By now, we have all heard that practicing yoga can offer seemingly endless benefits to any population. When we start to break down exactly how and why yoga is so good for us, it is hard to make excuses against practicing. In “Why We Do It”, we explore some of the specific conditions of cancer patients and survivors, and explain how yoga may offer relief.
Our immune system is not one organ, but a complex system that traverses the entire body. One way our body defends itself against disease is through channels of lymph that travel like blood and serve to identify and attack foreign cells. This system does not have a pump like the heart to get it moving; it relies on breath, movement, muscle contractions, and gravity. So the more you move, the more your lymph moves, which is one reason why we believe yoga is so good for cancer patients, especially in the very important and vague post-cancer phase of “staying healthy.”. This manual moving of lymph is also beneficial for lymphedema, a common side effect of cancer surgeries. Our attentiveness to breath creates it’s own kind of pump and the intention to move every part of our body can help the lymph do it’s job, and help it drain where necessary.
Besides maintaining a regular asana practice, you can give yourself a lymph massage to help stimulate lymphatic movement and drainage. This is both beneficial from a medical point of view and also a relaxing way to show yourself a little kindness. Start by raising one arm up in the air, then gently squeeze and move down towards the shoulder and in towards the peck with the other hand; do the same thing on your legs, moving slowly from toe to knee to pelvis. Tapping your fingers across your chest and down the sides of your body is another gentle way to release lymph.