How to Manage Side Effects of Cancer with Yoga

From Guest Blogger Meera Watts

It seems as though more and more people are being diagnosed with cancer every day. It is a great struggle for those who must learn to endure a completely new world of diagnoses, waiting rooms, time consuming treatments, and a whole lot of discomfort.

But more and more people are practicing yoga to offset the many side effects, discomforts and complications of the cancer journey. There is good reason for this - the practice of yoga poses gets you back into your body, and away from all the chatter of the mind. It takes you into what is really happening for you, physically, mentally and emotionally. It allows you to truly feel what is going on.

People who practice yoga throughout the journey of cancer seem to be more in touch with the reality of what is happening for them. For some time, the focus is removed from the cancer within, and they can simply experience being in their body. Focus is placed instead on breathing, proper alignment, and it helps people to feel more in control of themselves.

It has been proven that any type of regular exercise is safe for cancer patients. This includes yoga, which can help reduce pain, nausea, and sleeping difficulties. Yoga also improves mood, balance, and focus. Yoga also helps to maintain muscular strength and improves immune system functions. The dynamic poses encourage the movement of lymphatic fluid as we move through the practice.

It’s not only the physical poses of yoga that can help with the rigours of cancer though. Meditation can help people get through the frozen gloves used in certain treatments, or the fear of getting certain scans or tests done. Learning how to focus, to stay calm, and how to “center in”, can bring a sense of peace and control into uncomfortable circumstances.

Here are my favourite poses for cancer:

1) Child's Pose

How to get into the pose: Get onto your hands and knees. Then sit your hips back toward your heels. Lower your head to the floor, or onto a block or blanket. Reach your hands out in front, relax your forearms to the floor. Round your spine, and relax. Take as many deep, focused breaths as you can.

2) Seated Side Bends with Arm Circles

This pose stretches out the muscles between your ribs, as well as the 20 lymph nodes in your armpits!

How to get into the pose: Sit comfortable with a tall spine - either cross legged on the floor, or seated on the edge of a bed or chair. Take your hands to your sides, and then draw your hands away from your body about 6 - 8 inches. Raise your right hand straight up to the ceiling, reaching up long through your side ribs and arm. Then, plant your left hand and look down towards it. Then, keeping your top arm straight, pass it in front of your face, down and across your body, then reaching it to the right, and all the way back to the top. Do 3 - 4 more circles, then do a few in the opposite direction. Repeat on the other side.

3) Cat/Cow

This is one of the poses that you will often see when you search for information on yoga. There is a good reason for it! This pose brings mobility into the spine, frees up the nerves around the vertebrae, and is very soothing to the nervous system.

How to get into the pose: Come onto your hands and knees. Inhale, and tip your tailbone up, lower your belly and look forward. Exhale, and round your spine like an angry cat, tucking your chin into your chest.

Do cat/cow about 10 times.

4) Warrior 1

This pose is essential for tapping into your own strength - in your body and in your mind. It helps you to go towards the discomfort I talked about earlier. *If your balance isn't quite there, stand beside a wall or a chair.

How to get into the pose: Start in standing at the top of your yoga mat. Step your right foot back, no more than 2 to 3 feet. Square both hipbones to the front side of your mat. Bend your left leg, and make sure your knee is directly over your ankle, and you can see your big toe inside the knee. Straighten your back leg, and make sure your heel is planted on the floor. Your toes will be slightly out to the right.

Then, raise both arms overhead, with your palms facing one another. Arms are straight. In this pose, think about your strength, and everything you have endured up to this point. Take 5 - 10 deep breaths here.

In yoga, we sometimes come into places of discomfort in our bodies, our mind, our emotions, and our beliefs. Learning how to breathe into the discomfort and how to ride the edge of the sensation can help with so many scary pieces of the journey. We can actually train our brain where to go in times of stress. These poses can help your mind with the journey through fighting cancer. They will nurture your mind, body, and soul. It’s terrifying to hear that you have cancer but whatever your personal story is, yoga can help you mentally manage the emotions you face. You help the body heal itself and you keep your mind in a healthy place.

Meera Watts is a yoga teacher, entrepreneur and mom. Her writing on yoga and holistic health has appeared in Elephant Journal, CureJoy, FunTimesGuide, OMtimes and others. She’s also the founder and owner of, a yoga teacher training school based in Singapore. Siddhi Yoga runs intensive, residential trainings in India (Rishikesh, Goa and Dharamshala), Indonesia (Bali).

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