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Re-Examining Breast Health

Are you doing everything you can to prevent breast cancer? Yoga can reduce your risk by stimulating lymph flow, strengthening the endocrine and immune systems, and improving your attitude toward your body.

By Joanna Colwell

One great way to stimulate lymph flow all through the body is with a vigorous vinyasa practice. A sweaty round of Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutations) is an excellent way to do this. This sequence can be modified to provide an appropriate level of challenge for almost any student.

More specifically, many yoga poses directly contract and stretch the muscles of the chest, arms, and shoulders, massaging the nearby lymph nodes and encouraging lymph flow through the area. Poses like Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) and Pincha Mayurasana (Elbow Balance) work and stretch the chest, as do backbends. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose) especially stretches the armpit. Even simple poses and actions, like backbending over a bolster and stretching an arm overhead, can be very effective at loosening and stimulating this area. Shifting the hips from side to side in Balasana (Child's Pose) and rocking back and forth along the spine in Padangustha Halasana can actually massage breast tissue to stimulate lymph flow.

Change Your Attitude
The most subtle but far-reaching effects of yoga on the health of your breasts may be the way it can change your attitude toward your body and the world around you. Although the physiological function of breasts is simply to provide milk to babies, it's obvious that our culture focuses much more on how breasts look than on how well they work. As a result, many women end up with complex and ambivalent or even strongly negative feelings about their breasts. Such feelings can interfere with regular breast self-examinations, a simple and powerful tool for decreasing risk from breast cancer—a tool that's literally right at your fingertips.

Despite decades of encouragement from public health officials, providers, and educators, some polls indicate that as many as nine out of 10 women still don't perform regular breast self-exams. Kami McBride, director of the Living Awareness Institute in Vacaville, California, has devoted her life to helping women heal their relationship with their bodies. "One of the most important things a woman can do is to shift her perspective on her breasts away from wishing they were different," says McBride. She encourages her clients to use nonsexual touch and herbal pampering to improve their relationship with their breasts. She contends, "It is so important for girls and women to learn to discern how they feel based on their inner experience. Instead of looking at ourselves in a mirror and comparing ourselves to the latest magazine image of how breasts 'should' look, we need to feel the inherent joy of being alive in a female body."

With its focus on concentration, presence, and fully conscious activity, yoga can be a crucial tool in connecting with what your body feels and what it can do. Many women find that yoga helps them experience a new appreciation for their body as they experience the sweetness of a deep stretch or the contentment that can follow a vigorous practice. This increased awareness of and comfort with the body can in turn make it easier for a woman to familiarize herself with the ways her breast tissue changes as she moves through her monthly cycle, establishing a clear baseline understanding that increases the value of regular breast self-exams.

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Reader Comments

Janet Hartman

Sandy, your words of wisdom have inspired me to search for any and all means to keep me cancer free. I have googled lots of words since my breast cancer scare, and breast thermography sounds like it won't hurt my poor breast! I'm checking it out. Thanks

Sandy

I have gotten into the habit of researching alternative care since my breast cancer scare earlier this year, during which I discovered a diagnostic called Thermography that can detect possible breast cancer almost a decade before it even becomes a tumor. Furthermore it does this safely and without squishing your breasts, instead creating a heat map of the blood flow in your breasts. Google "breast thermography" and read about it. It's been FDA approved since the 70's! However it's not backed up by "big pharma" and has not made the mainstream like mammography.

We have to be educated consumers of healthcare and of caring for our bodies. We educate ourselves when we shop around for a car, we should do the same when it comes to caring for our bodies. We cannot afford to blindly and unquestioningly (is that a word?) follow any doctor's advice, or make decisions about our bodies simply based on what everyone else is doing - it can, for some, cost us our health, or sometimes even our lives.

Sarah Howe

Thank you for the important information on the effects of yoga to the body and mind in relation to breast health. As a yoga teacher I will share these statistics with my students and as an athlete, while I attempt the 3 Day Walk for breast cancer in Boston, my thoughts will be with all those that have been touched by this disease.

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