By Paula Morris, C-IAYT Certified Yoga Therapist

“Like a house protects one from the sun, hatha yoga protects the practitioner,”

PROTECTING HEALTH WITH MIND-BODY THERAPIES This saying from an ancient medical reference, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, reminds us that a person who strives for wellness

through mind-body practices builds protection against risks and a foundation to rebuild the house when it sustains damage from a strong storm.

This has special meaning as catastrophic events like cancer affect so many. As a yoga therapist, I know that mind-body practices of meditation, exercise, relaxation, respiration, and sensory withdrawal develop this foundation to fight diseases and overcome catastrophes.

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness month, and breast cancer attacks both women and men. According to the breast cancer figures of the National Cancer Institute’s Annual Report to the Nation for 2017 (, the good news is that overall mortality rates are decreasing for breast cancer as well as most forms of cancer, and for all ages. However, the bad news is that the incidences of cancer overall are increasing. Liver cancers are on the rise by nearly 4%, and incidences of breast cancer are not decreasing, affecting approximately 128 in every 100,000 men and women. Unless we now do something differently, by 2020 the yearly cost to the nation is expected to be 156 billion, 50% of the world population is projected to be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime, and 60% of those diagnosed may not survive. That’s something worth concentrating on because we’re all going to be affected directly or indirectly.

A diagnosis has the power to set us back in devastating ways. Disease is a complex physiology, so every method that may reduce disease risks and progression should be our nation’s highest priority. Some identifiable risk factors may not be within our power solely to change, such as family and genetic history, but others are, and that’s what we need to do something about while we can. Lung cancer has decreased significantly because more people have decided smoking isn’t worth the risks.

There are factors we can control to lower risks. The American Cancer Society’s webpage at identifies factors that increase relative risks for breast cancer, and guidelines for nutrition and physical activity for overall cancer prevention.

Achieving a healthy weight, adopting a physically active lifestyle, choosing to consume a healthy diet high in plant foods, and limiting alcohol are at least four things we can control. As a yoga therapist, these are four benefits that can be developed at any age through the self-care coping practices yoga therapy develops. It’s never too early or too late to develop healthier practices.

The enormous potential a mind-body approach can have to cancer and recurrence, metastasis, toxic treatments and effects, quality of life and longevity is now suggested by 30 years of research. To maintain healthy balance, science can now see that we cannot ignore what is wrong in either the body or the mind or it festers and grows, nor ignore what is strong in one but weak in another until it weakens both. We have better information than ever before on the interplay of mind and body, stress and disease.

The physiological link between mind stress, respiration, and body breakdown gains clarity as scientists pursue the question. Actual physiological changes in the breathing rates of meditators was first studied in the 1960s by Herbert Benson of Harvard University’s Mind/Body Institute and termed “the

relaxation response”. Since then, in an extensive summation of 30 years of mind-body studies entitled “Mind-body Research Moves Towards the Mainstream (Brower, V. 2006), Benson and others report the latest evidence of neurological, endocrine, and immune system changes that stress and the mind plays in disease and healing. Benson believes mind-body therapy is the third leg of medicine beyond pharmacology and surgery, yet “the average doctor does not prescribe meditation, breathing exercise, or yoga, and this needs to change.” The full report can be accessed at (EMBO Reports 7.4 (2006): 358–361. PMC. Web. 16 Sept. 2017)

Breathing exercises may seem automatic and unimportant, but they are a key methodology of Yoga Therapy because they slow the usual respiration rates per minute allowing the body to inspire deeper volumes of oxygen for proper cellular function with each breath, and reduce physiological stress reactions in the body-brain responses. In exciting new research by Princeton University and the Mayo Cancer Clinic, low cellular oxygen levels influenced cancer metastasis. Researchers discovered that tumor spread could be reduced by increasing oxygen to the cells as reported in Breast Investigators Oct-Dec 2016 Informed & Empowered news brief “Lack of Oxygen in Tumors Triggers Cancer Spread” by Breast Investigators, LLC , This suggests that breathing exercises may be more important to the health of the body than originally understood and would be worth exploring as a new possibility for treatment and prevention.

Further evidence that chronic diseases begin as subtle mind-body reactivity that produces physiological changes within cells long before we see the symptoms, has been found by researchers at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. They have been studying blood compounds for 20 years to detect breast cancer at the cellular level years before a mass can be felt or seen by mammogram, and report success in creating a blood test predicting breast cancer’s onset 2-5 years in advance of a tumor with 80% accuracy. These findings were published in the April 2015 issue of Metabolomics by R. Bro et al, “A Blood Test Could Give Early Breast Cancer Warning”

In cancer care, we are realizing the effectiveness of personalizing therapies to do more good and less harm. There are no side effects to Yoga Therapy except good ones. Yoga Therapy fits into the life you already have, while enhancing the effectiveness of other treatments in medicine, psychology, fitness, alternative therapies, pain management, and stress management. It’s personalized mind-body methodology is appropriate for healthy aging, improving and recovery from chronic conditions, and for any stage of cancer because it adapts postures and exercises to the limitations of the patient undergoing treatments and focuses on soothing practices during treatments including meditations, respiration, and mental conditioning to create an upward path through adversity and after crisis.

Therefore, it’s largely up to us whether we acknowledge a tool in our possession, or keep hitting the same problem with the same tools. We can remain reactive or shift to proactive. All of us can make a difference to the future experience of cancer. Oncologists, surgeons, physicians, and survivors can lead the way. Parents can become examples for their children, younger generations can assist the older generations. All of us can make the difference. We can make the choice now.

If lifestyles were graded for survival with the same seriousness that tumors and metastases are evaluated, we would consider with equal importance what we do daily. There are many controllable factors in our lifestyles that are known to influence risks for any chronic disease: stress and inflammation, smoking, alcohol, drugs, obesity, sitting for long periods, and inadequate exercise, sleep, diet, hydration, and oxygen intake. Mitigating these risk factors and acting on the latest mind-body research offers an unexplored route to combatting cancer and other inflammatory diseases. The complexity of cancer demands exploring all possibilities that positively impact health. The key to a cure is not only stopping cancer when we get it, but reducing known factors contributing to it forming.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, 9.5 % of American adults practiced yoga exercise for health reasons in 2012, a 30% increase in 4 years, steadily moving into the mainstream as more and more data is reported on the science behind it’s health benefits. AARP Magazine in May 2017 weighed in to remind its senior population of “Twenty-one Health Reasons to Do Yoga After 70”. It is now the most used natural therapy for adults, and second in children.

Now imagine if that number, especially in seniors, doubled by 2020, and if meditation and respiration therapy were practiced as much as the movement practices of yoga when people were young. Perhaps breast cancer, heart disease, and other diseases would decrease.

It’s never too late or too early to start healthy practices. Every small step forward in the mind and body can carry us to the next realization and to the better yet possible. As the 2016 Global Report on Cancer by the American Cancer Society concluded, “… this burden of disease, loss of life, and economic hardship is not inevitable.” Let’s become the change.

Paula Morris is a Certified-IAYT Yoga Therapist, mind-body specialist, ERYT500 yoga and meditation teacher, educator, writer, speaker, and owner of Empowered 2 Wellness Yoga Therapy, Sarasota’s first office for individualized yoga therapy services located at Midtown Medical Park, 1219 S. East Avenue, Suite 104. Yoga Therapy’s targeted and personal programs condition body and mind. Programs adapt to the needs and limitations of each client and their allopathic treatments and conditions. Lunchbreak sessions nourish daily stress-release selfcare. Personal services to manage lymphedema, anxiety, and recovery and free classes at In the Pink Boutique on Fruitville Rd are available to those surviving cancer. Packages are discounted to all teachers, caregivers, healthcare providers, and first-responders. Yoga Therapy assists people to develop personal and lifestyle practices to balance life, accelerate health and healing, and empower the better possible.

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