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Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life

Yoga is a form of mind-body fitness that involves a combination of muscular activity and an internally directed mindful focus on awareness of the self, the breath, and energy. Four basic principles underlie the teachings and practices of yoga’s healing system. The first principle is that the human body is a holistic entity comprised of various interrelated dimensions inseparable from one another, and the health or illness of any one dimension affects the other dimensions. The second principle is that individuals and their needs are unique and therefore must be approached in a way that acknowledges this individuality and their practice must be tailored accordingly. The third principle is that yoga is self- empowering; the student is his or her own healer. Yoga engages the student in the healing process; by playing an active role in their journey toward health, the healing comes from within, instead of from an outside source, and a greater sense of autonomy is achieved. The fourth principle is that the quality and state of an individual’s mind is crucial to healing. When the individual has a positive mind-state, healing happens more quickly, whereas if the mind-state is negative, healing may be prolonged. In Yoga Sutras, Patanjali outlines an eightfold path to awareness and enlightenment called ashtanga, which literally means “eight limbs”. The eight limbs are comprised of ethical principles for living a meaningful and purposeful life; serving as a prescription for moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline, they direct attention towards one’s health while acknowledging the spiritual aspects of one’s nature. Any of the eight limbs may be used separately, but within yoga philosophy the physical postures and breathing exercises prepare the mind and body for meditation and spiritual development. Based on Patanjali’s eight limbs, many different yogic disciplines have been developed. Each has its own technique for preventing and treating disease. In the Western world, the most common aspects of yoga practiced are the physical postures and breathing practices of Hatha yoga and meditation. Hatha yoga enhances the capacity of the physical body through the use of a series of body postures, movements (asanas), and breathing techniques (pranayama). The breathing techniques of Hatha yoga focus on conscious prolongation of inhalation, breath retention, and exhalation. It

is through the unification of the physical body, breath, and concentration, while performing the postures and movements, that blockages in the energy channels of the body are cleared and the body energy system becomes more balanced. Yoga is recognized as a form of mind-body medicine that integrates an individual’s physical, mental and spiritual components to improve aspects of health, particularly stress-related illnesses. Evidence shows that stress contributes to the etiology of heart disease, cancer, and stroke as well as other chronic conditions and diseases. Due to the fact that stress is implicated in numerous diseases, it is a priority to focus on stress management and reduction of negative emotional states in order to reduce the burden of disease. Viewed as a holistic stress management technique, yoga is a form of Complimentary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) that produces a physiological sequence of events in the body, reducing the stress response. The scientific study of yoga has increased substantially in recent years and many clinical trials have been designed to assess its therapeutic effects and benefits. Yogic practices enhance muscular strength and body flexibility, promote and improve respiratory and cardiovascular function, promote recovery from and treatment of addiction, reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain, improve sleep patterns, and enhance overall well-being and quality of life. While yoga is not a cure for a cancer, nor a definitive way of preventing it, yoga increases physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness, and brings about a certain peace, which many cancer patients desire. Yoga, breathing exercises, and meditation can reduce stress, promote healing, and enhance quality of life for patients with cancer. The growth of tumors and other cancer indicators are exacerbated by stress, so it is especially important for people with cancer to reduce and manage stress effectively. Several premises exist as rationale for applying yoga- based interventions with cancer patients. Research suggests that yoga can produce an invigorating effect on mental and physical energy that improves fitness and reduces fatigue. Additionally,whenpracticingyoga,a fundamental emphasis is placed on accepting one’s moment-

to-moment experiences, creating mindfulness, and not forcing the body past its comfortable limits. Having this healthy sense of acceptance is especially important for individuals dealing with life-threatening illness as it decreases the stress one experiences from unpleasant symptomology. Initially, cancer patients likely benefit from the poses themselves which are designed to exercise each and every muscle, nerve, and gland throughout the body. The postures precisely address the tension, holding, and blockage of energy in any particular joint or organ. As this tension is released, energy flows more readily throughout the body and allows patients to experience a sense of increased well-being and strength as well as a balance of mind, body and spirit. In summary, stress has a negative impact on the immune system and prolonged exposure increases susceptibility to disease and leads to physical and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Practicing yoga and meditation as a means to manage and relieve both acute and chronic stress helps individuals overcome other co-morbidities associated with diseases and leads to increased quality of life. As a non-pharmacological form of treatment, yoga based interventions are an alternative option for the treatment of mood disorders. Further investigation of yoga as a therapeutic intervention in depressive disorders is needed and future studies should seek to identify which of the yoga-based interventions is most effective and what levels of severity of depression are more likely to respond to this approach. Woodyard, Catherine. “Exploring the Therapeutic Effects of Yoga and Its Ability to Increase Quality of Life.” International Journal of Yoga. Medknow Publications Pvt Ltd, 2011. Web. 06 Apr. 2017.

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