Yoga and cancer
A monograph on the much debated topic of yoga and cancer, on health, and how, awareness and education can bring health back into our lives. For a Yoga and cancer protocol, see the end of the article.
Is there a cure for cancer?
The jury, so to speak, is out on this one, and has been for some time.
In the meanwhile, using the framework of yoga, my own personal experience and the knowledge that surrounds us and has been part of human tradition since the beginning of time, here are a few thoughts.
As someone wise said, the best way to cure cancer, is to never get it. Prevention, the old English saying goes, is better than cure.
However, this is about those who have unfortunately got cancer, or who have thankfully got remission from it.
Yoga can help people with cancer.
Yoga is a philosophy, it is a process and it is also a set of actions, all at the same time.
YOGIC PRACTICES AND THEIR BENEFITS
Let us look at the actions first. And maybe leave the other two out for another time.
Yoga helps in many fundamental ways to get the body and mind to function as they are supposed to do. However, the practices are not what heal someone with cancer. The body has an inherent ability to heal, to repair, to take care of itself. This ability is optimized, enhanced, put into operation in the most efficient and superlative way. This is the process - yoga practices - body is freed up to do its job, to repair and heal - the person with cancer experiences relief. A protocol is suggested towards the end of the article.
Let us go further, and zoom in on the various practices.
The practice of yoga is commonly interpreted as the practice of Asanas (postures) and Pranayama (breathing techniques) and the practice of Dhyana (meditation). The more engrossed yogi will also practice Kriyas, or cleansing techniques. Yoga of course involves a change of habits, from a diverse and scattered life, to one of concentration and focus, economy and cultivation, of conservation of energy rather than the waste of it.
For someone detected with cancer, and whatever stage it is in, yoga can help.
Swami Vishnudevananda, who spread the Sivananda Yoga programme worldwide in the 1950s named after his master Swami Sivananda of Rishikesh, said famously – “Health is wealth. Peace of mind is happiness. Yoga shows the way.”
How can “yoga show the way” to better health for people with cancer?
Yoga practices are meant to bring a human being into equilibrium, and then boost the state of physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Let us look at a few of them, just as a curtain raiser. The vast universe of yoga cannot be expounded here, but a glimpse is indicated for those who are really interested.
Savasana or relaxation (usually guided relaxation) is a divine practice of recharging the human being. It is an excellent tonic to reduce physical and mental stress that comes with the diagnosis, prognosis, visits to the doctors, treatments invasive and otherwise, the struggles and the anxieties and worries of family and friends that sit not only on the already weakened shoulders of a patient but also in his or her heart.
Deep relaxation reduces pain, induces a calmer state of mind, and provides essential rest. Breathing becomes deeper and more rhythmic, the heart slows down, and catabolic, or decaying activity is reduced.
The longer version of Savasana, called Yoga Nidra, approaches relaxation slightly differently in technique, but with similar intentions.
Guided relaxation requires no special training, or equipment. Just lie on the back, be guided through 10 or fifteen minutes of complete stillness. That is all. The wonderful, much needed benefits will accrue!
Everyone can, and should practice Savasana every day, whether you have cancer or not!
The practice of Surya Namaskar, a series of gentle movements synchronized with the breath, provides the body wonderful, all round exercise. For those who are able to manage it during the treatment, and after, Surya Namaskar is a complete workout for the heart, the brain, the lungs and the entire body system. The most beneficial part of Surya Namaskar is its impact on circulation, helping detoxify the blood and in purifying it.
Asanas, or steady postures, are amazing in their presentation and magical in their results.
For example, Sarvanagasana, the Shoulderstand, is a pose where the body is inverted to gravity. From lymphatic edema in the legs, to the resting of the heart, and directing an extra flow of oxygen and blood to the brain, the practitioner has to just come into the pose, and stay there for a little while. Gravity will do it all. As the name suggests, Sarvangasana is for all parts of the body, and especially indicated for stimulating the thyroid gland in particular and all endocrine glands in general. It regulates the hormonal system, and brings about balance, so essential for a person with cancer.
There are thousands of Asanas, postures. Each of them, like Sarvangasana described above, come with profound benefits. Let us say that even 12 to 15 main postures can be practiced. That is enough. They will provide a complete rejuvenation of the skeletal, muscular, endocrine, cardiovascular, lymphatic, excretory, reproductive, nervous, and digestive and circulatory systems. Obviously, this is exactly what the yoga teacher would order for a person with cancer!
PRANAYAMA AND KRIYA
What about the practice of Kriyas and Pranayama?
Kapalabhati is a breathing practice where the practitioner expels the air from the lungs with a mild force repeatedly 40 to 80 times in one round. The name in Sanskrit indicates a shining face, or in other words, good health, for the practitioner. Kapalabhati is a Kriya (a cleansing technique), as well as a breathing practice at the same time. It cleanses the lungs, invigorates the breathing apparatus, cleans the sinuses and strengthens the lungs. The practice stimulates certain endocrine glands, especially the Thymus, which is a gland that helps build immunity. Kapalabhati also stimulates the digestive system, especially the liver, the pancreas and the stomach. Finally, this technique has an ability to calm the mind, by stimulating the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. As can be inferred, for someone with cancer, three rounds of Kapalabhati, each of 60, 70, 80 pumpings each, can have a profound positive impact on health.
There are six cleansing techniques, each with a deep and holistic science behind it, to help to reboot the human system. Regular practice of Kriyas under supervision will help a cancer patient develop the body’s natural ability to fight disease once more, by making it clean, new and toxin free.
Similarly, Pranayama (the control and regulation of Prana, or vital energy, through various methods, primary of them being specially designed breathing practices), is meant to raise the vibratory level of the practitioner.
Breathing techniques infuse a tremendous amount of life force into the body and mind. Starting with Naadi Shodhana (cleaning of the energy channels, corresponding to the nervous system at the level of physiology) to the energy seals (Bandhas), Pranayama is the PHD of yoga. It is a systematic and highly efficient ladder (you can even call it a super speed elevator!) to top up the energy tank and thereby counter any disease, including cancer.
There are many different kinds of Pranayama, and there are many different levels, and all of them have specific and long lasting benefits.
Pranayama reduces pain, induces deep sleep, elevates the mood, clears up the skin, improves the digestive power (called metabolism), reduces catabolism and increases anabolism, strengthens the nervous system, stimulates the functioning of autonomic system, improves the working of lungs, heart, diaphragm, abdomen, intestines, kidneys and pancreas, all body organs gets more oxygen, toxins are removed from body, and therefore the onset of various diseases is prevented. And the best part – it requires very little effort or space or time or will power to practice.
Meditation or Dhyana is a practice as well as a state. In a simple way, meditation is a state of calmness and peace that is beyond description, and something that everyone craves for. It is a practice that helps in all situations, especially when there is a lot of pain, suffering, anxiety and stress. Meditation is the culmination of various yoga practices, and helps to bind everything together. It internalizes and harnesses the power of yoga, and gives the practitioner a tremendous amount of energy, vitality, and equanimity.
No special background or qualification is necessary for meditation. Anyone can practice the art of sitting silently and still for a while. In time, the meditator will become adept, and established in meditation.
FAITH, RIGHT COMPANY AND ENVIRONMENT
Yoga also suggests and offers the very exact and high science of faith, devotion, prayer and good company. In a package called Kirtan, Mantra chanting, and Satsang, almost every human condition is addressed. People with cancer will find great relief and assurance on this path, commonly called Bhakti yoga.
In the Sivananda system, Swami Vishnudevananda encouraged Satsang to a very high degree. It is in Satsang, that a human being is able to let go of a feeling of ego and self-identification, and the pain that comes with it. Being in good company helps to relieve the personal nature of crisis, in this case cancer and helps a person to understand and share the larger meaning of life and its events. In Satsang a person is able to literally shed his or her personal burden and suffering, changing the bio-chemistry of the body, and begin a transformation back to perfect health.
Simmilarly, mantra chanting, in yoga, is a science of therapy in itself. It can be called the science of healing with sound, but it goes far beyond that. The energy vibrations, and the cycles are tuned to the most precise degree to promote healing and bring about well-being. Mantra chanting reduces pain, distracts (focusses) the mind away from suffering, reduces and eliminates fear, and heals the body at the cellular level. Mantra chanting changes breathing patterns and harmonizes the whole mind-body system, particularly the hormonal glands.
No particular background or qualification is necessary for mantra chanting, only a good mentor, some guidance, and a regular practice. In time (a very short time, maybe a matter of a few days), peace and steadiness will start enveloping the practitioner.
One very important aspect of yoga is proper diet. The guidelines are detailed, scientific, quite straightforward and highly beneficial for every practitioner, especially those with cancer. Yoga suggests a vegetarian diet, and even within this, a saatvik (or pure and peaceful) selection.
Fresh vegetables, fruits, unprocessed cereals, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and cow’s milk and ghee, herbs and mild spices, and organic honey are included.
On the unwelcome wish list is meat and fish and eggs, stale and processed and packaged food, oil of every kind, cheese, sugar, alcohol and tobacco. Even overeating is considered extremely unwelcome, as are overcooked and long-stored food items.
Abstinence, as well as fasting are part of therapy and rejuvenation, applicable as much for someone of normal health and even more so for a person who has cancer. Fasting is a highly evolved art in yoga. Particular times of the year are better for fasting than others, and for people with cancer, a certain kind of fast, appropriate for the body and mind situation is recommended. Fasting, if properly conducted under supervision, can save lives, and is one of the most beneficial treatments for a person with cancer.
There are a few other Yogic viewpoints as well.
It is essential to find a good teacher, and a proper lineage. Yoga is not a treatment programme or a science of healing. It is a spiritual tradition of living the best possible life and fulfilling human potential and destiny. A side benefit is radiant health and well-being. Yoga is a gift from the Gurukula tradition, a Guru Shisya parampara, of teacher and student living together, learning together and achieving together. Yoga is a realized science, it is a revealed science. Yoga came to human beings in deep meditation, as a panacea and method of having a divine life on earth. It is a shining beacon for ending human suffering, and having everlasting peace and happiness.
It is sacred while being practical at the very same moment.
For this, a mentor or a guide, and all guiding principles are necessary.
Yoga should be practiced at the right time, in a proper environment, and with the right kind of knowledge, understanding, precautions and process, and for a long time, under the stewardship of an able teacher.
The most important part of any healing, any cultivation is trust, faith, belief and commitment. As doctors say, patient cooperation is essential to help the treatment. A practitioner has to be fully accepting of yoga, and its various tenets, for its complete benefits to be available. In all of this, the student of yoga is the most important.
There are contraindications for all practices, and especially so when a person is going through cancer and the current course of treatments as suggested by modern medicine. It is best that the person works with a highly trained yoga teacher for specific modifications to a general yoga programme.
WHAT IS THE VERDICT?
While the jury is still out while this article was compiled, written and completed, one thing is for sure – yoga is always good, whatever state of life you are in at the moment.
Yoga gives hope, resilience, energy, a positive view, mental and physical strength and stamina, and ultimately the dignity and freedom we all seek, both in life, in health, in disease, and in death.
Yoga moves the practitioner from sadness and despair to hope and joy, from fear and restlessness to courage and fortitude, from pain and suffering to acceptance and freedom and from darkness to everlasting light.
Let us all practice yoga.
Let us start today.
Let us start now.
Om tat sat.
(Arun Pandala, Yoga Acharya (Master of Yoga) is one of the senior-most Sivananda Yoga teachers in India. He has been practicing the Sivananda Yoga system since 1992 and teaching Yoga since 1995 (25th year).
He holds an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher ERYT 500 certification from Yoga Alliance, USA.
He has also been the Secretary of the Technical Committee, and member of the Advisory, Steering committees, and various task forces since 2014, for Quality Council of India’s Yoga Professionals Certification project, which aims to create world standards for Yoga.
Currently, he is part of the Indian Yoga Association's pioneering project on creating a syllabus and curriculum for common standards for Yoga teachers certification by yoga schools in India and around the world.
He is the joint Founder of Sivananda Yoga Centre, Gurgaon, which runs seven yoga centres, over 30 yoga classes every day, yoga retreats and teacher training courses and corporate yoga training, and has taught yoga to over 50000 people over the past 15 years.)
YOGA FOR CANCER PROTOCOL
The yoga for cancer protocol is given below. The protocol is general in nature. Positive results can always be expected with yoga. However, for the best results, have an experienced teacher to guide you step-by-step though all the practices, and the changes required to be made.
A healing protocol for those with cancer
DIET (SAATVIK, VEGETARIAN, RESTRICTED)
Early and light dinner by around 6.00 pm
Breakfast after 16 hours, at 10 am
Only two main meals in the day
In between, a fruit, or a cup of tea may be had
All animal protein, including dairy to be avoided (vegetarian, saatvik food)
Avoid the intake of oil completely until the condition improves
Avoid all packaged and stored food, and avoid the use of plastic for storage, or have food that comes stored in plastic
Increase the intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, avoid uncooked food, and have simple, but wholesome meals. It is best to have unprocessed raw material, like whole grains and cereals, fruits and vegetables with skin, and seasonally available eatables.
Have turmeric in half a small glass of fresh cow’s milk, boiled really well, with two pepper corns crushed and added, before bedtime.
Have Chyawanprasah, procured from a traditional pharmacy, or made at home (not available commercially in stores ) first thing in the morning on empty stomach. Amla (Indian Gooseberry), the main ingredient in Chyawanprash, like turmeric, is medicinal in its properties. It helps in improving immunity and rejuvenation of tissues.
Fasting is recommended and highly beneficial. Unsupervised fasts can be for a maximum of one, or two days. A fast is complete rest for the digestive system. It can be from one breakfast to another, that is 24 hours, and just water can be consumed. If that is difficult, a whole day of just fruits can be observed. The eating times being the same as above.
For those who can practice yoga, a 60 minutes routine of the Sivananda class, or even a 90 minutes routine will bring great relief. Set aside a specific time and place to practice every day. For those who cannot practice the asanas, the practice of pranayama for 30 to 60 minutes is the alternative.
For the 60 minutes version click here
For the 90 minutes version click here
Apart from Kapalabati, a person with cancer, under supervision, and if advised, can practice Jal neti, Agnisaar, and Basti (Yogic enema). The kriyas can be practiced daily until the condition improves, or as suggested by the supervisor. Agnisaar improves the digestive fire, and overall constitution, and Basti improves the functioning of the colon in particular, and the digestive system in general.
Mantra chanting and kirtan - 15 to 30 minutes. Here is the Jaya Ganesha kirtan from our archive
Pranayama practice - 60 minutes version, click here
Satsang - 30 minutes
Yoga nidra - 30 minutes
Meditation - 10 to 30 minutes
Reading 30 minutes
Questions on what to read? I will be happy to send you a reading list, as well as a compilation on videos to watch and people in the alternative therapy and medical fraternity to follow around the world. Send me a mail on email@example.com. You can also contact me on +91 9810645850
The yoga and cancer slideshow. Some pictures carry relevant captions.