Mind-Body Fitness: Three Options for Patients with Cancer

Mind-body fitness focuses on the connections between thinking, feeling, and doing. These exercises change energy patterns within the body, facilitating relaxation, reducing fatigue, and improving concentration. Because they also can be modified to suit a person's needs on any given day, they may be appealing to patients with cancer. What follows are descriptions of the most popular mind-body fitness programs, including yoga, pilates, and the Gyrotonic Expansion System.

Mind-body fitness focuses on the connections between thinking, feeling, and doing. These exercises change energy patterns within the body, facilitating relaxation, reducing fatigue, and improving concentration. Because they also can be modified to suit a person’s needs on any given day, they may be appealing to patients with cancer. What follows are descriptions of the most popular mind-body fitness programs, including yoga, pilates, and the Gyrotonic Expansion System. Patients should check with their physicians before engaging in any of these activities.

Mind-body exercises

— The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word

yuj

, which means “to unite or integrate.” A yoga practice unites or joins a person’s own consciousness and the universal consciousness. Six branches or types of yoga exist. Hatha yoga—the most popular—is the physical practice of yoga, in which the breath (pranayama) is used to facilitate movement in poses (asana). This harmony opens one to meditation, which facilitates union with the universal consciousness.

• Yoga

Hatha yoga is suitable for people who have cancer. Practicing breathing and meditation when one is too fatigued for a physical practice can bring peace and relief. Restorative and therapeutic yoga, in which breathing, poses, and meditation are used to facilitate healing, may be worthwhile for these individuals. The other yoga practices are Bhakti (yoga of devotion), Raja (yoga of discipline), Jhana (yoga of wisdom), Karma (yoga of service), and Tantra (yoga of rituals). Standards for yoga teacher training and certification in the United States are set by the Yoga Alliance, a national organization that supports yoga teachers and yoga’s integrity.

— In the early 20th century, Joseph H. Pilates created Contrology, a practice that balances exercise with breathing, proper nutrition, posture, and sleep. Pilates incorporated aspects of yoga, boxing, dancing, and other physical activities to strengthen the body and mind.

• Pilates

Although Pilates died in the 1960s, his system of exercise has enjoyed a resurgence in the past 15 years. Pilates exercises focus on the core muscles of the abdomen and back. Large equipment—such as the Reformer, Cadillac, and chair—stretch and strengthen the body, preparing one for mat exercises.

Pilates exercises may be suitable for people with cancer when taught by instructors who specialize in it. The Pilates Method Alliance® (PMA®) is an international, nonprofit, professional association dedicated to the teachings of Pilates and his wife, Clara, who was a nurse. The alliance establishes certification and continuing education standards for Pilates professionals. Within the organization are various Pilates teacher training programs, and each training program maintains a database of certified instructors.

— Created and developed more than 20 years ago by ballet dancer Juliu Horvath to strengthen himself after a career-ending injury, the Gyrotonic Expansion System stretches and strengthens muscles and tendons while articulating and mobilizing joints. Specific breathing patterns are used while practicing the exercises to enhance muscular coordination, endurance, and cardiopulmonary activity. Exercises typically are practiced on large pieces of equipment, such as the Pulley Tower, Archway, Leg Extension Unit, Jumping Stretching Board, and Gyrotoner®. Other exercises are performed standing, lying on the floor, or while seated on a stool.

• Gyrotonic Expansion System®

The Gyrotonic Expansion System Website explains the method, includes brief videos of the exercises and equipment, and provides listings of certified instructors. People with cancer may find this method beneficial to restoring energy and balance.

Mind-body Fitness Training

Mind-body fitness incorporates breathing, movement, and concentration to balance energy patterns. While teachers of mind-body fitness require specialized knowledge, skills, and abilities to teach their respective methods, additional training is required to teach special populations, such as people living with cancer. Oncology nurses interested in teaching any of the described mind-body fitness methods or in referring patients to instructors of these fitness modalities can visit the aforementioned websites for more information.