Mysuru: Women patients who contract breast cancer, in particular, endure a tortuous ordeal, their self-esteem often plummeting owing to loss of hair and other devastating side-effects of radiation and other modes of treatment .
In order to help women cancer survivors and patients cope with the multi-pronged pressures of this fatal disease, the department of biotechnology attached to the University of Mysore (UoM) is imparting yoga and meditation lessons at the varsity premises every day.
Saraswathi, who is in her 50s, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, and she sunk into depression after undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment at a city hospital. “I was in utter despair, having loss my hair, coupled with the sheer shock of being diagnosed with cancer. I often told the members of my family to lock me up. Those were the days when I could not speak to people about my condition,” said Saraswathi.
However, the pall of gloom has lifted from her life, largely as a consequence of the daily yoga and meditation sessions at UoM. “Yoga and pranayama have really helped boost my morale. Today, I feel no hesitation in sharing my ordeal with others,” she added.
The sessions held on the varsity premises are part of a study ‘Interdisciplinary Approach for Impact of Yoga and Meditation on Breast Cancer Patients’ that UoM’s biotechnology department is currently engaged in. Under the ambit of the project, 30 patients spread across an age group of 30 to 70, are being taught yoga and meditation every day. The patients are taught those asanas that have been deemed safe to be imparted to cancer patients by the Yoga University in Bengaluru, and the Ayush department.
In addition to the regular yoga sessions, the participants gather once a month and freely discuss their problems. These informal sessions have collectively served as an anodyne and played an invaluable role in helping return their lives to normalcy.
Besides the ameliorative effects, there are empirical dimensions to the study. Once in four months, the patients undergo a biomarker test, which helps the researchers assess the impact of the sessions on their health. Results of the study, which was launched in 2018, indicate that the sessions have ushered in a change for the better in the lives of the patients.
Faculty members at UoM said that the overarching objective of the study was to establish physiological changes that the practice of yoga and meditation could lead to among cancer patients. “As part of our study, breast cancer patients can interact with others suffering the same problem, and narrate their stories to one another without inhibitions. We are closely monitoring changes on biomarkers,” said a faculty member at UoM.
However, the teachers in the biotechnology department, were quick to add that yoga could not cure cancer. “Chemotherapy and surgery are a must. But, where yoga comes in handy is when patients are depressed because of the agony they endure in the course of treatment. It helps keep them stable, and stay balanced as individuals,” said another teacher. The project is being conducted under the aegis of SATYAM – science and technology for yoga and meditation department of the Union ministry for science and technology.
Savithri, in her 60s, said that she could not lift her hands after she underwent mastectomy nine months ago. However, Saithri said that she felt rejuvenated after attending yoga sessions for just one week. “I feel like a 16-year-old,” she said.
Another cancer survivor Vijaya recalled the debilitating effects the disease had had both physically and mentally. “I wasn’t able to cook for my son. My life as I knew it before was torn asunder. But now I feel flexible and confident. I can cook for 25 people today,”
Yoga instructor Bharath Shetty of IndeaYoga said that, while the practice of the ancient Indian tradition had been integrated into cancer treatment abroad, the concept remained alien in the country of yoga’s birth. “It helps patients overcome fear and pain. Use of yoga in cancer treatment must gather momentum in India. This project will, I think, create awareness among patients and stakeholders in the healthcare sector,”