When you visit the chemotherapy centre of HCG Pvt. Ltd., a popular cancer treatment hospital in Bengaluru in India, you can see notice boards mentioning the timings for yoga and pranayama sessions and counselling. According to doctors, such diversions help patients in maintaining their mental equilibrium in their battle against cancer.
As Dr. Brinda Sitaram, a Psycho-oncologist at HCG mentions, Cancer takes an emotional toll on patients, and hence it is necessary for the patients (children or adults) to build mental strength in their fight against the disease.
Over the past year, Dr. Sitraram has been experimenting various methods to reduce the side-effects of radiation therapy on children. Although the usual practice is to give sedatives for children undergoing radiation therapy, Dr. Sitaram has counselled them to relax and take a nap during these sessions, as they no longer feel nauseated at the end of the sessions.
Alongside the medication and therapy, lot of oncology institutes are now practicing yoga, meditation and physical training including games, to help patients undergoing chemotherapy. Such interventions can help in managing fatigue, sleep disturbance, loss of appetite, chemotherapy-induced nausea and pain in cancer patients.
The HCG researchers recently published a study titled ‘Role of Yoga in Cancer Patients’ in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care.
The government-run Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology (KMIO) in Bengaluru has also incorporated yoga into its treatment for select cancer patients, particularly those with cervical cancer and leukaemia.
Dr. Prabha Seshachar, Consultant Anaesthetist, Department of palliative medicine at KMIO explains that it is not just the physical pain, but also psychological, social and spiritual trauma that cancer patients experience. All of these need a holistic approach.
At KMIO, volunteers engage patients in the palliative care wing, with activities, pranayama, games and meditation sessions.
Yoga and exercise leads to release of endorphins, the hormones that give a sense of well-being. Cancer patients need more than just medicine. They also need good quality of life. The yoga module depends on the needs of the patient.
Yoga provides psychological relief. There have been success stories wherein patients have reported improvement in health when yoga is practised, along with chemotherapy or radiation. The side-effects of chemotherapy are minimized, when yoga is practised simultaneously.
A patient, who had been undergoing treatment for brain tumour at KMIO, is reported to have agreed that when he was initially admitted to the hospital for treatment, he couldn’t move his hand. But after a week of yoga practice, he was able to move his hand, and his headaches have not bothered him much after practising breathing exercises.
Some of the Asanas that is thought to provide relief are the ‘Suryanamaskar’, ‘Pranayama’, ‘Ardha-chakrasana (half-moon pose)’, ‘Pada hastasana’, ‘Ardha katichakrasana’, ‘Ustrasana (camel pose)’, and ‘Shashankasana’ (rabbit pose).
While Suryanamaskar helps strengthen the body, Pranayama helps in increasing alkaline levels in the body, reduces acidity and stress. All the other asanas mentioned above, help in muscle relaxation. However, all of the asanas should be learnt and practised only under supervision of a trained practitioner.
In fact, not just for cancer patients, even for cancer survivors, yoga can provide an internal anchor of calm. Those who have been practicing yoga therapy have discovered interesting subtle benefit, an increased awareness of a great, internal stillness and a sense of unity. They have found a true sense of health and vitality that spills into other aspects of life.