As the Integrative Oncology navigator at the Abramson Cancer Center, I connect patients to a variety of wellness-focused programs to enhance quality of life during and after treatment. One of the programs I recommend most often is yoga.
Yoga combines movement with meditation to help you strengthen your body and your mind. Cancer can quickly feel like it is becoming an identity, but practices like yoga can reaffirm your total sense of self, and the communal nature of the studio and other yogis can add an extra layer of support to an experience that at times feels isolating.
Which type of yoga is right for you?
The classes offered here at Penn Medicine are designed to be accessible to anyone. Our yoga instructors are trained to work with the special needs of oncology patients and can help you learn how to modify poses to make them work for you. They are perfect for either brand-new beginners or experienced yogis who might need a change of pace while in treatment.
Of course, there are also lots of opportunities to enjoy yoga throughout the local area. Sometimes people can be intimidated by the many different styles you’ll see listed on a studio schedule.
If you are hoping to try yoga while you are receiving cancer treatment, look for classes called yin, restorative and gentle. Yin yoga classes mostly take place on the floor, lying in a stretch and supported with props. You may only do five to eight poses in a class, but don’t think you won’t feel it the next day!
For slow classes that have a little more flow, look for classes named Gentle or Restorative. They may also incorporate some yin postures as well.
Many studios offer workshops on things such as meditation or kirtan (singing mantras with a group). These can be great ways to participate in a community activity without the emphasis on exercise. Meditation and group singing can both have positive emotional benefits as well.
Tips for getting comfortable with yoga
If you’d like to attend classes at a local studio, you may wish to arrive a little early for class and let your instructor know that you are receiving cancer treatment, as well as reporting on any recent surgeries. Doing this will help your instructor make sure you have a safe class, and they can modify poses for you or cue you to take a little extra rest.
Don’t feel shy – for most people, yoga is a very personal experience and they are paying attention to their own practice, on their own mat. If you need to take a break, the class will not be judging you. Everyone is tuning into their own body and breath in moment to moment awareness, and they will be honoring your limits as well as their own.
Trying something new and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is never easy, but it can be very rewarding. While practices like yoga, meditation or kirtan might not be things you’ve considered before, they may be a welcome new coping technique during or after the cancer journey, and you might find they address more than only the issues that are associated with the disease.
If you are feeling curious, we’d love to have you join us at our classes to try it out for yourself!