• September 23, 2014

Yoga helps cancer patients in spiritual, physical, emotional ways

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Posted: Monday, October 7, 2013 4:30 am

DALLAS — Dr. Jaya Juturi prescribes plenty of medications for her cancer patients, but she would be remiss, she said, if she stopped there.

Which is why the Dallas oncologist also suggests a treatment not found in any pharmacy: yoga.

“We’re supposed to practice a certain way and tell people what’s proven to help them,” said Juturi, who is on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “If we didn’t bring up yoga in the context of emotional or physical distress, we’re not doing our job.

“If we said, ‘See a counselor and take medicine,’ that might be meaningful, but we need to create an empowering long-term strategy that will bring them everlasting results.”

The medical field has been “late in catching on to” such complementary treatments, Juturi said. Now data has begun backing up the effectiveness of yoga, and doctors, she said, “are all about data.”

Benefits

Medically proven benefits include these:

Yoga helps ease stress. Research from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center showed, among other benefits, yoga’s ability to regulate the stress hormone cortisol.

Yoga helps cancer patients sleep better. A study published in Journal of Clinical Oncology reported improved sleep quality in cancer survivors and thus, fewer sleep medications needed.

Yoga can help improve quality of life. On its website, the Stanford Cancer Center reported that yoga “as a complementary therapy” also has been shown to relieve various symptoms associated with cancer.

Nancy Scholberg can attest to that. A dozen years after her double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and breast reconstruction, the Dallas woman relies on yoga to keep at bay the side effects no one told her about.

“You go through this stuff, and a lot of times the side effects don’t hit till years later,” said Scholberg, 54.

Her toes tingle almost constantly. She doesn’t have much use of her thumbs. Physicians constructed her breasts from muscles in her back, leading to “so much scar tissue and so little movement,” said Scholberg, an avid runner and walker. “Yoga helped with stretching and making me feel so much better.”

Her one regret? That she didn’t practice yoga while undergoing treatment. No one thought about it then, she said.

“Yoga is all about mind, spirit and body. When you’re going through chemo, it’s such a traumatic time. Your body changes. You lose your hair. What yoga does is bring me to a place of peacefulness a person going through that needs.”

Plus, yoga helps patients deal with the stress of recurrence, Juturi said.

At Dallas Yoga Center, owner and director David Sunshine said clients at all stages of cancer ask about yoga.

“I tend to tell people that yoga doesn’t necessarily heal cancer, but it is scientifically proven to help in many ways getting through the process of recovery,” Sunshine said. “It’s about making the body a safe place to feel comfortable and return home to, so one is able to soften and relax and let go of a lot of the stressors and feel normal once again.”

Helps heal the mind

Peace of mind is the first phrase that comes to mind when Jenny Parum, Scholberg’s instructor and owner of the newly opened Yoga Movement studio, names the benefits of yoga for people dealing with cancer.

“It’s the mental aspect,” Parum said, “the healing that’s necessary in the mind. The focus and the release are the main aspects. You have to nurture yourself on a completely different level.”

She credits yoga with turning her own life around after her doctors diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis at age 19, so she understands its transformative power.

Scholberg, who stopped running marathons after undergoing knee surgery, decided to try yoga when her company offered classes twice a week.

“Because of my mentality, I really like the physical challenges,” she said. “It’s still hard for me, and I’ve been doing it almost four years.”

An escape

Yoga helps people escape from what they’re dealing with, said Leslie Storms.

The registered nurse, yoga instructor and former family therapist used to teach a yoga class in Plano to cancer survivors, and their families and caregivers.

“For a moment, they’re focusing and thinking about something that’s not the illness,” Storms said. “It’s a moment of freedom from the mind, from their ‘oh-I’m-sick’ story and getting to focus on their breathing and their intention. To me, that’s the sweetness of someone struggling with that.”

Yoga is empowering, she said.

“It’s seeing how people can overcome limitations of the mind and what their doctor told them, limitations of what society tells them and what their illness tells them.”

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