Saturday, February 9, 2013

Cancer: Western Medicine vs. Yogic Perspective

Lorien Teaching Yoga for
Cancer Survivorship Workshop
The word cancer carries with it many emotions. I wish to change the perception about the term cancer for all of us. I want people to realize that more and more people are living with cancer every day. In this post, I've compiled descriptions of cancer from the Western Medical model to the yogic perspective.

Western Description of Cancer 
To begin with, we must understand that the Western model of medicine is one of reductionism. In his article, “The Language of Healing”, Dr. Timothy McCall writes, “reductionism seeks to narrow the complex nature of a disease process down to one, or at most, a few elements that can be studied and then treated individually.” If we use this approach to define what cancer is, we can reduce the complexity of all cancers to one issue: the cells refuse to follow the natural lifecycle and continue to multiply when they should be dying off. Each cell has a genetic code that is copied with every cell division, or cell “birth”. If there exists a genetic mutation in the code, or a “mistake” in the copying of the code, the cell no longer has the cue to die off at the end of its lifespan. These mutations occur naturally in all of us, but can statistically increase in certain situations, like age, exposure to known agents, or in hospitable environment for cancer cells to grow unchecked. The difficulty with using this model is that cancer is not a single disease; it is a category of several diseases.

Yogic Description of Cancer 
Unlike the Western medicine perspective, cancer from the yogic perspective is viewed holistically. I approach cancer by using the kosha model to ensure I am affecting the whole system. Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati writes about the koshas on his website:

“We humans are like a lamp that has five lampshades over our light. Each of the lampshades is a different color and density. As the light shines through the lampshades, it is progressively changed in color and nature... The Yoga path of Self-realization is one of progressively moving inward, through each of those lampshades...”
Using yoga as a tool to work with cancer means addressing each of these lampshades, or layers, through various practices that integrate us more fully, allowing us to be at peace with an ever-changing reality; it addresses the mental, emotional, energetic and physical components related to living with cancer, not as a curative practice, but as a practice to support total quality of life, for however long that life may be.



Please see the Events page for more information about these upcoming special programs:

  • Wednesday, February 20: Next 6-week series of Restorative Yoga for Cancer Survivorship begins at Kaiser Santa Clara; for more info, see Schedule
  • Sunday, March 31 (Easter): OM for Peace
  • Saturday, April 7 - Sunday April 8: Yin Yoga 14-Hour Immersion
  • Saturday, April 7 - Sunday April 8 AND Saturday, April 13 - Sunday April 14: Yin Yoga Teacher Training
  • Sunday, April 28: Yin Yoga 1-Day Workshop