In their study, the researchers compared two groups of study participants. The first group, the yoga group, were instructed to practice a chanting meditation, “Kirtan Kriya“, every day at the same time for eight weeks. The second group, the control group, was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes every day at the same time for eight weeks.
“At the end of the eight weeks the researchers found that the meditation group showed significantly lower levels of depressive symptoms and greater improvement in mental health and cognitive functioning, compared with the relaxation group. In the meditation group, 65 percent showed a 50 percent improvement on a depression rating scale, and 52 percent of the group showed a 50 percent improvement on a mental health score. This compared to a 31 percent depression improvement and a 19 percent mental health improvement for the relaxation group.
The researchers also found that meditation increased telomerase activity and thus slowed cellular aging. Telomerase is an enzyme that maintains the DNA at the ends of our chromosomes, known as telomeres. Telomeres are associated with a host of health risks and diseases, which may be regulated in part by psychological stress. In the absence of telomerase activity, every time our cells divide, our telomeres get shorter and shorter, until eventually, they become so short the cells die. If high telomerase can be maintained or promoted, though, it will likely promote improvement in telomere maintenance and immune cell longevity.
In the study, the meditation group showed a 43 percent improvement in telomerase activity compared with 3.7 percent in the relaxation group.”
Yoga is an effective, non-pharmacologic approach to reducing depression, stress, improving cognitive functioning and cancer related fatigue (see additional studies below). It is clear that the healthful benefits of yoga are not simply related to practicing relaxation techniques, but also involve the integration of breath work and physical activity.
The potential health benefits of yoga are numerous and can include:
- Stress reduction
- Increased fitness
- Management of chronic health conditions: cancer & treatment-related symptoms and side effects, depression, pain, anxiety and insomnia, fatigue, mood, blood pressure, etc…
- Weight loss
As a patient with cancer (or their caregiver), yoga can be done without requiring significant physical stamina, strength or flexibility…but you will need to find an appropriate style, instructor and class that suits your specific needs and limitations. To learn more, here’s a great guide.
Looking for a yoga class near you? Check out this useful finder.
Other interesting oncology-related yoga studies:
- A recent study reported that breast cancer survivors who practiced yoga for 3-months had a significant reduction in cancer related fatigue and improved vigor. This reduction in fatigue is thought to be due to yoga’s effects on the immune and neuroendocrine systems (likely through increased physical activity and stress reduction).
- A short, 4-week yoga course has also been reported to improve sleep quality and fatigue after cancer treatment.
- An 8-week yoga course was reported to reduce salivary cortisol (stress hormone) levels, improve emotional well-being and reduce fatigue after cancer treatment.