Inside India among adherents of the Hindu faith, yoga is an entire spiritual belief system comprised of asceticism and meditation techniques that go back well over 5,000 years. The word itself shares an etymological root with the English word “yoke,” which was a device used in pre-Industrial times to control draft animals such as oxen. Nonetheless, the word “yoga” is difficult to translate; it has the general meanings of “control” as well as “unity” and “method.”
In the Western World outside of India, the asanas, or physical postures and breathing techniques of hatha (“forceful”) yoga are primarily used as a form of exercises that are intended to restore and maintain a sense of health and well-being. It is this aspect of yoga that has become part of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) used to treat mesothelioma and other kinds of cancer.
Yoga as Alternative Therapy
Like most CAM therapies, yoga is primarily used to address the symptoms of mesothelioma and other types of cancer, as well as assist patients in coping with the side effects of treatment – primarily chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Hatha yoga is a series of physical postures and exercises that have been developed over the course of centuries for the purposes of spiritual and physical purification. The practice combines these physical postures (asanas) with techniques of breath control (pranayama) and meditation.
Practitioners believe that the practice of yoga can calm the nervous system while helping patients to balance mind, body and spirit. Yoga is thought to promote health by opening the “passages” or meridians through which “life energy”—known as prana—flows. In this sense, there is some similarity to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), which is based on a similar belief (in this case, the “life energy” is called “Qi” or “Chi”—see Treating Mesothelioma—Alternative Treatments—Acupuncture).
This may seem somewhat unscientific and metaphysical. The fact is, however, that the practice of hatha yoga—the physical postures and breathing exercises—has been demonstrated to lower blood pressure and reduce stress levels as the patient experiences improved coordination, flexibility, concentration, sleep and digestion.
This is particularly important for those undergoing treatment for mesothelioma and other types of cancer. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments involve the use of deadly toxins, and some negative effects on the patient’s overall health cannot be avoided. These include nausea, fatigue, and overall physical weakness.
There have been no studies on the effects of yoga on malignant mesothelioma patients specifically. However, a 2006 University of Texas study of 61 breast cancer patients undergoing radiation treatments, who participated in twice-weekly yoga classes as part of an overall treatment program, enjoyed an increased level of physical abilities and higher energy levels than those who did not.
In general, the U.T. study added to the increasing body of medical evidence indicating that alternative therapies and interventions based on relaxation techniques are highly effective as part of a comprehensive cancer treatment program which includes standard as well as alternative therapies.
Like other CAM therapies such as acupuncture and massage, yoga has no harmful side effects. It is also non-invasive. It has a distinct advantage over other therapies in that once the techniques have been learned and mastered, they are completely free, and require no special equipment other than a mat.
The breathing exercises may pose a problem for those suffering from pleural mesothelioma, but if the disease has attacked the peritoneal lining instead, yoga may have very beneficial effects. As is the case with all CAM therapies, the patient should consult his/her primary care physician beforehand.