Movement keeps you alive. Movement stimulates the circulation of blood which carries oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body. Without that delivery system, your cells and tissues become stagnant and they begin to operate less efficiently.
Your lymphatic system, which removes cellular waste, dead blood cells and pathogens, relies completely on movement. It’s your internal cleaning service! But lymphatic fluid doesn’t have its own pump like the heart, which pumps blood. Instead it relies on your movement and muscle activity to circulate. As the fluid passes through lymph nodes, the nodes filter out pathogens such as cancer cells. The cleansed lymph then flows upward in your body, toward your neck, where it enters the bloodstream.
In my yoga classes for cancer patients, the kind of movement I emphasize focuses on circulation, instead of movement for strength building. It’s that circulation that moves lymphatic fluids, blood, oxygen and nutrients through your body. Some strength building may be appropriate depending on your condition, but circulation becomes even more important if you become debilitated and/or bedridden. Then even small movements of the arms will stimulate circulation and help move your lymphatic fluid. Flex and point the feet, roll the wrists, wiggle the fingers, shrug the shoulders. Any movement will do!
“I move, therefore I am.”
― Haruki Murakami, 1Q84
Meditation is garnering impressive scientific backing as well as much media attention in recent years. I enjoy teaching meditation in my yoga classes and feel that it’s equally important to understand what is happening in the body when one meditates – the changes are so beneficial! Below is a synopsis of what I teach.
Meditation elicits the “relaxation response,” a term coined by researcher Herbert Benson at Harvard Medical School in the early 70s, to describe a phenomenon in which the following physiological changes take place:
Heart rate lowers
Muscles tension is reduced
Brain waves slow down
Blood pressure decreases
Chemicals associated with stress, cortisol and adrenalin, are reduced
Meditation calms the sympathetic nervous system and engages the parasympathetic nervous system.
The sympathetic nervous system is the “fight or flight” process of the limbic brain. It sends adrenalin and cortisol through the body, which in turn sends blood to the extremities – arms and legs – leaving the organs at the core of the body functioning with less blood and interfering with their efficient functioning. In this situation the digestive and reproductive systems are suppressed and the immune system altered.
The parasympathetic nervous system tells the body that everything is okay, that it can relax. It returns the blood to the core organs so they can operate efficiently. If stress is prolonged and the body is continuously exposed to the stress hormones, one becomes at risk for heart disease, sleep problems, digestive problems, depression and memory impairment.
A simple meditation technique is to watch the breath. Settle into a comfortable position (not lying down – you might fall asleep!). Notice how the breath is moving in the body. Hold your attention on the most prominent sensation of the breath. If you like, you can use your inner voice to label the breath “in” and “out.” If the mind wanders, don’t worry, it’s natural. Just bring it back to the breath. Try doing this for 3-5 minutes. You can build up to a longer practice over time.
Know that the mind is a powerful tool. Use it to bring yourself into full, vibrant health.
Understanding the importance of our breath is a key part of any successful yoga practice. In my class on the breath, I share lots of information about the physiology of breathing and how yoga’s breathing techniques actually change the body’s inner chemistry.
One key area to understand is cellular respiration, and particularly how oxygen and glucose are metabolized into units of energy called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). This is the energy you use to climb a flight of stairs! Apparently our cells have several methods of converting glucose into energy, depending on whether oxygen is available or not. In short, more ATP, or energy molecules, are generated when oxygen is present – 34 molecules to be exact. So when we breathe shallowly, and are not providing as much oxygen to our blood, cells resorts to glycolysis which produces only 2 molecules. So, more oxygen, more energy.
This is a very simplified explanation of something that is far more complex. And it’s important – especially for cancer patients – to understand what’s happening in the body and how we benefit when we engage in yoga practices.
If any medical practitioner or researcher would like to add to this discussion, in layman’s terms, please contact me.
Now let’s all take a big breath!
In my classes I teach the Awareness Practice which involves bringing one’s attention to how the body is feeling on various levels: physical, emotional and psychological. Other teachers may call this the Witness Practice as it cultivates a sense of detached observation. A major component of this practice is the body scan – bringing detailed attention to all parts of the body in a progressive sequence. Below is a wonderful quote about the body scan from Jon Kabot-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living (p. 89).
“When practicing the body scan, the key point is to maintain awareness in every moment, a detached witnessing of your breath and your body, region by region, as you scan from your feet to the top of your head. The quality of your attention and your willingness just to feel what is there and be with it no matter what is much more important than imagining the tension leaving your body or the inbreath revitalizing your body. If you just work at getting rid of tension, you may or may not succeed, but you are not practicing mindfulness. But if you are practicing being present in each moment and at the same time you are allowing your breathing and your attention to purify the body within this context of awareness and with a willingness to accept whatever happens, then you are truly practicing mindfulness and tapping its power to heal.”
‘Just wanted to share. Keep breathing and feel your feet on the ground!