Complementary Cancer Care

Breast Cancer and the Benefits of Yoga

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

Thousands of women experience the fear, uncertainty and worry that comes with a breast cancer diagnosis each year.

For women undergoing breast cancer treatment, and for those who are in recovery, yoga has been found to improve sleep quality, minimize fatigue, depression and joint pain, increase flexibility, and ease the overall discomfort and anxiety of going through this disease.

“Patients are stressed about the future, treatment, and life in general, and yoga helps them relax, focus on breathing and just take a moment for themselves,” says Eleanor Walker, M.D., director of breast radiation oncology at Henry Ford Health System.

Low to moderate exercise is helpful for patients, Dr. Walker says, as treatments like chemotherapy take their toll on a patient’s overall health, stamina and strength. Through exercise, patients have been found to return to their pre-cancer activity level much quicker than those who don’t exercise during treatment. By practicing a low-impact exercise like yoga, patients are able to be active — while also focusing on their mental health.

“The ability to de-stress that comes with yoga is one of the greatest benefits,” she says. “Every effect of cancer all compounds into stress, and yoga helps patients work through this.”

Using Yoga to Heal
For breast cancer patients, chair yoga offers all the benefits of yoga without any hardship to the body.

According to Lyn Scharret, a yoga instructor at FitnessWorks in Detroit who has been practicing yoga for more than 25 years, chair yoga provides patients assistance in easing into poses that would otherwise take years to master. It also eliminates some of the challenges of yoga – such as getting up and off the floor and other stresses to the upper body – a primary worry for breast cancer patients.

“The concern with breast cancer patients is avoiding weight-bearing of the upper extremities, and chair yoga aids students in relaxing into the pose,” says Scharret. “On any given day, participants can make a class as easy or challenging as they desire.”

Scharret will be instructing a chair yoga program for breast cancer patients as well as their family and caregivers. In her work with breast cancer patients, she teaches Hatha yoga, which is primarily concerned with mastering control over the physical body. This type of yoga also focuses on breathing, meditation and understanding body awareness, making it a good starting point for breast cancer patients, she says.

If you think you or someone you love would benefit from the oncology chair yoga program, first consult your physician. Call (313) 972-4040 for more information about the program.

Dr. Eleanor Walker is Director of Breast Radiation Oncology and Medical Director for the Center for Integrative Medicine for Henry Ford Health System. Lyn Scharret is a yoga instructor at FitnessWorks in Detroit. She has been teaching yoga for more than 15 years.