Yoga breathing techniques may improve quality of life and reduce chemotherapy side effects for cancer patients, according to a new study.
Yoga has been described as “the union of mind, body, and spirit,” which addresses physical, mental, intellectual, emotional and spiritual dimensions towards an overall harmonious state of being. The philosophy of yoga is sometimes pictured as a tree with eight branches. These eight limbs are: pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (physical postures), yama (moral behavior), niyama (healthy habit), dharana (concentration), prathyahara (sense withdrawal), dhyana (contemplation) and samadhi (higher consciousness).
Yoga may be beneficial for improving the quality of life for patients with serious diseases as well as in healthy patients. Several previous studies in cancer patients report enhanced quality of life, lower sleep disturbance, decreased stress symptoms and changes in cancer-related immune cells after patients received relaxation, meditation and gentle yoga therapy.
In a new study, 16 cancer patients receiving chemotherapy were randomly assigned to a yoga breathing treatment group or control group. The yoga group attended weekly classes to learn four yoga breathing techniques and practiced the techniques during two consecutive cycles of chemotherapy. The control group received standard care after their first chemotherapy cycle and practiced the yoga breathing only during their second cycle. Various outcome measures, including fatigue, sleep quality, depression, stress and quality of life were evaluated.
The researchers found that the more the yoga breathing was used, the greater the improvement in symptoms. Yoga breathing resulted in significant improvements for several outcome measures, including sleep quality, anxiety and mental quality of life.
The authors concluded that yoga breathing techniques may be beneficial for cancer patients receiving chemotherapy. Larger-scale well-designed clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.
In addition to yoga, there is good evidence that various types of meditation may help improve quality of life for cancer patients. Studies have shown benefits for mood, sleep quality and the stresses of treatment. The specific effects of meditation are not fully understood. However, meditation can be recommended as a form of support for cancer patients.
There is also good evidence that psychotherapy may enhance cancer patients’ quality of life by reducing emotional distress and aiding in coping with the stresses and challenges of cancer. Therapy may be supportive-expressive therapy, cognitive therapy or group therapy. Studies conflict on whether therapy improves self-esteem, death anxiety, self-satisfaction, etc. While some patients seek psychotherapy in hopes of extending survival, there is no conclusive evidence on its effects on medical prognosis.