Yoga is great for so many people, but there are benefits for two groups of women in particular: expectant mothers and breast cancer survivors. Here’s why.
Benefits of yoga for expectant mothers
Pregnant women looking to manage stress and reduce anxiety about childbirth might consider trying yoga. This ancient practice has gained much attention for its ability to induce feelings of calm, and studies are beginning to quantify its positive results of yoga for expectant mothers.
Research into yoga for expectant mothers
UK researchers recently studied a group of 59 moms-to-be, divided into two groups. One group practiced yoga once per week for eight weeks, while the other women did not. The study found that each yoga session reduced women’s anxiety levels by a third and hormones associated with stress by 14%.
Mothers who experience high levels of stress during pregnancy also have a greater risk of giving birth prematurely and bearing children with low birth weights, according to the study. They are also more likely to develop postnatal depression, which in turn elevates risk of depression in later years.
Prenatal stress has also been linked to the onset of developmental and behavioral problems during a child’s toddler and adolescent years. With so many health issues associated with prenatal stress, researchers said they were hopeful that yoga for expectant mothers could contribute to healthier babies.
Professor John Aplin, one of the study’s authors, says:
“The results confirm what many who take part in yoga have suspected for a long time. There is also evidence yoga can reduce the need for pain relief during birth and the likelihood for delivery by emergency caesarean section.”
Yoga and mental health
Many women struggle from anxiety and stress during pregnancy—at least one in ten—but researchers say the stigma surrounding the issue results in many women not seeking the help they need. Jacqui Clinton, health campaigns director at Tommy’s, a UK-based baby charity that funded the study, says:
“We already know that pregnancy yoga can help improve physical health and strength on the run up to having a baby, and this new evidence shows that it may have important benefits for women’s emotional health too.”
Prenatal yoga also wards off depression, which affects one in five moms-to-be, study says.
Expectant mothers, faced with shifts in their hormones, body, and daily life routines, encounter stress that many don’t know how to handle. Consequently, as many as 20% of moms-to-be experience major depression, according to a study conducted in the University of Michigan Health System. Treating depression among pregnant women is difficult because many don’t want to take medication for fear of harming their child.
Researchers found that yoga offers a natural antidote to dark feelings. In the study, women who participated in 90-minute yoga sessions experienced more positive moods. The success of yoga for expectant mothers hinged on a class’ inclusion of the mindfulness component and not just the physical, exercise element.
Traditional yoga focuses on staying in the present moment, called mindfulness, while moving through postures although many classes in the U.S. emphasize the physical component, according to the study.
Other benefits of practicing yoga for expectant mothers includes:
- Less back pain and fewer headaches
- Improved sleep
- Increased strength and flexibility of muscles needed for labor
- Connections with other expectant mothers
What are precautions for yoga for expectant mothers?
Even though prenatal yoga is considered safe, it’s still a good idea to talk to your doctor before beginning classes, especially if you have an underlying medical condition, according to Mayo Clinic. It’s also a good idea to take specially designed prenatal yoga classes to make sure you and your baby stay healthy.
Generally speaking, avoid any pose that involves lying on the stomach or back, or folding forward or backward, Mayo Clinic recommends. Expectant mothers should also avoid inversions, which involve postures where the legs rise above the heart.
Pregnant women not accustomed to practicing yoga are encouraged to stick to a lighter, gentler practice. However, the rules are little looser for pregnant women who already have a strong yoga practice since their bodies are accustomed to deeper postures, according to Yoga Journal.
Hot yoga, including Bikram, is also not generally recommended for expectant mothers. These classes take place in rooms held at temperatures ranging from 90 to 110 degrees. Vigorous exercise in heated rooms may lead to an unhealthy increase in body temperature. The key to practicing prenatal yoga is to listen to your body and only do what feels good, while making sure to avoid compressing the belly.
Pregnant yoga is safe for most women, but pay attention to your body and stop at signs of discomfort.
Yoga for expectant mothers in Arizona
If you’re an expectant mother looking for a studio in Arizona to practice, consider one of the following, which all offer prenatal yoga programs. Be sure to notify your teacher that you’re pregnant so she or he will offer modifications for inaccessible postures.
Desert Song Healing Arts Center, Phoenix
This facility offers classes by teachers specifically trained in prenatal yoga, ensuring a safe experience for both baby and mother. Beyond postures, classes also include breathing techniques and visualizations designed to provide expectant mothers with tools to use during labor to ease the process.
Flooid Yoga, Scottsdale
Breathe your way through 60-minute yoga classes specially designed to ensure moms-to-be keep their bellies safe. Pre-registration is recommended since class size is limited to 12 people. This yoga center also offers postnatal and mommy ‘n me classes.
Joyful Yoga, Chandler
Prenatal mothers looking for a couple options might try out Joyful Yoga. Their prenatal class involves poses to align the spine and open the hips to prepare for labor. Another class, called Gentle Yoga for Healing, is designed for all students but open to expectant mothers. Gentle poses are designed to stimulate feelings of peace and well-being, as well as improve physical health.
Inner Vision Yoga, Tempe and Chandler
Inner Vision Yoga offers a variety of classes designed to meet the needs of moms-to-be. A specially designed prenatal class offers gentle stretching and strengthening exercises appropriate for this important time.
Other classes on the schedule are also accessible for pregnant women, according to Inner Vision. They include gentle yin/yang flow, Level 1 classes, restorative yoga, and a variety of yin classes, which target connective tissue found in joints. Yin involves holding these poses for long periods of time to encourage strength and flexibility in traditionally tight areas like the hips and upper back.
Yoga for breast cancer survivors
Life during breast cancer treatment is wrought with a range of distressing side effects, from overwhelming fatigue, stress, and uncertainty to depression. Many women hope that these feelings will fade once the cancer is gone. Unfortunately, that’s often not the case. For many survivors, the difficulties continue long after treatment ends, making it difficult to find the new normal.
Women looking for a natural method of combating these side effects, take heart. Increasing amounts of research show that yoga alleviates these quality of life issues, particularly fatigue and stress. Meanwhile, the practice’s mindfulness component helps breast cancer survivors deal with the emotional consequences of a devastating diagnosis and its aftermath. Additional health benefits include reduced inflammation.
Benefits of yoga for breast cancer survivors
Yoga for breast cancer survivors offers hope amid an otherwise challenging recovery. In a study from Ohio State University, women practicing yoga two times per week for three months experienced a 57% drop in fatigue while inflammation levels were reduced by up to 20%. The study evaluated 200 women, who were split into two groups—one that participated in yoga and another that was placed on a wait list.
Researchers said the results showed breast cancer survivors could derive “substantial” benefits from practice continued beyond three months.
Quality of life for breast cancer survivors
Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence, but quality of life issues still plague survivors.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among U.S. women, with about 12% experiencing a diagnosis in their lifetimes, according to the National Cancer Institute. Thanks to a combination of earlier detection and better treatments, an estimated 89% of women diagnosed survive at least five years. A full 61% of cases are diagnosed before the cancer has spread, and five-year survival rates in this group are nearly 99%.
Risk factors for breast cancer include both things you can change and things you can’t. For example, older women are at higher risk than younger women, with the age group 55 to 64 ranking as the most commonly affected.
Family history and genetics also play a large role. Up to 10% of all breast cancers are linked to genetics, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Many of these cases are linked to gene mutations, such as BRCA 1 or 2, that increase a person’s risk up to 80%. Although most breast cancer patients are women, men do develop the disease, particularly men with one of the BRCA genes.
Other risk factors include excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and taking hormone therapy after menopause. Some breast cancers are driven by estrogen, and keeping the body’s estrogen levels artificially high after menopause contributes to the disease, according to ACS.
Treatments for breast cancer
The extent of treatment varies greatly depending upon how advanced the disease is at the time of diagnosis and family history. For example, a woman whose cancer is caught very early and who does not have an extensive family history might opt for a lumpectomy, which involves surgically removing only the tumor.
However, a woman whose cancer is caught very early and tests positive for a BRCA gene mutation may undergo a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments a woman receives are also heavily influenced by the tumor size and whether it has spread.
Dramatic breast cancer treatments effective, but often result in lasting consequences.
Unfortunately, these life-saving treatments are very taxing to the body, mind, and spirit. Chemotherapy and radiation, in particular, have debilitating effects, causing fatigue, cancer pain, and sometimes, despair. Fatigue in particular makes it difficult to complete daily activities.
After treatment, up to 30% of cancer survivors continue to experience fatigue, even five years after treatment, according to Cancer Network, the website of the journal Oncology. Researchers aren’t sure why.
Benefits of yoga for breast cancer survivors
OSU researchers who completed the study showing the benefits of yoga for breast cancer survivors say fatigue results in a vicious cycle. People who are tired are less likely to exercise, but exercise helps to combat fatigue. Exercise also makes people healthier and reduces inflammation. Professor Janice Kiecolt-Glaser says:
“That’s one reason we think there are higher levels of inflammation in cancer survivors, (because they don’t exercise), meaning that an intervention that reduces inflammation could potentially be very beneficial.”
Reducing inflammation is critically important especially among breast cancer survivors because inflamed tissue is linked to the development of cancer. Yoga for breast cancer survivors reduces inflammation and fatigue, improving health and quality of life.
However, the physical side effects of treatment aren’t the only quality of life issues confronting breast cancer survivors. As many as 50% of patients develop depression following treatment, according to scientists at the University of Missouri (UM). Fortunately, researchers have discovered that yoga helps to lift survivors’ moods, both alone and in conjunction with a practice called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
MBSR involves a mix of yoga, meditation, and dedication to staying in the present moment. The daily practice, learned through a series of classes lasting eight to ten weeks, has been proven effective for reducing stress and improving mental well-being, UM researchers say, although the benefit was not quantified in the study.
Mindfulness for breast cancer survivors
Scientists say mindfulness helped breast cancer survivors because it gave them a feeling of control amidst their uncontrollable lives.
Another study, published in the journal Psycho-Oncology, found yoga for breast cancer survivors reduced feelings of depression by 50% and heightened a sense of meaning and peace by 12%. Women in the study also reported less fatigue.
Yoga for breast cancer survivors is an effective, natural way to boost energy and mood.
Yoga may also help alleviate chronic pain related to breast cancer survivorship. Nearly 50% of survivors reported continued pain two years after undergoing surgery, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Pain was especially common among younger patients and those who had several lymph nodes removed, which is common during breast cancer surgery. Researchers said that nerve damage during this process significantly contributed to the onset of later chronic pain. Women who underwent radiation, as opposed to chemotherapy, were also at higher risk for later pain.
Although not all women with chronic pain related to breast cancer derive benefit from yoga, a study from Duke University found that the practice helped women with metastatic breast cancer manage pain.
What other benefits of yoga do you enjoy?