Doing yoga will may not cure cancer, but it may ease the stress of having cancer.
Margy Smariga has started offering Yoga for Cancer Recovery at Mountain Spirit Yoga.
"It can improve your physical and emotional well-being," Smariga said. Cancer treatment, whether it's surgery, chemotherapy or radiation, is stressful. Even when the cancer is in remission, the body can experience side effects from treatment.
Many cancer patients experience pain, whether it's physiological, physical, emotional or all three. Chronic fatigue and insomnia are some of the debilitating side effects.
Smariga has been studying yoga since 1999, and has been teaching yoga for five years. She is a certified yoga therapist. "I'm interested in populations with physical limitations," she said. Seniors, people with fibromyalgia, low back pain and people recovering from surgery all can benefit from yoga.
"My passion is to share yoga with people who otherwise think they can't do yoga," she said.
She has taught a similar yoga for cancer recovery class at Frederick Memorial Hospital's Wellness Center since July.
Yoga has many levels, and can be adapted to people with physical limitations. "You don't adapt your body to a posture; you adapt the posture to your body," Smariga said.
Yoga emphasizes strengthening what is weak and stretching what is contracted.
Cancer sufferers in particular benefit from breathing and relaxation techniques that are used in yoga. These help yoga clients learn to relieve stress, lower their anxiety, promote relaxation and quiet the mind.
"My goal is to create a quiet, nurturing environment where people feel safe, where they don't have to think about cancer for a while," Smariga said.
Therapeutic yoga is becoming more accepted. A few of those who take Smariga's yoga for cancer class at FMH's Wellness Center are referred by oncologists. Most learn about the class through word of mouth.
"I came to a yoga class because I was experiencing back pain," Smariga said. "Not only was it helping my back, I was leaving class just so nourished on many levels. I was refreshed and relaxed. It was truly about my body, mind and spirit."
Yoga is a multi-dimensional discipline that can help people bond with each other. In a class for cancer recovery, clients typically bond with each other. "They tend to come to class early and stay late to share information about resources and support one another," she said.
The practice of yoga gives those with cancer a sense of self-empowerment, she said. Many feel they are at the mercy of medical practitioners.
"You're doing something for yourself," she said.
The National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute have done studies showing that yoga has benefits, she said. "There's a growing body of scientific evidence showing its effectiveness," Smariga said.
Yoga helps control pain, reduce hot flashes associated with chemotherapy, increases bloodflow and brings more oxygen to cells, and increases circulation of lymph, which helps remove toxins.
AT A GLANCE
WHAT: Yoga for Cancer Recovery
WHEN: 11:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Tuesdays
WHERE: Mountain Spirit Yoga, 14D W. Main St., behind the Main Cup, Middletown