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Yoga for Cancer

While it's not a cure for cancer, yoga enhances physical and emotional wellness—and brings a peace many patients had thought they'd lost forever.

By Sandy Boucher

Look Within

Waz sees meditation as a crucial dimension of yoga. For people dealing with life-threatening illness, with all the psychological and emotional havoc that wreaks, meditation can offer a method to quiet the terrified voices that jabber in our heads. The simplest forms of meditation ask us to be physically still and direct our attention toward an object. We may be led to imagine a particular scene or visual image, or we may pay attention to sensations in the body, traveling through it from top to bottom; one very common object of attention in meditation is our breathing, the in-and-out motion of the breath that occurs automatically many times each minute and which we are rarely aware of.

Cancer patients often find themselves in distracted states of mind—bombarded as they are by frightening, sometimes contradictory, information, subjected to invasive, painful procedures, and not-always-compassionate medical care. When our minds are so grievously disturbed, we may find it impossible to make crucial decisions or relate satisfactorily to our family and friends. With the practices of concentration ,(Dharana) and meditation (Dhyana) which yoga affords us, a patient can focus and let go of nagging preoccupations.

Again Dr. Fair's experience comes to mind, perhaps because his mastery of meditation was so hard-won. He found that learning to meditate was more difficult for him than the physical postures or breathing. At first he floundered, not sure what he was doing. But with focus on his breath, he was able to steady his mind. Then he learned to concentrate on the "third eye," a point in the middle of the forehead. As an aid to concentration, he licked his finger and placed a drop of saliva on his forehead so that he could actually feel it.

Now he is able to achieve concentration without this help, and has gone on to add other practices to his meditation sessions. If he starts to lose concentration, he always returns to focus on his breathing. Dr. Fair is so enthusiastic about meditation that he has built a meditation garden, complete with Japanese-style stones and a pond, at his Long Island weekend house. When he is meditating in noisy Manhattan, he keeps the image of this garden in his mind.

"The great teachings, and life itself," Waz says, "show us that most of our terror, our dread, our problems lie in the past or in the future. Whereas basically, right here and now is pretty much okay." Control of the mind in meditation can lead from wanting what we cannot have, from craving, grieving, and being unhappy, to just arriving in this moment, where we may possibly experience a feeling of contentment, and may be able to make better decisions about our medical and complementary care.

Reach Out

Among the fundamental issues that predispose us to disease and affect our healing is our estrangement from ourselves and others. Now some physician-researchers are beginning to emphasize this dimension as a key aspect of coping with illness.

Dr. Dean Ornish has written about the various forms of isolation, including the social and spiritual, and the disconnection from our very own being—our feelings and sensations, our inner sense of ourselves. In everyday life, we tend to focus so thoroughly on the external world—meeting the requirements of job and family, hoping for the satisfactions of future fulfillment—that we lose awareness of the actual, intimate, moment-by-moment experience of our own physical, mental, and emotional selves.

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Reader Comments


It seems that the article is abbreviated, the last sentence cut off...

brender anne

i am afun of yoga and also have ablog on yoga your journal is areal encouragement and also a hope to those that had already lost hope, keep it up


This article was wonderful and thank you so much for sharing your journey. You mention of diet at the end of the article reminded me of a screening I recently attended for a move called 'Forks Over Knives'. Anyone who is interested in ways of healing and preventing certain diseases should check it out. I believe that with yoga and the right diet we can heal and prevent so many diseases that afflict our society today.

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