How yoga helps women with gynaecological cancers
Updated: May 1, 2019
How does yoga help women live well with and beyond cancer? Besides helping us restore balance and emotional well-being, yoga is magic when it comes to managing our health "down there" - anything ranging from endometriosis, ovarian cancer or other gynaecological cancers to pelvic pain, vulvar pain or lymphedema. Here is how.
My story: why I embarked on a healing yoga challenge
After six years cancer free, I found myself back at the hospital for a pelvic MRI, biopsy and hysteroscopy. As that weird sense of déjà vu came over me, I felt the need to reconnect with my body. A week later, I embarked on a 7-day healing yoga challenge.
These were the thoughts that sparked it all:
My heart sank at the thought that you could be back again. As the incredible teacher that you are, you reminded me to look after myself and put my health first. You whispered in my ear, like an old friend who wants what’s best for me. I get it. There’s no need for you to hang around. Close the door on your way out.
We all heard about the health benefits of yoga, right? Lately, I became curious in the healing power of yoga for myself and women living with the aftermaths of gynaecological cancers. As I wrap up my healing yoga challenge (see it on Facebook or Instagram), I explore the best evidence when it comes to yoga, cancer and women’s health. Here are 21 healing benefits of yoga for women living with cancers of the reproductive system.
Top 5 ways yoga boosts pelvic and gynaecological health
Why do yogis have better recovery rates when it comes to cancer? Let's find out.
1. Pain reliever
As a yoga girl who also lives with an autoimmune disorder (sometimes I feel my body hates me), I wasn’t surprised to hear that yoga has been found to relief chronic pain in young women with rheumatoid arthritis. What surprised me is that yoga is also used in the treatment of pelvic pain to help increase body awareness, reprogram the brain and increase flexibility of the muscles and connective tissues in the pelvic area. Not bad eh?
A friend of mine, who is a women's health physiotherapist, regularly uses physioyoga as a way to help women recover from pelvic pain, lymphedema and other concerns of the reproductive system. She recommends checking out a series of yoga videos for pelvic health produced by Your Pace Yoga for the treatment of constipation, endometriosis, interstitial cystitis, vulvodynia (or vulvar pain), bladder control and pelvic pain.
2. Toxins eliminator
Yoga can help clear out toxins accrued during cancer treatment such as chemotherapy. Specifically, yoga asanas is believed to stimulate the lymphatic system, improve blood circulation, and restore hormonal balance. Improving those functions means helping our body detoxify and heal naturally. High fives all around.
Remember that yoga starts with the breath. By breathing deeply, we bring oxygen and nutrients to our tired cells, as if we pressed the "on button" of our own filtration system. Read more about yoga for cancer therapy.
3. Sexual desire booster
As you go through cancer, sex might be the last thing on your mind. Yet, according to the World Health Organization, a healthy sexuality is a key ingredient of quality of life. Plus, it is an unmet need of gynaecological cancer survivors... even years after treatment. As our womanhood gets alter, embracing our new bodies and cultivating intimacy can be a real challenge. That's precisely why I made this my PhD topic. (Read: more sex talk to come!)
The good news is: yoga can be an accessible exercise regime if you're recovering from cancer, helping you stimulate the body natural anti-cancer defences. Researchers have also found that yoga can increase blood flow to the genitals and improve several areas of sexuality including desire, orgasm, and overall sexual satisfaction.
4. Mood enhancer
Yoga can reduce anxiety by helping us focus on the "here and now" - rather than worrying about the future or regretting the past. That's exactly what happened to me this week:
My healing yoga challenge was a big help in avoiding negative thoughts and what-if scenarios.
Yoga and meditation boost activity in the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with positive moods and emotional resilience. Learning how to cope well with emotions is a must when it comes to cancer recovery. Another big draw card for me is that yoga brings movement, which can be helpful for those of us feeling restless during meditation!
5. Brain activator
Heard of the chemo brain? As you’re going through treatment, you may not feel as sharp as usual. Using brain imaging, researchers have found evidence of "chemo brain", which can explain memory or concentration problems. Researcher Rachel A. Lagos from the West Virginia University School of Medicine and West Virginia University Hospitals in Morgantown says:
Chemo brain phenomenon is more than a feeling. It is a change in brain function observable on PET/CT brain imaging.
According to researchers from University of Rochester, more than 8 out 10 people (82% of 595 participants) going through chemo experienced the chemo brain. On the bright side, The University of Illinois found evidence that hatha yoga brings alertness and concentration.
Other health benefits of yoga
Yoga can help:
Improve sleep and relaxation
Boost immune function
Build muscle and bone strength
Calm the mind and reduce the fight or flight response
Increase self awareness and mindfulness
Reduce emotional distress and build feeling of empowerment
Improve digestive function
Restore hormonal balance
Reduce stress, anxiety and depression
Improve self management of pain
Improve ability to self regulate
Improves overall health-related quality of life
That's only the tip of the iceberg! Yoga doesn't only improve physical function, it contributes to emotional and mental well-being. To get started on your holistic healing journey, look for "gentle" or "restorative" yoga classes. If you're not up to it, try taking a few minutes daily to focus on your breathing practice. Deep breathing can calm an overactive sympathetic nervous system and be a game-changer in your recovery!