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My Top Tips for Using Yoga as A Complementary Practice for Cancer Care

19 Apr 2022

By Jackie Hayfield

Cancer is complicated! There are many different types and treatments, and how we respond is individual. As a yoga therapist and cancer survivor, I know first hand the support yoga can be in helping us through all the different stages of treatment and beyond. These are some of the things I have learnt along the way…..

1.     BE GENTLE ON THE BODY – Gentle movement can help to reduce stiffness in the joints, lift our spirits, and reduce fatigue. Its something we can easily do for ourselves. We don’t even need to get out of bed. You can move and stretch different parts of the body from lying down, sitting in a chair, or standing. Be kind to your body, experiment with movement and see what feels good for you. Let’s face it, cancer and cancer treatments can be painful, so we want to use movement to help reduce pain and increase mobility.

2.     BREATH – ‘If you can breathe, you can do yoga’. T. Krishnamacharya
I love this quote! Once you have worked out some comfortable movements, try co-ordinating them with the breath. Breathe in as you do an open movement (eg; stretching the arms out to the side), and breath out as you do a more closed movement (eg; bringing the arms back to the body). Or you can breath in when you roll the head one way, breath out as you move the head the opposite way. Try to slow the movement down to match your breath. Or just place your hands on your belly and see if you can feel the belly move with the breath. Try to breath through the nose, and see if you can slow the breath down. When you breath more slowly and deeply, as well being beneficial to overall health, it helps us to reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

3.     ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR EMOTIONS – Cancer is an emotional roller coaster, and it’s important to acknowledge how you are feeling at any given time. As a culture, we often respond with ‘I’m fine’ or ‘all good here’, when asked how we are. We may also feel we want to protect our families as they are also going through lots of emotions. Bottling things up isn’t good for your health, particularly our mental health. Sometimes having a good cry can bring huge relief, and isn’t a problem shared a problem halved? Acknowledging emotions such as fear, sadness or anger, can help you process the experience, and allows space to appreciate the times when we feel joy, happiness, and peace. And yes, we can experience these emotions too!

4.     TAKE A MOMENT OF SILENCE – One thing this experience brought me was a permission to sit and be. I spent lots of magical moments sitting in the garden when I didn’t have the energy to do much else; appreciating the flowers and bird song. Taking time to appreciate these moments can really help lift our spirits. In yoga we call this practice ‘Mouna’ which is a practice when we have periods of complete silence. This may just be for 10 minutes a day, but when we are silent it can bring us more into the moment, and bring rest.

5.     REST – Rest when you need to. In the yogic sense, rest is when we switch off completely (not even watching TV!), and draw our senses inwards taking a complete break. Yoga practices that help support deep rest include guided relaxation, yoga nidra, and some restorative poses like putting you legs up on a chair or up the wall. Taking some time out in your day, even if its just for 10 minutes lying down with your eyes closed can make a huge difference, especially if you recovering from a treatment or have fatigue.

6.     LITTLE AND OFTEN – Studies have shown that incorporating a short regular yoga practice into your day (even just 10 minutes), has far more benefits than an hour long weekly practice. I find this really fascinating, and this helps inspire my own daily practice.

Jackie Hayfield is a yoga therapist and has been teaching yoga for over 20 years. If you would like to like to learn some simple practices that you can take into your day, please join Jackie on-line on Mondays or Wednesdays 10-11am for Gentle Yoga and Relaxation. Find out more and book at: https://yestolife.org.uk/wellbeing-sessions/