“You have cancer.” About half of all men and one-third of all women in the United States will hear those words in their lifetime. That’s 40 percent of us. We each hope it’s not us. But hope is not a plan. And if you’ve heard those three little words, as I did, your life changes forever. But blaming yourself, retreating from life, and hoping for no recurrence, is also not a plan. Adding yoga to your daily routine—that’s a plan. And an effective one!
An increasing body of research shows that yoga can help prevent cancer, and help cancer patients and survivors manage risk and side effects after treatment. As a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2000, I have felt the impact in my own body after many surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation. Yoga brings balance and alignment to all body parts and systems: muscles, bones, organs, and the mind. It’s a holistic path to wellness that focuses on interconnection.
Here are five reasons why yoga should be in everyone’s cancer-prevention and/or cancer-recovery plan.
Yoga strengthens the immune system. The goal of strengthening the immune system is to keep all of the body’s systems working together. It takes a village: Failure of any one system threatens the health of the whole community. Cancer therapies that seek to strengthen the immune system are increasingly proving to be helpfulin fighting a wide variety of cancers.
Research shows that yoga boosts immunity. A 2013 study in Norway found that regular practice of gentle yoga and meditation had a rapid effect at the genetic level in circulating cancer-fighting immune cells. Mindfulness meditation also appears to change the brain and immune function in positive ways.
Yoga detoxifies the body. Detoxification is the vital metabolic process by which dead cells and toxins (the flu virus, a rogue cancer cell, or another pathogen) are excreted from the body. Yoga is the muscle of the lymphatic system—the body’s plumbing and trash-removal system. Similar to how the heart muscle circulates blood, yoga increases lymphatic flow with specific breathing and movement practices. Inversions, a fundamental part of a strong yoga practice, utilize movement and body positioning to reverse the effects of gravity on our body, enhancing the process of cardiovascular and lymphatic drainage.
Another way in which yoga detoxifies the body is through compression. B. K. S. Iyengar called it the “squeeze and soak” process, which cleans internal organs in the same way that a sponge discharges dirty water when squeezed. For example, abdominal twists activate internal organs and guide the release of toxins into the lymphatic system.
Yoga detoxifies the mind as well. A survivor lives with the fear of cancer returning, and this daily anxiety is a mental toxin. We can detoxify the mind by using the movement of the breath, by relaxing into gravity in a restorative pose, and by quietly watching our thoughts in meditation.
Yoga builds bones. How are strong bones linked to cancer prevention? Our bones house bone marrow, where new red and white blood cells are constantly being produced. White blood cells are needed to form leukocytes, our natural cancer-fighting immune cells. If our bones are compromised from a break or from osteoporosis (a side effect of chemotherapy), so too is the production of a nourishing blood supply and immune protection.
A recent pilot study by Kripalu presenter Loren Fishman, MD, applied yoga practice to sufferers of osteoporosis (decrease in bone mass) and osteopenia (reduction in bone volume). The results showed that 85 percent of the yoga practitioners gained bone in both the spine and hip, while nearly every member of the control group maintained or lost bone mass. I believe yoga is safer for strong bone building than many gym routines, because it puts weight on the bones in a precise, deliberate way.
Yoga reduces stress. Cancer patients and survivors experience stress similar to that endured by military veterans. They are bombarded by frightening information, subjected to invasive procedures, and must endure cold clinics and blank stares.
A 2009 study of cancer survivors developed and tested a concept that measures how we respond to “post-traumatic stress growth,” the positive flip side to suffering with stress. This growth occurs when people make the traumatic event a pivotal point in their life, changing their situation by making lemonade out lemons—ultimately thriving after cancer, for instance. The thriving survivor enjoys her blissful moments, which can lead to further change and the ability to find positive ways to manage stress.
Yoga can enhance that positivity. The results of a 2009 study on the effects of yoga on emotions found an increase in positive emotions such as calmness and a sense of purpose in more than 50 percent of subjects. Women participating in a 10-week program of restorative yoga classes gained positive differences in aspects of mental health such as depression, positive emotions, and spirituality (feeling calm and peaceful), as compared to the control group.
Yoga is weight management. Obesity is a key, if not the largest, indicator of both cancer incidence and recurrence. In the United States, excess body weight is thought to contribute to as many as one out of five cancer-related deaths, and being overweight or obese is clearly linked with an increased risk of several types of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends that obese individuals increase weekly exercise to 300 minutes per week to reduce the chances of cancer or recurrence.
Research on the impact of yoga on weight gain is still in the early stages. One study showed that yoga had a more positive impact on obesity and depression than aerobic exercise. While yoga for cancer survivors often focuses on gentle or restorative yoga methods (which are necessary and beneficial approaches), it can and should be active, and therefore calorie burning—while also being safe, physically accessible, welcoming, and inclusive. Yoga can help cancer survivors manage weight gain, which improves self-esteem and the ability to function normally, and ultimately reduces the risk of recurrence and mortality.
The benefits of yoga for cancer prevention are profound and well substantiated. For yoga teachers who work with cancer survivors and those in treatment, having specific knowledge about the benefits and modifications for this community is imperative. Teachers must understand the limitations and requirements in order to support this community to practice effectively and safely.
Tari Prinster, a cancer survivor, master yoga teacher, and author of Yoga for Cancer, developed Yoga4Cancer (y4c)methodology using contemporary research on cancer and yoga. Tari has trained more than a thousand yoga teachers and worked with thousands of survivors in her weekly classes and retreats. She is the founder and president of the Retreat Project, a nonprofit whose mission is to help underserved cancer survivors through yoga.
Tari and yoga4cancer has been featured Guide to Chemotherapy by Healthmonitor that can be found in most doctors offices and cancer care centers. Tari talks through her recommended poses to beat stress & fatigue and improve flexibility & bone mass. For a copy please download here. Tari & y4c in Healthmonitor or for online content click here.
There’s no greater feeling than taking an unmistakably negative situation and turning it into an empowering, positively life-changing one. Since October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we want to introduce you to Yoga 4 Cancer‘s Tari Prinster, who has dedicated her time to help cancer patients and survivors feel whole again. …
(read more at Classtivity.com)
Yoga 4 Cancer (Y4C) ® classes were created by cancer survivor Tari Prinster. This is not a generic gentle yoga class; it is specifically designed for women struggling with cancer, applying yogic remedies to common issues including fatigue, weakened immune system, and limited range of motion or discomfort due to surgeries. In today’s class with Mimi Ferraro at Maha Padma Yoga Temple (formerly Bija Yoga), Sleuth discovered a warm and compassionate community, and a physical practice that was actually more challenging than I had expected. …
(read more at YogaCity)
If you’ve seen a copy of the October 2012 issue of “Yoga Journal” magazine, perhaps you noticed the “Staying Strong” story about Tari Prinster who “found personal empowerment through yoga” after her breast-cancer diagnosis. … by Penny Powell, RYT-200, Life’s Journey Yoga & Wellness Center
(read more at Life’s Journey Yoga & Wellness Center)
Staying Strong – Diagnosed with cancer, Tari Prinster found personal empowerment through yoga… (view article)
“Maybe society isn’t used to seeing a near 70-year-old woman stand on her head. But it sure is fun,” says Tari Prinster, who teaches a class for cancer survivors at New York City’s Om Yoga Studio… (read more at Organic Spa Magazine)
Tari Prinster, a yoga instructor at the OM Yoga Center on Broadway, is targeting her classes to a very specific clientele: breast cancer survivors…(read more at Washington Square News)
Tari Prinster doesn’t look like a woman who would let anything stand in her way.
She has a shock of bright red air, a lithe and strong body with killer arms, and broad smile that brightens any room. But 11 years ago, Tari was sidelined, with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, an invasive breast cancer…(read more at Yoganonymous)
Movie Review: ‘Yogawoman’ Explores a Powerful, Quiet Revolution
Produced by the husband-and-wife team Kate Clere McIntyre and Michael McIntyre, the new documentary Yogawoman is far more than the flexible poses it depicts… (read more at Bust Magazine)
Tari Prinster considers herself a living testimony that it’s never too late to change. Through yoga, Tari has found not only a way to reduce pain, strengthen her immune system, feel younger, stay healthy, and manage the stress of life… (read more at Kripalu)
At first glance, the idea of yoga for cancer patients undergoing treatment and now in survivorship seems obvious, a logical step… (read more at OM)
How yoga can help with the side effects of cancer…
(view here at WCBS)
November 2011 by Amanda Taylor
Tari Prinster doesn’t look like a woman who would let anything stand in her way.
She has a shock of bright red air, a lithe and strong body with killer arms, and broad smile that brightens any room. But 11 years ago, Tari was sidelined, with Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, an invasive breast cancer.
“No matter what kind or stage, cancer steals the breath, clouds the brain, and weakens the body.,” Tari says. “The word cancer pried loose my hold on life and time seemed to stop.” And stop it did… seven months of treatment including three surgeries, chemo and radiation, not to mention unthinkable decisions for herself, her husband and children. There were also side effects, medications, expenses, insurance forms, phone calls, and empty hours waiting for test results—all floating past like debris on a sea of uncertainty and anxiety. ” My life stopped really, until I took the next breath as a cancer survivor.,” she says. “Since then, nothing has been the same.”
Nothing has been the same for Tari, or, thankfully, for other women living with cancer whose lives Tari has touched. Two weeks after her last surgery she was given her doctor’s permission to return to yoga. Before her cancer she had been into yoga for “vanity,” the workout and how it made her look. After cancer it was totally different. ”What interested me was not what I could not do but what I could do,” Tari says.
“I discovered things that I would have missed pre cancer. I learned to appreciate the ability to breathe. I could not take a really deep breath expanding the ribs, stretching the incisions around the surgical staples. But I was breathing mindfully, enjoying it—and I was doing my yoga. The idea of active, intentional rest was new to me, an opportunity to stop trying to be so athletic and to appreciate simple relaxation.”
During seven months of chemotherapy, Tari’s daily practice varied in frequency, duration and intensity as the challenges of her recovery unfolded. Her yoga practice became her personal tool for survival. And with that realization Tari also discovered her life’s purpose, to create a yoga class for women living with cancer who also wanted to move, to heal and to find community.
In 2003, Tari began teaching her Yoga for Cancer Survivors” class at OM Yoga. The class started with 2-4 women dropping by every week and quickly grew to classes of 20 and 30. A second weekday class was added, and Tari realized she needed more teachers to cover the demand. So in 2005, she began to offer Teacher Trainings at OM. These teacher trainings were the first specifically designed to address the needs of cancer survivors offered in New York City. The program has trained over 400 yoga teachers from all over the world. The weekly classes touch the lives of as many as 40 women a week ranging in ages from 24 to 80. Women with other cancers like, lung, pancreatic, brain and even eye cancers have used the classes to find a way back to feeling normal.