Starting 2012 with an encouraging report: Yoga and cancer survivors

HAPPY NEW YEAR YOGIS. Let’s start this year off right by looking at an encouraging report on how yoga can help curb fatigue in cancer survivors.

Reuters Health reported on a recent study that found yoga practice to be a beneficial method for cancer survivors who are looking to curb fatigue.

Julienne Bower, an associate professor in the psychology department of the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues studied how yoga practice (as opposed to more general stress relief and/or exercise classes) impacts the level of fatigue in 31 breast cancer survivors.

The group was randomly assigned a 12-week treatment program. Half of the group were assigned to participate in two 90-minute yoga sessions per week and the others were assigned to attend a two-hour health class once a week. Specifically, participants in the yoga group were taking classes in the Iyengar style of yoga, where form and alignment are prioritize.

Reuters reports:

The group taking the educational classes experienced about the same amount of fatigue and energy throughout the initial study period. However, the group taking the yoga class reported about a 26 percent drop in fatigue and a 55 percent increase in energy after the 12-week yoga regimen.

That is to say, taking the health class neither helped nor hurt fatigue levels of participants, but yoga sessions definitely made a difference in participants’ energy levels.

Also notable, Reuters mentions that, “The researchers note, however, that both groups of women had similar expectations that their assigned “treatment” would help them, so a placebo effect is not a likely explanation for the benefits seen in the yoga group.”

The study reinforces the “healing power” of yoga. What I mean by “healing power,” is the unseen and immeasurable impacts that yoga has on the psyche. Developing a sense of calm as you take the time to make a connection between the mind and the body is one of those immeasurable aspects of yoga. Additionally, through strengthening and lengthening during yoga practice, yogis gain control and awareness over their bodies in space — this is another aspect, no doubt related to the first, that is part of the healing power of yoga.

Cultivating a sense of peacefulness as well as a sense of awareness of the body presents yoga practitioners with a sense of objectivity as they engage with the world. Through consistent yoga practice the healing aspects of yoga, are capable of improving the quality of life for the everyday practitioner as well as cancer survivors.

While the study is admittedly inconclusive, the results are not surprising. It is one of life’s brilliant paradoxes that physical exercise has the ability to reduce fatigue and increase focus (see this article in the L.A. Times on the correlation between physical exercise and academic performance).

It is fascinating to see how researchers are finding clever ways to measure the effects of yoga in all its subtly.

And now for something not so subtle but nonetheless, fascinating!

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