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Why Mindful Yoga Should Be On Your Radar

By Rethink Breast Cancer June 21 2019

Sure, we all know the benefits of yoga as a mind, body and spirit practice, but did you know that Mindful or Restorative Yoga can help cancer patients minimize pain and fatigue? We asked Sonia Clarke, who is certified in Yoga of Awareness for Cancer, for a snapshot of using specific types of yoga as a coping tool for both early and advanced cancer.

Can you explain the Yoga of Awareness for Cancer program?

Based upon clinical trials of the Yoga of Awareness intervention conducted with cancer patients at Duke University, the program incorporates discussion, practice, and instruction on more skillful yoga practices for people healing from cancer.

How can yoga help those undergoing treatment for cancer?

Yoga used as a therapy can help clear out toxins accrued during treatment more effectively.  Yoga asanas stimulate not just muscles, but also increase blood flow, and enhance lymphatic flow in the body.  Certain chemotherapy drugs that are given to prevent recurrence of cancer can also cause joint pain and yoga’s gentle joint mobilization can help to alleviate stiffness, increase flexibility, as well as ensure that the joints stay lubricated and the muscles supple.

The deep, relaxing breathing emphasized in yoga also increases the current of oxygen-rich blood to the cells, delivering vital nutrients to tired cells further clearing out toxins.  In addition to removing toxins, yoga can help dissipate tension and anxiety thus enabling cancer patients to settle into a greater sense of well-being.

What should those undergoing cancer treatments consider when it comes to the body’s movement while practicing yoga?

It is important to move the body in a way that is supportive during treatment and post treatment so as to maintain quality of life, stabilize hormones, increase body grounding, and to engage stamina in both the body and the mind.  Renewing and recalibrating energy is vital to the entire system as it moves forward through this life altering journey.

Yoga poses, with the use of props, are taught in such a way that they are accessible to all, and include specific attention to help survivors better tolerate residual pain, cancer-related fatigue, lymphedema, peripheral neuropathy, insomnia and anxiety that often accompanies treatment; and can sometimes linger on upon completion of treatment.

Is there anything you’d like to add about Mindful Yoga when it comes to cancer?

Yoga provides a nurturing environment where those who have been affected by cancer can feel safe to express, release, revitalize and connect to others who have been through a similar journey.  Yoga helps to empower students so that they can resume living life to their fullest.

For those thinking of practicing yoga while in treatment or on the road to recovery, here are a few tips for consideration:

  • Listen to your body
  • Move with kindness compassion
  • Don’t hesitate to advise the teacher if something doesn’t feel right so that modifications and/or supports can be incorporated
  • Stay well hydrated
  • Try to relax and remember to breathe

Sonia Clarke is an ERYT-500 and YACEP certified Yoga Instructor and Continuing Education Provider.  She has been teaching yoga for eight years.

Sonia has received a certification in Yoga of Awareness for Cancer at Duke Integrated Medicine, part of Duke University Health Systems in Durham, NC.  She is Canada’s first, and thus far only yoga teacher to receive this certification from Duke University.  Sonia has been working with cancer patients and survivors sharing the practice of yoga for 5 years through all the Wellspring Centers in the Greater Toronto Area including Sunnybrook Hospital.  After watching her mother battle very advanced and aggressive breast cancer, Sonia knew that yoga would have been so beneficial.  Sonia elected to take her certification at Duke University as Duke is ranked as one of the world’s leading cancer research institutions.  Aside from learning and practicing with highly acclaimed American yoga teachers; she also attended daily lectures with internationally renowned doctors and psychologists who delved into the medical and emotional side of cancer.

Sonia is part of Kula Yoga’s Teacher Training Faculty at both their Toronto and Oakville locations for both the Yoga for Cancer and Pre & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training programs. She is also part of Gracious Living Oasis’ Teacher Training Faculty in Nicaragua; and has been part of 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training faculties specializing in alignment and anatomy.


To read more stories about yoga and cancer, click here.