DALLAS — Dr. Jaya Juturi prescribes plenty of medications for her cancer patients, but she would be remiss, she says, if she stopped there. Which is why the Dallas oncologist also suggests a treatment not found in any pharmacy: yoga.
“We’re supposed to practice a certain way and tell people what’s proven to help them,” says Juturi, who is on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas. “If we didn’t bring up yoga in the context of emotional or physical distress, we’re not doing our job.
“If we said, ‘See a counselor and take medicine,’ that might be meaningful, but we need to create an empowering long-term strategy that will bring them everlasting results.”
The medical field has been “late in catching on to” such complementary treatments, Juturi says. Now data has begun backing up the effectiveness of yoga, and doctors, she says, “are all about data.”
Medically proven benefits include these:
• Yoga helps ease stress. Research from the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center showed, among other benefits, yoga’s ability to regulate the stress hormone cortisol.
• Yoga helps cancer patients sleep better. A study published in Journal of Clinical Oncology reported improved sleep quality in cancer survivors and thus, fewer sleep medications needed.
• Yoga can help improve quality of life. On its website, the Stanford Cancer Center reports that yoga “as a complementary therapy” has also been shown to relieve various symptoms associated with cancer.
Nancy Scholberg can attest to that. A dozen years after her double mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and breast reconstruction, the Dallas woman relies on yoga to keep at bay the side effects no one told her about.
“You go through this stuff, and a lot of times the side effects don’t hit till years later,” Scholberg, 54, says.
Her toes tingle almost constantly. She doesn’t have a lot of use of her thumbs. Physicians constructed her breasts from muscles in her back, leading to “so much scar tissue and so little movement,” says Scholberg, an avid runner and walker. “Yoga helped with stretching and making me feel so much better.”
Her one regret? That she didn’t practice yoga while undergoing treatment. No one thought about it then, she says.
“Yoga is all about mind, spirit and body. When you’re going through chemo, it’s such a traumatic time. Your body changes. You lose your hair. What yoga does is bring me to a place of peacefulness a person going through that needs.”
Plus, yoga helps patients deal with the stress of recurrence, Juturi says.
At Dallas Yoga Center, owner and director David Sunshine says clients at all stages of cancer ask about yoga.
“I tend to tell people that yoga doesn’t necessarily heal cancer, but it is scientifically proven to help in many ways getting through the process of recovery,” Sunshine says. “It’s about making the body a safe place to feel comfortable and return home to, so one is able to soften and relax and let go of a lot of the stressors and feel normal once again.”
Jennifer Trimmer, 51, credits various aspects of yoga with helping her deal with her breast cancer — the diagnosis, the lumpectomy and the radiation she had almost eight years ago.
“It’s the Zen experience you have in the class, the camaraderie, the community you have with fellow yogis,” she says. “The breathing techniques taught me to step back and look at it as what it really is. There’s so much more to life than whatever is causing stress.”
Juturi, who takes various yoga classes herself, says people don’t leave those feelings on the mat after class or their yoga tape ends.
“It takes them from the mode of ‘I’m very vulnerable; I have cancer,’ to ‘I feel empowered; this is what I can do.’ ”