within, such as yoga, nutrition, massage, support groups, expressive arts, music therapy, and more. I’m so grateful to be part of a program here that I know will enrich the lives of those who are suffering. Yoga is a way to acknowledge the inner wellness when everything else seems to be out of balance.