When we teach yoga classes, what are our students taking home with them? Do some students see it only as an exercise? Yoga has exploded into a popular fitness trend, around the world, for the past two decades. Well known for its relaxation and breathing techniques, yoga as a way of life has spread like fire through studios across the world and into gyms, fitness clubs, senior centers and even public schools. There are many different styles and techniques, with each style focusing on a specific emphasis that tends to characterize it. Ashtanga vinyasa yoga, for example, is a practice that highlights the physical challenges of yoga whereas Iyengar is a slower version of Hatha that allows practitioners to concentrate on pose mastery and yogic philosophy.
Pranyama is an aspect of yoga that emphasizes breathing techniques as they relate to one’s lifestyle. Pranayama is an in-depth yogic practice of breath control. Many practitioners consider it an art form, one that requires full attention and concentrated internal exploration. Practicing pranayama requires knowledge of various breathing techniques, stages and even patterns.
Practitioners use their breath control for a variety of purposes. One reason is that focused breathing helps to access internal energy channels as well as manipulate those energies. Pranayama practice also allows students greater focus and concentration, as controlled breathing works to rid the mind of stress and clutter.
The advantages that students derive from their practice include increased relaxation, greater control over their emotions, a greater awareness of their physical body, and improved lung capacity. For patients suffering side effects or prohibitive symptoms of illnesses like cancer, these benefits can have a much more noticeable effect on the way they experience their day to day lives.
Yoga as an Adjunct Form of Medicine
Recently, the advantages of strong bodies and minds that yoga offers to its practitioners has generated buzz within the western medical community. Scientists and doctors wondered whether the more positive outlook that regular yoga practitioners generally experience could be replicated in patients suffering from illnesses like cancer. Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte are just two of the many places where studies are taking a closer look at yoga being medically tested as an adjunct therapy for cancer.
What some studies concluded is not surprising to those who consistently practice yoga. For example, one study surveyed women with breast cancer in various stages who were undergoing treatments like chemotherapy, while trying to maintain regular yoga practice. These women, though a small sample, reported higher quality of life outlooks the day after yoga practice, including increased relaxation, more energy and less pain and fatigue related to their illness or medications. Researchers concluded that as an alternative treatment, regular yoga practice can actually help improve quality of life in women with breast cancer.
While some doctors have been slow to acknowledge yoga as an alternative treatment, individuals struggling with low quality of life should consider pranayama as one path that has been proven to lead to its improvement. For those seeking restorative yoga for chemotherapy and cancer recovery, the trend is catching on in oncology centers. Ground based relaxation postures are a good start. Pranayama, relaxation techniques, and meditation also help to improve ones mindset during an extremely trying time.