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Yoga and Cancer - Julie Friedeberger

I would like to tell you about how yoga can help people with cancer and about the weekly yoga class for people with cancer which I teach at the Yoga Therapy Centre in Central London.

Yoga is a holistic healing system for creating harmony and balance on all levels: body, mind, emotions and spirit. When this balance has been disturbed by serious illness, practising yoga can help in a number of ways to restore it. Yoga encourages the development of the inner resources that help in dealing with a life-changing illness, the unfolding of the qualities of self-awareness, resilience, stability, faith and trust that enable us to meet all of life's challenges and to use them as opportunities for growth and change.

Yoga has been an unfailing source of sustenance and spiritual nourishment in the 33 years I have practised and taught it. When I had breast cancer in 1993, yoga helped me through the stressful period of diagnosis and mastectomy surgery; and in the longer term it has played the key role in my healing. My experience has shown me that yoga has a great deal to offer people with cancer.

How can yoga help people with cancer?

Cancer is a broad complex of illnesses in which a weakened immune system cannot cope with the proliferation of damaged cells. Of course yoga is not a "cure" for cancer but it can help to strengthen the immune system and encourage our inner healing forces. It works in various ways:

  • relaxation - calms the nervous system and alleviates the stress and anxiety which lower immune functioning and hinder healing

  • breathing exercises - improves respiration, releases tension and restores balance and calm

  • meditation - develops the detachment and clarity that enables us to acknowledge and accept the realities of our situation and to cope with our fears

  • physical posture - clears toxins, increases energy levels and enhances the functioning of our internal organs and systems

The simplest of yoga breathing, relaxation and meditation techniques can also help us to deal with the overwhelming emotions that come with the diagnosis of a life-changing illness: shock, anger, fear, guilt to name the most obvious ones. And they can be of help in managing the stress, anxiety and pain of cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Yoga offers practical tools with which you can help yourself and mobilise your own inner resources. Yoga is empowering because you are doing something for yourself: no-one is doing it for you.

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