VA Boston Healthcare System
Yoga for Recovery after Cancer Treatment
“Yoga. That thing where you stick your leg above your head? I can’t do that!” was a common response when VA Boston Healthcare System (VA BHS) first began recruitment for the VA Rehabilitation Research &Development funded Yoga Cancer Rehabilitation Study. This is not surprising based on the images we see in mainstream media, but Yoga can be adapted to all levels of abilities, focusing on stretching, strengthening, relaxation, and awareness of your mind and body.
The basic principles of Yoga have the potential to substantially improve the lives of older adults living with debilitating or painful medical conditions. “Yoga has shown surprising benefits for women after breast cancer, so we wanted to see if we could offer it to our older veterans recovering from cancer of all types” says Dr. Jennifer Moye, Staff Psychologist, and the study’s principal investigator. Her previous VA study of cancer survivors at VA BHS and Houston VAMC, found many veterans grateful for their cancer treatment, but struggling with fatigue, weakness, and anxiety from their treatments. About half of those veterans wanted exercise – and once they understood what Yoga is – about half were open to trying it.
In their current Yoga study, 37 VA BHS cancer survivors who ranged in age from 55 to 84 received an individualized assessment by a Yoga therapist specifically trained to work with cancer patients and a Physical therapist to determine their unique needs. Then, they came to an 8 week, two times weekly class and were provided materials to practice at home.
Preliminary results show improvements in sleep and anxiety after the class. Veterans resolved various obstacles and made the class work -- continuing with Yoga even when illness and sometimes cancer recurrence happened. Not surprisingly, Veterans created strong bonds in class – overlooking sometimes noisy or crowded conference rooms and learning to shift their “basic training” philosophy of “no pain no gain” to a more relaxed and steady approach to exercise.
“I don’t know what to say other than it works! I was apprehensive coming in, but it works—at least it did for me” said one Veteran participant in the Yoga study.
“The positive feedback is encouraging and shows that veterans -- even those in their 80s -- are open to trying new things and can do many things to regain their health after cancer” says Dr. Moye. “Our next step is figuring out how to offer it to more veterans, including how we might offer it to veterans in their homes who may have trouble driving to the VA.”
Many senior centers are now offering yoga classes, Veterans can check with their city or town’s senior center for more information.
VA BHS is offering a Yoga class for Veterans recovering from cancer on Thursdays at 1:00pm at the Brockton Campus. If you are interested in joining in or have questions please call Jeffrey Gosian at 774-826-2296 for more information.