Saturday, February 28, 2015

Yoga for Cancer Recovery: Remembering to Breathe

remember to breathe
By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed

Many cutting edge alternative treatments for cancer include boosting oxygen levels in the body through the use of, for example, hyperbaric oxygen chambers and the inclusion of a large amount of green plant food in the diet. Of course, one of the simplest and most effective ways of increasing the amount of oxygen in your body is by remembering to breathe deeply and completely! Although this may sound quite simple, if you are contending with cancer, you may find that you are so afraid and stressed out, that you are holding your breath or only breathing in a very shallow manner most of the time. 

A few of the most effective, calming Yogic breathing exercises are the Relaxation Breath and Dirga Pranayama. Both of these breathing exercises will flood your body with fresh oxygen and invoke the relaxation response, which is so critical to the healthy functioning of the immune system. If you are able to relax, even for fifteen minutes a day at the end of your Yoga practice, you will also help to support a healthy level of the feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain, which will help to protect you against developing depression, while you heal your body of cancer. 

* Dirga Pranayama or Three-Part Breath

The Three Part Breath is a simple Yogic pranayama exercise that is very relaxing. It also helps to bring awareness to places in your body where you may be holding your breath. It is a very common response to hold the breath and/or to physically constrict around an area that is hurt or diseased. However, cancer cells thrive in a low oxygenated or stagnant area of the body. One of the best ways to release muscular tension or holding and to oxygenate the tissues is to practice Yoga daily, including Yogic breathing exercises. It is also a wonderful way to nurture yourself during your journey with cancer. 

Dirga Pranayama, or the Three Part Breath, is often performed at the end of a Yoga practice, just prior to Shavasana and meditation. This breathing exercise can also be practiced as a stand-alone exercise or as part of your bedtime routine, in order to support a deep, restful sleep. You may practice Dirga Pranayama sitting in a chair, sitting on your Yoga mat on a folded blanket or pillow, or in a prone position on your mat or in bed. It is quite lovely to practice this Yogic breathing exercise in a restorative fashion, by lying on your Yoga mat and placing a bolster under your knees, positioning an aromatherapy eye pillow over your eyes and wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. 

When you are ready to practice the Three Part Breath, find a comfortable seated position or lie back on your Yoga mat and place any props you are using accordingly. Take a few deep breaths, and then place your hands gently on your lower abdomen. The Three Part Breath entails dividing your inhale into three equal parts, and then releasing your breath in one fluid, smooth exhale. Begin the Three Part Breath by inhaling one third of your breath through your nose. Pause for a few seconds and feel your lower abdomen expand with your breath. 

Shift your hands to your rib cage and inhale the second third of your breath to the level of your mid-torso. Again, pause for a few seconds and feel the expansion of your rib cage with your breath. Finally, move your hands to your upper chest and fill your lungs to their capacity. Bring your awareness to each area of your body with your inhalation. When you have completed the third portion of you inhalation, smoothly release your breath in one continuous exhalation. As you practice Dirga Pranayama, imagine your are taking the energy of the sun into your body and releasing any toxicity, stress or tension with each exhalation. 

Virginia Iversen, M.Ed, has been practicing and studying the art of Yoga for over twenty years. She lives in Woodstock, New York, where she works as a writer and an academic support specialist. She is currently accepting Yoga and health-related writing orders and may be contacted at: