There are some things in life we take for granted, such as the ability to urinate. So what greater chagrin as middle age dawns than to find you can no longer do it easily, or without pain? For men, there’s the bigger fear: Maybe cancer is to blame.
Prostate health has started to make headlines in recent years, and many men now recognize that the problems associated with an enlarged but benign prostate can be treated. Not only can PSA (prostate-specific antigen) tests now help detect the presence of cancer, but mounting evidence suggests that a healthy diet, herbs, and yoga go a long way in preventing the disease.
Dean Ornish, M.D., who gained international recognition for his program of reversing heart disease through diet and lifestyle changes, feels that what we eat has a big influence on prostate cancer as well. “The incidence of clinically significant prostate cancer is much lower in parts of the world that eat a predominantly low-fat, plant-based diet,” he says. Ornish is conducting the first randomized, controlled study to address whether lifestyle factors such as diet, yoga, and meditation rather than surgery, radiation, and drug treatment will affect prostate cancer.
Certified yoga instructor Dawn Mahowald sees first-hand the effects of yoga for prostate health. A teacher of eight years to urology patients in Boulder, Colorado, she explains that “yoga promotes flexibility and circulation, stimulates the liver meridian, and in general makes a man more aware of his pelvic area in terms of muscular control.” She adds that it’s crucial to relieve tension and support the muscles of the pelvic floor. Navasana (Boat Pose) and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) are both “enormously helpful” for this, as is Virasana (Hero Pose), Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand), Supta Konasana (Widespread Plow Pose), and simply lying on your back hugging your knees to your chest.
Kegel exercises, which help strengthen the urinary sphincter, are also a best-bet for men with prostate problems. She recommends practicing them while in Virasana or Bhekasana (Frog Pose), postures which themselves benefit the overall function of the urogenital tract. Standing postures such as Virabhadrasana (Warrior Pose) I and II and Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) help stimulate the liver meridian, another key factor in prostate health.
Judith Sherman-Wolin, a yoga practitioner and certified health fitness instructor, recommends yoga to the cancer patients she works with at the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. “When your health is in jeopardy,” she says, “yoga gives you a sense of control and increases your participation in health and healing.”