With one in nine Australian women being diagnosed with breast cancer, I have seen increasing numbers of women turning to yoga to help them manage their journey with the disease. There has been plenty of research to demonstrate the benefits of yoga and meditation for women with breast cancer, including:
• Improve physical functioning
• Reduce fatigue
• Reduce stress
• Improve sleep
• Improve quality of life
A 2003 study into yoga and breast cancer involved 126 women recently diagnosed with Stage I or II breast cancer and who were about to receive chemotherapy or hormonal therapy. The women assigned to regular yoga classes over a 12-week period had a 12% improvement in fatigue, physical functioning, and quality of life compared with those in the program who did not practice yoga
Another study in 2006 followed 61 women receiving 6 weeks of radiation treatment for breast cancer. Half the women practiced yoga twice a week; the other half did not. Compared with the women who did not do yoga, the women in the yoga group reported having more energy and less daytime sleepiness, better physical functioning, and better overall quality of life.
These and other studies, along with the increasing popularity of yoga, have prompted many GP’s, oncologists and breast care nurses to recommend yoga to women with breast cancer. However, as the US based not-for-profit organization Breastcancer.org points out, “Because of the variation in certification requirements for yoga teachers, it's possible to take a class with a yoga teacher who has very little experience. This is not always safe and can result in injuries.” Breastcare.org goes on to recommend some simple questions to ask a prospective yoga teacher:
• Where did you receive your training?
• How many hours have you trained?
• Are you continuing your study of yoga? Do you still attend classes and seminars?
• How many years have you been teaching yoga?
• Do you regularly work with people who have had breast cancer?
Taking positive action to deal with breast cancer, whether through a preventative mastectomy or, for women diagnosed with the disease, facing the treatment with courage and using every available resource, including yoga, to achieve the best possible experience, is empowering. As Angeline Jolie says “I feel empowered that I made a strong choice that in no way diminishes my femininity."
Adore Yoga offers free Pink Yoga community classes every month and discounted private yoga therapy sessions for women with cancer. Nikola Ellis is the founder and director of Adore Yoga and organizer of the 2013 attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the Longest Yoga Chain, raising funds for women with cancer in partnership with the Cancer Council.