This week I’m happy to bring to you a guest blog post from my good friend and yoga studio owner, Anne Basco. She has written about the yogic practice of mindful breathing called pranayama and the health benefits it can bring, especially for those in cancer treatment. Really it’s good for everyone in our busy world.
Breathing. Simple, right? You do it every day. How can something you’ve done since the day you were born change your life now?
Mindfulness is the key. Our breath is wired through the nervous system to operate on automatic, even during our deepest sleep (REM cycle). Yet during our wakeful hours–perhaps when sensing shallow breathing/anxiousness–we have the power to pause, focus on the present, and begin to regulate the depth, pace, and movement associated with breathing, and return to a calm state. Cultivating this kind of mindful breathing is called pranayama and is a key component to Therapeutic Yoga practice, and can be particularly helpful during the life-changing transitions associated with cancer treatment and care.
If you are a cancer patient or a survivor, you may feel unbalanced while processing the diagnosis, undergoing treatment, and in life after treatment and may need skilled guidance regarding what is safe yoga practice during different stages of treatment and aftercare. For example, physical mobility often changes during chemotherapy. People who have recently undergone cancer treatment may also have physical and mental limitations which may include, hunched posture, shuffling gait, weakness, fatigue, compromised breathing, altered digestion, swelling, pain, depleted energy, difficulty concentrating and more which may affect the desire and ability to remain physically active.
Whether you have any of these limitations or if you would just like feel stronger, a skilled yoga therapist collaborates with clients to formulate a yoga and pranayama practice plan to enhance self care and centering, and can benefit pretty much anyone!
If you can breathe you can practice yoga. Breathing is central to the therapeutic application of yoga. The breath can be practiced at any stage of cancer treatment and can be adapted to soothe the mind from anxiety and stress. Pranayama, or altered yogic breathing, is a great place to start in addressing the side effects of cancer treatment and for cancer survivors.
How to Practice Conscious Breathing Daily
- Place yourself in a comfortable position, sitting or reclining depending on your energy (sitting upright is best but not always possible)
- Your ability to feel comfortable may vary
- If possible place yourself in the most symmetrical position possible
- You may need cushions or pillows. The spine, limbs, and head should be comfortable and supported if fatigue may become a distraction to your concentration
- Begin by drawing your attention to the breath
- Allow yourself to simply feel the breath moving
- Observe the feel of your breath, is it: Shallow? Steady? Uneven? What your inquiry reveals is not right or wrong, simply be aware of your breathing
- Observe the movement of breath at the nostrils
- Sense and develop the softness of the breath as it passes through your nostrils
- Become conscious of the temperature of the air passing through your nostrils: Does the inhale feel cool? Does the exhale feel warmer than the inhale?
- Observe the movement of your breath, perhaps a consistent steadiness can develop
Cultivate an impression of the breath moving in your body. Welcome the gentle expansion generated by each inhale, feel the chest and belly shift and expand. Release tension during the exhale, sense the contraction in the belly and chest.
Start by practicing this conscious breathing daily as a preliminary step toward a more skillful pranayama practice customized to your needs with your Yoga Therapist.
If you have been through cancer, the key to a successful yoga practice for you will be the adaptability of the practice based on today’s needs. Find a yoga therapist who is trained and understands the effects of chemotherapy, other cancer treatments and side effects.
It may be that a simple pranayama practice is more effective than an asana practice. It is important to have an understanding of the effects of asana on the human systems, and how to adapt pranayama and asana properly in the spirit of first do no harm.
By Anne Basco, ERYT 500, Yoga Therapist, Owner Karuna Arts Yoga in the Highline Community since 2002.
Anne receives private yoga clients in Des Moines, Washington, teaches therapeutic yoga in group format, trains yoga teachers, and offers Continuing Education for practicing yoga teachers on a monthly basis.
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