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Study shows improved quality of life for cancer patients who practice yoga

| Date Posted: 6/28/2010

SOUTHERN PINES – When Denise Williams started the Cancer Wellness Program at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Southern Pines, she was just days into her radiation treatment program for invasive breast cancer. She was understandably anxious at the time and having trouble sleeping.


Cinnamon LeBlanc (standing) leads a yoga session for Cancer Wellness Program participants at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Southern Pines. Participants in a recent study conducted by the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center were found to sleep better and experience less fatigue and an overall better quality of life if they practiced yoga as compared to participants who didn’t take part in yoga.

After a few days of participation, Williams was pleased to find that the program, especially the yoga portion of the program, helped her to relax and sleep.

“It’s amazing how much better you feel,” she says. “I think it was a stress reliever for me.”

According to a study conducted by the University of Rochester (N.Y.) Medical Center, Williams’ experience is apparently common among cancer patients who participate in yoga. One of the study chairs, Dr. Karen Mustian, presented a paper on the study at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting in June. She encouraged cancer care providers to recommend that their patients take gentle hatha yoga or restorative yoga classes or a class that combines the two techniques with breathing exercises and mindfulness.

There is scientific proof, she told the group, that the benefits are worth the effort of seeking the programs out.

Dr. Mustian’s standardized program involved sessions of hatha (a slow-moving form of the discipline) and restorative yoga twice a week for 75 minutes each. Among the 410 participants in her study, who were divided into yoga and traditional follow-up care groups, those practicing yoga recorded nearly double the improvement in sleep quality and reduction of fatigue compared to those not practicing yoga.

They also reported better quality of life overall.

That’s no surprise to Cinnamon LeBlanc, manager of the Center for Health & Fitness-Southern Pines. A registered yoga teacher, she has observed yoga’s effect on her Cancer Wellness Program participants for years.

“I think it takes people out of their ‘worry mode,’” she says. “For the time they are doing yoga, they’re not thinking about other things so they can let that go. These kinds of tools are life tools.”

Yoga, says LeBlanc, encourages participants to focus on the present moment while letting go of their worries and concerns. Classes begin with “centering” and breathing exercises that encourage participants to focus and “to get a sense of breath flowing into their body” so they can understand what feels good and what doesn’t.

“Some (people) just need to relax,” LeBlanc says. “If your mind’s busy at night, you can’t sleep.”

Southern Pines resident Vernon Pherson became convinced of the restorative powers of yoga while taking LeBlanc’s Cancer Wellness Program after undergoing high dose rate brachytherapy for prostate cancer.

The classes taught him to “focus more” and helped relieve the tension he would wake up feeling in his shoulders and back.

“It was more a matter of bringing my body and my mind together a little bit,” he says. “It was more a matter of relaxing and thinking.”

“The physical fitness was a big thing for me,” he adds.

Williams, the co-owner of Black Rock Nursery and Black Rock Winery, says the sleeping issues that began with her diagnosis and treatment returned after she stopped taking yoga for a couple of weeks.

“I went back (to yoga classes) last week,” she says. “It’s made a believer out of me.”

For more information on the Cancer Wellness Program and yoga classes at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Southern Pines, call (910) 692-6129.

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