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2016 Research Grant Recipient:
Dr. Josée Jarry

Posted on: January 17th, 2017
Dr. Josée Jarry: Psychology, University of Windsor
Ashtanga yoga for women with breast cancer: A feasibility study

 

SUMMARY OF RESEARCH PROJECT

One in nine Canadian women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during her life time, making it the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women. This diagnosis comes with considerable psychological distress, such as depression and anxiety, which frequently persist well beyond the end of active treatment. Depression and anxiety often are associated with reduced quality and higher rates of death. Further, breast cancer chemotherapies can induce long-term heart and nervous system dysfunctions, which also reduce quality of life and increase cardiovascular disease-related death. Mindful meditation has positive effects on a host of mental and physical health makers in clinical and non-clinical populations. Similarly, the widespread psychological, heart and neural benefits of aerobic exercise are well-established. Therefore, an intervention that combines the two may be especially helpful. Several forms of yoga combine meditation and exercise in meditative/exercise practice. Specifically, Ashtanga yoga is a traditional form of yoga in which poses are chained by dynamic transitions to form an uninterrupted flow of movements, each coordinated with controlled breathing and a specific gazing point. These features promote concentration which, when uninterrupted, leads to meditation. These characteristics make practice of Ashtanga yoga into a moving meditation with significant aerobic properties. Importantly, the practice of Ashtanga yoga is adjustable to any starting level of fitness. Although in the early stages of investigation, novel work from our research group suggests that Ashtanga yoga significantly improves self-esteem, anxiety, body image, and interpersonal functioning in healthy adults. The breathing aspect of Ashtanga yoga also improves autonomic function in healthy individuals, and quality of life indices in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. However it is not known if an Ashtanga practice including breathing, aerobic and meditative components would have a similar or enhanced effect on these targeted outcomes in breast cancer survivors, and its influence on heart function is virtually unknown. These promising results suggest that his unique form of yoga may be highly beneficial for the mental and physical health of breast cancer survivors. Thus the overall goal of our proposed work is to explore the feasibility and effectiveness of Ashtanga yoga as an intervention to improve both psychological and physical well-being in this population. Our central hypothesis is that a regular Ashtanga Yoga practice following breast cancer treatment will improve mental, as well as heart and nervous system health. To prove this, we will pursue two specific aims: 1) To develop an Ashtanga yoga manual consisting of a practice adapted to the consequences of treatment in breast cancer survivors, and 2) To assess the effects of Ashtanga yoga on psychological, heart and nervous
system functions in breast cancer survivors.

HOW THIS RESEARCH HELPS ADVANCE QUALITY CANCER CARE IN OUR COMMUNITY

The tremendous improvement in breast cancer survival rates are at risk of being offset by detrimental, long-term mental and physical consequences of treatment. Thus support for Ashtanga yoga as an intervention to mitigate these effects may help thousands of survivors.

Click here for a PDF version of this Seeds4Hope Research Grant Summary.

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