Yoga for Cancer Patients Provides Benefits of Sleep, Vitality

This article was in the May 21, 2010 issue of Bloomberg Business Week. It has amazing findings on the benefits of yoga for those  going through cancer. Do you know someone fighting cancer? Bring them into Yen Yoga and we will give them a free week of classes so they can see the benefit of practice.

Yoga for Cancer Patients Provides Benefits of Sleep, Vitality

May 21, 2010, 12:03 AM EDT

By Tom Randall

May 21 (Bloomberg) — Touch toes. Downward dog. Breathe. It’s a yoga routine that cancer doctors have prescribed for years without evidence it would do much good. Now the biggest ever scientific study of yoga finds their instincts were right.

While yoga doesn’t cure the disease, its stretching and breathing exercises did improve sleep, reduce dependence on sedatives and help cancer patients resume the routine activities of everyday life, according to a 410-participant study being highlighted at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in Chicago next month.

Health insurers and government programs don’t pay for yoga even as mounting evidence from dozens of smaller studies show benefits for treating chronic disease. The research and more than $5 million in additional tests funded this year by the National Institutes of Health may convince skeptical doctors and provide scientific evidence to allow coverage.

“Clinicians should now feel pretty comfortable prescribing gentle Hatha yoga or restorative yoga for their patients,” said Karen Mustian, lead author of the study and assistant professor in the department of radiation oncology and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center. “The data from this study is one of the first steps in the direction toward insurance coverage, but we’re not there yet.”

Doctors at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York aren’t waiting for more studies to start prescribing yoga. The hospital is one of the few facilities in the country to offer personal yoga therapy instruction for all of its sickest cancer patients.

Fighting Leukemia

David Goldberg, a 30-year-old computer programmer and recreational athlete, learned earlier this month that he has leukemia. The cancer cut short his five-mile runs and pick-up basketball games even before his diagnosis. Goldberg hadn’t considered yoga until checking into Beth Israel’s emergency department a few weeks ago and learning of his disease.

“I was certainly a little skeptical, but so far it’s been very helpful in relaxing me, getting me in a good state of mind,” Goldberg said before a 20-minute lesson in his hospital room. His instructor wears a mask to protect Goldberg, whose immune system has been weakened by five rounds of chemotherapy. “I’m hooked up to a machine, so I can’t totally forget that I have this. For me, it’s just an amazing experience to feel where my body is and what I’m experiencing.”

Cancer Meeting Highlight

The yoga study released yesterday by the cancer group is one of more than 4,500 reports showcased at this year’s meeting of 30,000 oncologists. Doctors have been especially interested in yoga’s muscle-toning stretches and meditative breathing, which practitioners say clears the mental fog of chemotherapy and the chronic fatigue that plagues some survivors for years.

In the Rochester study, about 8 out of 10 cancer survivors reported significant sleep impairment that affected their lives before the study. Half of the patients were assigned to yoga classes twice a week for one month. By the end of the trial, 31 percent of yoga patients no longer had the sleep disruptions, twice the recovery rate of patients who didn’t take classes.

Yoga practitioners also reported a 42 percent reduction in fatigue, compared with a 12 percent reduction for the control group. Yoga users decreased the use of sleep medication by 21 percent, while the control group actually increased reliance on sleeping drugs by 5 percent.

Learning More

Scientists still don’t know exactly what makes yoga work, said Lorenzo Cohen, professor of behavioral science and cancer prevention at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Cohen and his research group were awarded a $4.5 million U.S. grant this year for the biggest yoga and meditation study. His research will compare yoga to meditation and to stretching and will analyze economic benefits from increased productivity at work.

“Once we can show an economic impact, you’ll start to see changes,” Cohen said in an interview in New York. “Companies want to provide services that keep their employees healthy and productive.

“The concept that the brain can change if you put it into different states is a whole new wonderful science that’s emerging,” Cohen said.

Yoga began in India as a combination of physical and mental exercises. Historians have traced its roots back thousands of years to references in Buddhist and Hindu texts. In Western practices, muscle-stretching poses are accompanied by meditative breathing exercises. About 15.8 million Americans practiced yoga in 2008, according to a study commissioned by Yoga Journal.

The health benefits of yoga have been explored in scores of smaller studies looking at everything from weight loss to depression. Previous studies were too small to be considered definitive, and they are difficult to compare because most of them use differing definitions for just what “yoga” is.

Skepticism at First

“Ten years ago, there was almost complete skepticism from oncologists, but now most of them are coming around” said Woodson Merrell, chairman of the department of integrative medicine at Beth Israel. Merrell’s center is completing its own studies comparing patient improvements before and after the hospital’s holistic cancer floor was finished in March 2009.

Beth Israel’s yoga program was developed with celebrity instructor Rodney Yee and the Urban Zen Foundation set up by fashion designer Donna Karan, whose husband died of lung cancer. The hospital’s cancer floor also offers acupuncture, aromatherapy, a meditation room called the “Sanctuary” and massage chairs for patients and visitors.

Integrating Mind, Body

“We’re not talking about using a Ouija board and using fern leaves instead of chemotherapy,” Merrell said. “We’re talking about relaxation techniques to integrate the mind and body — instead of feeling disconnected from this cancer that’s in you, to feel that you’re a whole human being and you’re going on this path toward healing.”

For Goldberg’s fight against leukemia, yoga is a series of slow, gentle stretches, beginning with his feet and ending in his shoulders. The reclining poses are followed by guided breathing instructions that encourage him to let go of the sounds of the hospital and to focus on his thoughts and the sensations of his body.

After his session, Goldberg told his instructor that a headache that had been bothering him during a visit with his family had disappeared and his outlook on the world was little bit brighter than before. His doctors said his positive attitude is a strong medicine and his prognosis for recovery is good.

–Editors: Angela Zimm, Bruce Rule

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Randall in New York at trandall6@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Reg Gale at rgale5@bloomberg.net

Find Your Spin-Spiration

Individuals from all walks of life enjoy (or at least endure) spinning for a number of reasons. Spinning, also know as indoor cycling, provides a fun and efficient cardiovascular workout that almost anyone can try. From seniors to cyclists, the spectrum of spinners is vast. Yet they all share a common respect for a healthier self, and realize the amazing potential spinning has at sustaining that beautiful perspective.

On a LeMond spinning bike, the rider is in optimal control. A leader guides and motivates the group of spinners through a series of cycling related simulations. Not only is the experience often exciting and intense, but the amount of comfort and control while on a spinner surpasses most other forms of exercise. In essence, spinning serves as a wonderful workout that is both extraordinarily fun and rewarding.

The benefits of spinning are just as vast as the activity’s demographics. Aside from promoting a healthier self, there are many unique and beneficial aspects of spinning that stimulate the soul.

  • Low-to-No Impact – One of the most significant features of spinning is the lack impact. Unlike running and other forms of cardiovascular exercise, spinning is easy on the joints, particularly in typical problem areas like the knees and hips. In fact, moderate spinning is a common form of physical therapy for individuals recovering from knee surgery.
  • Extreme Calorie Burner – A solid thirty minute spinning session can burn as much as 500 calories. Combine out-of-saddle hill climbs and high-intensity sprints into a 45-60 minute spin class and the calorie burning potential can reach the 1000’s.
  • Time Flies – A treadmill workout can seem like an eternity, whereas a spinning session can drift by in no time. The difficulty is constantly changing, and as spinners work through various levels of intensity, there is a welcoming tendency to lose track of time.
  • Training – From a training standpoint, triathletes and cyclists are not the only athletes who benefit from spin training. All types of athletes can enhance their performance by improving their cardiovascular endurance, muscular strength, lactate threshold and VO2 max. Spinning enables athletes to push themselves to the extremes without the risk of injury associated with more impactful forms of exercise.
  • Complete Control – The instructor might push the class to the max, but overall, the rider is in complete control. At any moment, the resistance can be taken off, cranked up, or slightly adjusted to suit the rider’s desired level of intensity.
  • Groove to the Music – Music and spinning go hand in hand. Music acts as the course, merging cadence (RPMs) and song tempo (RPMs). Slow songs typically make for good climbs or cool downs, whereas up-tempo songs encourage speed and sprints. Sustain a cadence that matches the beat and the spinning experience is like a dance party.
  • Simulated Experience – When the cold months arrive and the bicycles go into hibernation, spinning provides the perfect alternative. Many classes simulate the riding experience by incorporating hills, flats and other common elements of traditional road riding. It is both a great way maintain “bike shape” and keep cyclists sane throughout the winter.
  • Active Recovery – After more intense forms of training, certain muscles need to rebuild and replenish. That doesn’t mean sitting on the couch is the best form of recovery. Going for an easy spin allows oxygen rich blood to flow to the leg muscles, promoting faster recovery. In addition, spinning can be ideal for many forms of rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Spinning offers so much more to the self than the average Joe could ever imagine. Improving mental strength, stamina, self-confidence, sense of community and unity are also benefits that bring spinners life. For those who have hesitated to hop in the saddle, now is the time to experience a workout that is invigorating, fun and effective. Find out more information at our website.

–       Tyler Tafelsky Traverse City Spinning Instructor