Michelle Stortz, CYT, CMT, MFA is a yoga therapist, massage therapist and movement educator. She specializes in yoga therapy for cancer and works with cancer survivors in the Philadelphia region.
Yoga has recently been the subject of much attention from the medical community as the field begins to confirm its many benefits. For those undergoing cancer treatment, yoga is especially helpful in managing side effects of cancer as well as some of the more difficult emotional and mental aspects of a cancer diagnosis and treatment.
There is a common misconception that yoga is limited to stretching and practicing difficult poses. In truth, long before the physical aspect of yoga developed - largely what we see today - yoga was concerned with meditation and the achieving of heightened states of consciousness. Related breathing techniques have also long been a part of the yoga toolbox.
These tools and techniques, in combination with movement, are proving invaluable in reducing stress, pain, fatigue, insomnia, depression and anxiety; improving both coping skills and overall quality of life.
The methodology behind the yoga class I teach in partnership with the Joan Karnell Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital called “Yoga Therapy for Cancer Patients” emphasizes the stress reduction aspects of yoga.
Benefits of yoga for cancer patientsGentle movement, breathing techniques, meditation, deep relaxation and imagery work to guide patients to an energized yet calm state of peaceful awareness. As fatigue is the number one side effect of cancer treatment, patients spend approximately 60 to 75% of class time in chairs, with some choosing to remain in the chair for the entire class.
Movements can be modified to accommodate all types of limitations.
In addition to these classic elements of yoga, “Yoga Therapy for Cancer Patients” includes concise lectures on the physiology behind yoga and arms patients with information and an understanding of yoga’s workings.
For instance, meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a term coined by researcher Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School to describe a phenomenon in which the following physiological changes take place:
- Metabolism decreases
- Heart rate lowers
- Muscles tension is reduced
- Breath rate slows
- Blood pressure decreases
- Chemicals associated with stress, cortisol and adrenalin, are reduced
When patients know these benefits of yoga, they are inspired to practice more frequently.
These yoga techniques affect the body by quieting down the sympathetic nervous system and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” process of the limbic brain. It sends adrenalin and cortisol through the body, which in turn sends blood to the extremities - arms and legs - leaving the organs at the core of the body functioning with less blood and interfering with their efficient functioning. In this situation the digestive and reproductive systems are suppressed and the immune system altered.
The parasympathetic nervous system tells the body that everything is okay, that it can relax. It returns the blood to the organs so they can operate efficiently. If stress is prolonged and the body is continuously exposed to the stress hormones, one becomes at risk for heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression, obesity and memory impairment.
Register for yogaRegistration for yoga classes at Pennsylvania Hospital is recommended.
Time: 5:30 to 7 pm
Location: Old Pine Community Center, 401 Lombard Street, Philadelphia, PA
To learn more, or to register for yoga therapy classes, email at Michelle firstname.lastname@example.org or call 215-242-1366.