When someone is in the midst of medical treatment for cancer, they may not have the strength or desire for vigorous exercise. But gentle forms of movement such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong can be extremely beneficial in a treatment plan that addresses spirit, mind and body. Gentle movement can also be beneficial post-treatment, as well as for those who are caring for someone with cancer or have lost a loved one to the disease.
As such, CancerPartners has teamed up with their Palm Desert neighbor, Venus De Fido Spa and Fitness Center, to offer Find Your Strong!, an individualized program that includes access to the boutique gym and a variety of fitness classes at no cost to participants. The partnership falls within CancerPartners Healthy Living Program (HeLP) and is funded in part by the Desert Healthcare District. The local non-profit also offers a variety of programs for emotional, educational and social support for those touched by cancer – all free of charge.
“Physical activity is well documented to help prevent and manage the risk and symptoms of chronic conditions,” says fitness expert Louise Evans of Mot’us Floatation and Wellness Center who will talk at CancerPartners on Thursday, May 24, on the benefit of movement for cancer patients and their loved ones. “Often in the past, people being treated for cancer were told to rest and reduce their physical activity. Newer research shows that not only is it safe during cancer treatment, but it can improve how you function physically, and your quality of life.”
Evans adds that the biological effects of exercise on the body include lowering levels of hormones such as insulin and estrogen, and certain growth factors associated with breast and colon cancer development and progression. “Growing numbers of studies have also found that people affected by certain cancers, particularly breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian, who are active, have a lower risk of cancer recurrence and improved survival than those who are inactive.”
The Find Your Strong! program will offer the following types of movement classes especially well-suited for those in treatment or post-treatment:
In the west, this ascetic Hindu discipline is seen as a type of exercise in which one moves the body into various positions (asanas) in order to become more fit or flexible, to improve breathing, and to relax the mind. Two classes, “Conscious Yoga” with Kelly Lewis and “Joy of Yoga” with Jen Jivini, are available at Venus De Fido; a specialized “Yoga for Cancer Patients” class is led by registered yoga instructor Shay Moraga at CancerPartners every Thursday at 11 a.m. Shay, herself a cancer survivor, recently received an advanced yoga for cancer certification. (See more on yoga for cancer from Shay on page 13).
Originating in ancient China, this form of slow, deliberate movement addresses the health of both body and mind. The focus is on enabling qi (life force) to flow smoothly throughout the body. A tai chi class by Robert Haberkorn is available to Find Your Strong! participants; beginning and advanced classes are offered by Atsuko Hewett on Tuesday mornings at CancerPartners.
Qigong, a branch of traditional Chinese medicine now readily used in the west for fitness, features gentle movement that enhances energy flow in the body, removing blockages and stimulating fluid movement. Medical qigong therapist Natasa Meyer will present a workshop at CancerPartners on Wednesday, May 30.
The Feldenkrais Method
A revolutionary approach to human movement developed in the western world in the last century by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc, the method uses gentle, mindful movement to reduce pain or limitations in movement, improve general wellbeing and increase awareness. Leann Brightwell teaches a Feldenkrais class at Venus De Fido.
Core and Balance
This type of fitness aims for better balance and stability by targeting the body’s center of gravity, where all movement originates. The class is open to Find Your Strong! participants and is led by certified personal trainer Cesar Buelna, who oversees the partnership program. A similar class, Stretch and Balance, is offered at CancerPartners every Wednesday at 2 p.m. and is led by Atsuko Hewett.
“Often when people are unwell, they feel they haven’t got the energy to move. This is counter-productive,” adds Evans. “It’s not about pounding the treadmill and pushing yourself to the limit. It’s about doing specific movements to help maintain your range of movement, increase circulation, and keep your mood motivated and confident. Remember, we live to move and move to live!”
April Hanig, MA, LMFT, is program director at CancerPartners and can be reached at (760) 770.5678 or [email protected] For more information about the Find Your Strong! program and movement classes offered, visit cancerpartners.org/events.