Yoga Does a Body Good


Rhonda Smith Breast Cancer Survivor

By: Rhonda Smith Founder Breast Cancer Partner.

Recently, I was enjoying a morning sunrise meditation on the beach and I met a woman practicing yoga not far from me. I suspected that she was in her last 50s or so, and I noticed that she was in pretty decent shape. We struck up a conversation after we were both done with our morning rituals and I mentioned to her that I needed to get back into my own yoga practice more consistently, and what a wonderful way to start the day – yoga on the beach. Her response to me was “yoga is oil for the joints”. I thought about what she said, and she’s absolutely right. Practicing yoga on a regular basis is like keeping the joints oiled, naturally.

My yoga practice has been very helpful for me in maintaining not only my strength and stamina, but more importantly my flexibility. Which, for me is especially important as I am becoming a “mature” woman.

However, what I find is that most people are usually drawn to yoga as a form of exercise, but in recent years scientific studies have shown that there are definitely health benefits associated with practicing yoga on a regular basis. And, many physicians now recommend yoga practice to their patients who are at risk for heart disease, as well as those with back pain, arthritis, depression, and other chronic conditions. Research has even shown yoga to be very beneficial for breast cancer survivors. Personally, yoga played a very instrumental role in my healing and recovery process after my breast cancer diagnosis.

My yoga practice helped me combat the fatigue, muscle and joint stiffness, and insomnia I experienced as a result of my chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The meditation, the conscious breath and breathing during my practice helped me to feel more relaxed, less stressed, and at peace with everything happening in my life that was beyond my control. In fact, recent research studies have shown that breast cancer patients who practice yoga experience lower stress and improved quality of life compared to their counterparts who do only stretching exercises.

In general, some of the health benefits of yoga discovered in recent research studies include the following:

High blood pressure (hypertension). Many people believe that practicing yoga can help lower blood pressure and reduce stress. In fact, some studies have shown small but significant reductions in blood pressure within just three weeks of daily yoga. One small study conducted showed that an hour of daily yoga for 11 weeks revealed that both medication and yoga were effective in controlling hypertension. In terms of the potential impact that yoga can have on lowering blood pressure, notable results were achieved in one quantitative study. In this study, the systolic blood pressure (the top number) decreased from 142 to 126mmHg and the diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) decreased from 86 to 75mmHg after 40 days of a regular yoga regimen. However, in spite of these improvements, when taking blood pressure medication, it does not mean that stopping medication while practicing yoga on a regular basis is a good idea. Patients should always consult their doctor before starting any, exercise regimen, or if they desire to stop taking any medication.

Mood. After just one yoga class, men reported decreases in tension, fatigue, and anger after yoga, and women reported fairly similar mood benefits.
Cognition and quality of life. In one study, a group of 135 men and women 65-85 years of age participated in six months of Hatha yoga classes, and at the end of the study, they reported improvements in quality of life, well-being, energy, and fatigue.

Diabetes. There is some evidence that suggest that yoga may lower blood glucose. After just eight days of yoga in 98 men and women 20-74 years of age, fasting glucose was better than at the beginning of the study, but subjects in this study were also exposed to dietary counseling and other lifestyle interventions, and so it is difficult to know if the yoga on its own was responsible for the changes.

Carpal tunnel syndrome. Individuals with carpal tunnel syndrome who did yoga twice a week for eight weeks had less pain in their wrists than people with carpal tunnel who wore a splint. The effect may be due to improved grip strength in the yoga subjects.

Strength and flexibility. In one of the most persuasive yoga studies, men and women 18-27 years of age who participated in two yoga sessions per week for eight weeks increased the strength in their arms from 19% to 31%, and by 28% in their legs. Their ankle flexibility, shoulder elevation, trunk extension, and trunk flexion increased by 13%, 155%, 188%, and 14%, respectively.

Asthma. There is some evidence to show that practicing yoga on a regular basis can reduce symptoms of asthma and even reduce the need for medication. Again, if you are on asthma medication and practicing yoga, this doesn’t mean that you should stop taking it. You should consult your doctor.

So, I am happy to report that here’s is now scientific evidence that proves what we yogis have known all the long – yoga really does a body good!

rhonda-smithRhonda M. Smith is the Founder of Breast Cancer Partner, a for profit organization that works to empower women diagnosed with breast cancer to become their own health and wellness advocate so that they don’t just survive the disease but “thrive” during treatment, in recovery, and in their life beyond breast cancer.

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