For all the health benefits of yoga – it has no claim to cure disease. What yoga does is it strengthens the body, it makes the immune system more efficient and more responsive so that it can better protect us against injury and infection.
Yoga and hormonal imbalance
It also aids in regulating the endocrine system so that the hormones are balanced, thereby allowing the body to regulate its functions well. When there is an imbalance in our supply or secretion of hormones, our bodies suffer. For instance, it has been well documented that women experience hormonal flux and hormonal imbalance in puberty, during their menstrual cycle and during peri-menopause. The hormonal imbalance often leaves women feeling bloated, lethargic, unable to get up in the morning. Others feel overly excited, nervous or irritable. Basically, the hormonal imbalance of menstruation is often called the pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS). When hormonal imbalance persists, this often leads to heightened risk for developing hypertension, heart disease, osteoporosis and nutritional imbalance.
Yoga and somatic complaints
Yoga strengthens the mind-body connection. It alleviates stress that exacerbates wear and tear. It promotes relaxation of both the mind and the body so that the body is able to repair itself instead of fueling stress responses which only serve to heighten our stress reactions. The stress response is also called the “fight or flight” reaction which helps us flee from or confront danger and threat. However, most of us live with chronic stress – this means that our bodies are on overdrive every single day. Our heart rate is elevated, our breathing is fast and shallow and we are wound up so tight that our stomachs are churning acid all the time.
When the body is living and working every day under conditions that promote chronic stress reactions and trigger the chronic stress response, our immune system is overwhelmed. Our bodies think that ordinary things are threats – our allergic response is heightened and we become sensitive to most things that we weren’t sensitive to before. Sometimes, our bodies think that our own cells are threats: this is called an auto-immune disease.
Often, because of the stress of the mind, our perception of pain is also heightened. Our pain receptors become more sensitive to pain. For this reason, it takes us longer to recover from injury. Sometimes, when we experience a major accident that incapacitates and immobilizes us for a while, our threshold for enduring pain is compromised.
Yoga, wellbeing and wellness
Yoga also brings about a feeling of wellbeing and wellness. This is very important for people who are recovering from injury or disease. It is especially helpful for people who have survived and are living with breast cancer. When women undergo treatment for breast cancer, often surgery is involved: women often undergo a lumpectomy or a mastectomy. They also undergo chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy or a combination of both. Some studies have shown that chemotherapy destroys healthy normal cells as it destroys cancer cells. What happens is that women have to survive both the cancer and the treatment for cancer.
Most women who survive breast cancer after having undergone surgery and chemotherapy report fatigue and nerve pain. These are the commonly reported side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Nerve pain is burning pain which is not relieved by common pain relievers. It is overall, generalized pain and soreness. The burning pain increases and intensifies while resting or when doing strenuous activity.
The nerve pain is complicated by fatigue and lethargy. Women often cannot find the strength to get up from bed in the morning. The usual activities and tasks they did prior to cancer treatment seem impossible. This is partly due to the body trying to heal itself – it takes a lot of energy for the body to heal itself, necessitating lots of sleep and rest so that recovery ensues.
Yoga is beneficial for women who have undergone breast surgery. It promotes strength and balance. It stretches the muscles and gives an overall feeling of relaxation and “rested-ness”. One thing about living with cancer or living after treatment for cancer is that the survivors are fearful that cancer may return or it may spread. This stress often prevents full recovery. Yoga helps relieve this stress by giving the survivor something to work for: strengthening the body in case cancer attacks anew.