Cancer affects millions of people all over the world. The reasons that healthy cells turn cancerous are numerous and complex. Cancer is caused by a variety of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. While some of the causes of cancer are mysterious or beyond our control, there are many things we can do to support our bodies’ health. Yoga has been shown to be a potentially life-saving practice, supporting the body in a number of ways that reduce the likelihood of developing cancer.
Strong and Clean
The primary way that practicing yoga may help to prevent cancer is by strengthening the immune system. The full-body moving, stretching, squeezing and deep breathing of yoga stimulates lymph flow, which strengthens the immune system. Yoga also boosts the production and activity of T-cells, helping the immune system rid the body of bacteria, viruses, and toxins.
Practicing yoga also clears toxins from the liver, kidneys and intestines, which supports the body’s natural detoxification process. This means that the environmental and dietary toxins to which we are exposed on a daily basis are less likely to get stuck in the body. When there is a build-up of cellular waste and toxic by-products, either from insufficient exercise or environmental factors, the cells are unable to receive adequate nutrition and are more likely to mutate into cancerous cells.
Practicing yoga regulates the endocrine system, helping the body maintain a healthy hormonal balance. The risk of developing cancer is increased by imbalances in the hormone levels in the body, for example the presence of too much estrogen is a leading risk factor for developing breast cancer. Through stimulating various glands of the endocrine system, yoga helps the body maintain balance.
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing cancer. Yoga helps gently and sustainably boost the metabolism. This means the food we eat is processed more efficiently, and we have more energy to keep moving. Boosting the metabolism is a critical factor in maintaining a healthy weight, especially as we age. Vigorous styles of yoga are the most efficient for boosting the metabolism and supporting a healthy weight, but practicing any type of yoga with deep breathing will have a positive effect on the metabolism.
Shake It Off
Stress is another potent contributing factor to cancer, especially psychological stress. One of the most universal benefits of yoga is its ability to reduce stress levels and balance the nervous system. Practicing yoga, especially the more relaxing and meditative forms, pacifies the sympathetic nervous system, the “flight or fight” response that is responsible for the production of adrenaline, cortisol, and other hormones and neurotransmitters that stress the body. Most types of yoga also stimulate the para-sympathetic nervous system, which facilitates relaxation, restful sleep, and the release of stress-relieving hormones like oxytocin, immunity and creativity.
Healthy Mind, Healthy Body
The last and perhaps most important aspect of yoga for cancer prevention is how it affects our mental health. For most practitioners, yoga increases confidence, self-awareness, energy, and interest in life. This means that we are more likely to take care of our bodies, eating food that nourishes us, exercising in other ways, and doing all we can to be healthy and happy.
Yoga also encourages self-acceptance. The way we think and feel about our bodies greatly influences our health, especially the immune system. Learning to accept and love our bodies helps us to be at peace with ourselves, and psychological harmony supports physical health.
On a metaphysical level, cancer is related to an inability to let go. Cells become cancerous when they mutate and become sick, but refuse to die the way normal cells would when they age or sicken. The “immortal” cancer cells reproduce themselves, creating more mutation and sickness in the body. Practicing letting go, one of the fundamental aspects of yoga philosophy, may help the cells of the body die and be removed in the normal, healthy way in which they are designed.
And yoga can inspire us to ask the deep questions about ourselves, such as “Why am I here?” “What makes me truly happy?” and “What do I want to create with my life?” Exploring and discovering the purpose of one’s life provides vitality and motivation. It gives us something to live for, a reason to get out of bed in the morning and move forward with our dreams. This creative force can go a long way in keeping us healthy in mind and body.
There are many contributing factors to cancer, and the reasons that people develop it are not always clear. There may be no fail-safe way to prevent cancer, especially with the high level of toxicity in the world today. But there are many things we can do to strengthen the immune system, boost the metabolism, detoxify the body, reduce stress, and develop a positive mental attitude. Practicing yoga offers all of those benefits and more. A consistent yoga practice tailored to your unique needs and proclivities can go a long way in keeping you healthy, and may be a powerful ally in protecting you from cancer.