How is the yoga program that you have designed for people diagnosed with cancer different from other yoga programs?
Usually, the yoga classes offered for cancer patients are free of charge, conducted by wonderful people who have a lot of good will, but who do not necessarily understand the problems patients encounter during and after cancer treatment. These classes typically are limited to gentle asanas, offered once or twice a week. These are good, but the effect is limited, especially if the tools used are limited to asanas.
Our programs differ in many ways. It is a very comprehensive protocol, which uses all elements of yoga, not only asanas, and takes people from Day 1 to Day 21 in a systematic way. We use all yogic elements to work not only on the body but more importantly, we work on emotions and the mind. We want to address the causes of the diseases, not only the symptoms. We help to recognize carcinogenic thoughts processes and give tools to learn to change and manage the mind. We help to resolve or release the negative emotions stored somewhere deep down, which also contribute to the disease.
But most importantly, I believe this program moves people–in 21 days– from victimhood to empowerment, helping them to feel “in charge” of their lives. This, in itself, is a tremendous change in life attitude. We also spend a lot of time on educating patients on carcinogenic factors in their diet, lifestyle, and environment. Finally, we help them to examine their old belief system and create a new, healthier one. I believe there isn’t any program like ours at the moment – which is a pity, as there is a great need for it.
What are your plans for the future with your programs?
Our Beyond Cancer programs (www.yogaforhealth.institute) have been so effective that we have created a sister program called the Chronic Solutions – Retreat for Psychosomatic Chronic Diseases (www.kdham.com/chroniccures). This retreat is based on the same principles and helps patients with cardiovascular and digestive diseases, fibromyalgia, diabetes, depression, psoriasis, and many other diseases caused by stress and destructive lifestyle. We have been conducting them for the last three years with equal success–by addressing the core causes of the problem, which then reduces symptoms.
Now my mission is to take our cancer programs to every country and make it available at every major cancer center. I created a non-profit in Canada Yoga for Health Institute (www.yogaforhealth.institute) , which is the “mother-ship” for all locations in the world. We are at the very beginning and the sky seems to be a limit. I am also looking for yoga therapists to train as champions to develop these programs in their respective countries. The manual is being translated into Polish, and in 2018 we will offer it for the first time in Europe. But we have already started to offer this outside of India. In July 2016, we ran the program at Ananda Meditation Retreat in Northern California, and in January 2017 and April 2018 we started in Australia at the Rocklyn Ashram in Victoria. We start in Canada in July 2018 … There are many people interested in this unique and intensive approach and the future is very exciting!
How do you work with the medical community?
This is rather unfortunate, but I have to say that so far I have been unable to work with the medical community. Their acceptance of “yoga” is generally limited to one-hour asana classes, but there is no acceptance of the comprehensive yogic program aimed at the specific need. It is too bad, as the gap in cancer care is huge and the need is great. This program has proven to be very effective for the end of allopathic treatment, in terms of helping people to “pick themselves up” and start a new life.
We are doing an ongoing research. In December 2016, we published http://www.elynsgroup.com/journal/article/effects-of-an-intensive-3-week-yoga-retreat-on-sense-of-well-being-in-cancer-survivorsin the Journal of Alternative Medical Research. We also published in www.ym-kdham.in: Yoga Mimamsa, Vol.46/Issue 1&2, Jan-Jun 2014. We have one more long-term research study in the works.
There seems to be inherent distrust in a medical community once you start talking about “yoga therapy retreat for …” as a package. The individual “yoga” (read: asana) classes twice a week are okay, with much research to back the effectiveness of these programs, but when you propose a comprehensive program “for XYZ,” the medical community steps back and is very skeptical.
At the moment, regarding our specific program, I can give them our preliminary studies, which prove excellent results. I can also see the proof on the faces of our attendees before and after the retreats. Hopefully, with time, we will have more research published to bring our work to visibility in the medical community.
What is the best advice that you would give to someone with a new cancer diagnosis?
My advice is – start doing yoga immediately as soon as you hear the diagnosis, or even before. The practice needs to be done DAILY – not just once or twice a week! Choose the time of the day, and maintain consistent practice at least one hour per day, or ½ hour, twice a day – morning and evening. Choose the modality that meets your limitations at hand and just DO IT!
When we first hear the diagnosis of cancer, our anxiety level automatically skyrockets. Asanas and pranayama bring relief from tension in the body and mind. Meditation helps in maintaining a clear mind amongst the chaos of all the new information one has to digest. All three modalities may help develop awareness of what is happening inside mentally, emotionally and physically and how to handle it. Yoga, as a science, presents the tools for dealing with emotional and mental challenges we have coming at us from all sides. It will help to prevent us from sinking into victimhood.
What type of timeframe for yoga/activity do you recommend that cancer patients follow after surgery?
When surgery is involved, we have to wait for healing to happen before we come back to gentle asanas. But we still can do pranayama and meditation. We can do mantra japa (repeating a phrase or word), or chanting and mudras (gestures). It all helps to bring the benefits mentioned above. Remember – yoga is not only asanas. It is a vast science offering many tools and techniques, which regulate the functioning of our body, mind and emotions. We can do yoga in any state we are in, and it is always helpful. We can do (and we should do) yoga when we are in our last breath!