Yoga helps cancer survivors sleep: and an interview with Katheryn Harlan

A new study, the largest of its kind thus far, has shown that yoga helps cancer survivors get better sleep! CNN posted this article a couple days ago reviewing the study writing:

The study included 410 cancer survivors who had completed treatment in the previous two years and had been experiencing sleep problems for at least two months. All but 16 of the patients were women, and 75 percent were breast cancer survivors. In addition to the standard post-treatment care that everyone received, half of the study participants attended 75-minute yoga sessions twice a week for a month.

The results of the study lead researchers to believe that yoga is not only a viable exercise, but also a great way to calm the nervous system and manage pain! Through the use of restorative and Hatha yoga, both low-intensity styles, participant’s sleeping patterns improved and the use of sleeping medications went down:

At the beginning of the study, just under 85 percent of the participants in both the yoga and control groups were experiencing sleep problems. By the end, 31 percent of the patients who’d done yoga were sleeping soundly, compared with just 16 percent of the control group. The yoga participants were also using about 20 percent less sleep medication, on average, while the people in the control group actually upped their intake of sleep drugs by 5 percent.

This is encouraging news to yoga teachers everywhere who have “known” that yoga has a place in cancer survivor’s lives all this time. In honor of this finding I went to my dear friend Katheryn Harlan, who has been teaching breast cancer survivors for several years, and asked if she would mind talking about her foundation and how yoga has changed her student’s lives over the years. Katheryn is a breast cancer survivor, a certified yoga instructor, a mother, and an activist. She is the founder and director of Through Healing Eyes. Her organization promotes breast cancer awareness through education, provides inspiration to those affected, and makes breast cancer diagnosis and treatment available to those unable to afford care. You can read about the beginnings of Through Healing Eyes on their Facebook page. It is truly an inspirational story. Visit their website to purchase one of their calenders or make a donation. In addition to her organization, Mrs. Harlan teaches a group of breast cancer survivors every week. Below are some questions she took to her students about how yoga has impacted their lives as cancer survivors.

Which came first for you, yoga or breast cancer?

Katheryn: All of the ladies I polled said breast cancer came first. for me, however yoga came first. I then found the profound benefits of yoga after a diagnosis.

Did you turn to yoga after cancer as a way of management or were you already practicing?

K: They turned to yoga as a way of managing the “fall out” of cancer.

What percentage of your class are yoga survivors or are currently effected with cancer?

K:100% are survivors, in various stages of their recovery. Although most are”healthy” survivors I do have some that suffer from long term side effects of the chemotherapies/radiation/surgeries & drugs used in treatments.
How do your yoga students rank the benefits of yoga? In other words what has been the greatest benefit…increase in sleep, pain management, weight maintenance,  stress reduction, community building, healing visualization/meditation?

K: Stress reduction, more restful sleep, decrease pain,love being in a non-judgmental class where we can all FEEL each other’s pain, both physically & emotionally. Several have been helped with weight post treatment weight gain. Greatest benefit to me is to be able to recognize and truly and simply appreciate “me” and being here in the moment.

Additional perks: Reduce stress, improve balance, regain flexibility,
meditation and relaxation, focus, new friends with a special bond.  It is
my support group, even if we don’t talk about breast cancer.

Do you use healing visualizations as part of your meditation process? What kind of visualizations do you use?

K: I ask them to remember back to the time they first heard the words, ” you have breast cancer”, pause for about 10 breaths & then begin to talk about what has happened since then, how they have endured the treatments, surgeries, came to their 1st yoga class/support group, & any other positive steps they have taken & that depends on who is in the class & I know their background so I use specific situations, etc.
I ask them to visualize their breath as their favorite color & imagine that as their positive healing energies & send that breath wherever they need healing at this moment.
Sometimes we “go” to their happy place & refer back to that w/ each pose.
When doing strength poses or 1 legged balancing poses I talk about how their strength has helped them endure adversity & chaos during their time of “fighting” & has brought them to this point.

Thank you Katheryn for taking the time to bring these questions to your students. I am in awe of all the amazing work you’re doing, and I’m especially in awe of the amazing, strong group of women you work with.

Please check out Through Healing Eyes !  I hope you all have an inspired week! xo


1 Comment

Filed under Interviews, Lifestyles, Living Your Yoga, Teaching

One response to “Yoga helps cancer survivors sleep: and an interview with Katheryn Harlan

  1. Great article. Good Reading.

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