Being diagnosed with cancer and having treatment can cause anxiety and, for some people, depression. I became very disconnected from my body during my own cancer journey and treatment, and one of the tools that really helped me was focusing on a regular yoga and meditation practice.
Yoga offered me a move in the opposite direction from disconnection. In yoga, we are continuously guided and invited to move inward, on a journey that intelligently navigates our thoughts, and emotions (including fear and anxiety) into a place of stillness. The magic and beauty of this practice is that it engages our body and uses this as an entry point into stilling our minds and finally into the majestic silence of the soul.
The physical practice is designed specially to engage all muscles and then release them, in turn. It also accesses our inner organs, squeezing and releasing, to ensure proper digestion, excellent muscle toning, and the balancing of the glands in the body that organise and secrete hormonal activity. It stretches and releases collagen fibres in the body, to support quick healing from injury. It also works on raising bone density, which is connected to positive mental health.
Many of the practices in yoga (breathing and physical) also impact the vagus nerve, which is the initiator of the parasympathetic nervous system (relaxation response). In mental health hospitals across the world, vagal stimulation has been one of the most successful treatments for deep and long-lasting depression. In yoga, we stimulate the vagus nerve through backward bends and certain breathing practises in a gentle and non-invasive manner, slowly raising our health.
Moreover, the practice is often done in a small group where the leader has been trained to create a ‘safe space’ where emotions can be shared or felt openly without judgement. This creates community and social cohesion, and the benefits can include a sense of release, connection, and joy.
Yoga is the science of well-being. It is designed to take the student from a place of lethargy and disengagement to a place of optimal well-being through 8 steps:
Ethics and conscious attunement
Balanced and sustained joy
This system was designed around 7000 years ago and has always been important as a guide to optimal wellness ever since.