Why We Do It–Pranayama

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.

Teaching yoga to cancer survivors is different for a lot of reasons, but one very basic
issue is pranayama. The official definition of pranayama is the practice of controlling the breath, and it is an essential part of yoga. There are many different types of pranayama exercises; the most commonly used is Ujayi breathing. Unlike a class for
the general population, a y4c teacher can’t make use of a common instructors cue, “Take a deep breath.” The implications this can have on a student who may have just had reconstructive surgery, chemo port or any number of cancer treatments may cause more harm than good by excessively expanding their lungs.

Just because a student isn’t able to take a deep breath doesn’t mean they can’t reap the many benefits of pranayama. By carefully observing their own limitations and breathing in only as deep as is comfortable, it is possible to achieve the soothing, rejuvenating and uplifting effects that pranayama offers. Like meditation, a practice in pranayama will train the mind to focus on the present moment and still the racing thoughts known to yogis as monkey mind. It is considered a release for stress and
tension. There are many different ways to practice pranayama, but the simplest way
to start is by observing your own breath and the effect it has on the mind and body.

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