If you are living with breast cancer, or have received treatment for breast cancer, you will likely want to do everything in your power to regain and maintain your health. In addition to medical treatment, you may want to explore alternative or complementary therapies. Complementary medicine can help some women lessen the effects of radiation and chemotherapy and can give a sense of empowerment or ownership over your health. Those living with breast cancer may find benefit from following an Ayurvedic approach to health.
Ayurveda is a 5,000+-year-old system of health originating in India. The word Ayurveda is a Sanskrit term that means “science of life.” Ayurveda is a comprehensive system that addresses health needs through gentle, natural methods. Improving digestion through diet, taking herbs, creating a daily and seasonal routine, engaging in exercise and self-care are all wellness strategies Ayurveda uses to prevent illness.
At the core of Ayurveda is a recognition that each person has a unique mind-body type called their dosha. There are three doshas which govern our all of our physical, mental and emotional characteristics and tendencies. They are known as Vata, Pitta or Kapha and usually, one is strongest and has the most influence in our bodies. The strongest dosha will determine the best diet and lifestyle for us. Ayurveda teaches us how to create a lifestyle that supports our mind-body type so that we can maintain good health and recover faster when we do become ill.
Ideally, you would discover your strongest dosha by completing an Ayurvedic questionnaire or by consulting an Ayurvedic health counselor. Then you could gain insight into the specific diet and lifestyle for your dosha to maintain optimal health. There are many resources for questionnaires and Ayurvedic counselors online if you want to delve deep into your dosha. However, even without this knowledge, Ayurveda has general advice to offer those living with breast cancer or recovering from the effects of breast cancer treatment.
Ayurveda recognizes that traditional medical treatments like surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are necessary and extremely valuable in the fight against breast cancer. However, these harsh treatments often result in an imbalance in the body, loss of tissue strength and depletion of vital life force energy. An Ayurvedic approach to breast cancer would focus on improving nutrition and digestion, herbal support, removing accumulated toxins, and establishing a daily and seasonal routine of self-care. Ayurveda uses these techniques to stimulate the body’s healing capabilities.
According to Ayurveda, improper nutrition is a root cause of disease. Foods that lack nutritional value and poor elimination habits contribute to weakening body tissues and toxic buildup. This clogs physical and energetic pathways in the body and prevents nutrients from reaching tissues. A diet rich in warm, moist, vital, easily digested foods is best to build strength in the body and ensure health. This is especially true after undergoing breast cancer treatments. Cold foods and beverages should be avoided because cold substances dampen our digestive fire and weaken our body’s ability to properly transform foods. Microwaved or canned foods lack vital nutritive value according to Ayurveda and clog the nutritional pathways in the body. Eating between regular meals and overeating should also be avoided. Snacking overwhelms digestion by not allowing sufficient time for nutrients to be assimilated and overeating leaves no room in the stomach for food to move around and break down.
Making sure you have a daily elimination is vital to prevent toxic buildup. Ayurveda emphasizes the importance of proper movement throughout all pathways of the body, including the elimination channel. Healthy elimination carries out the critical functions of absorbing water and glucose, eliminating solid waste, and clearing heavy metals and toxins from the body. Imbalance in the elimination channel can easily lead to disease. Ayurveda has many cleanses that can help to clear toxins, balance the doshas, kindle a stronger digestive fire, and balance the cycles of elimination.
Herbs offer great potential to stimulate the healing process, support recovery, and counteract the effects of cancer treatment. Ayurveda has used herbs for centuries to support health and some are currently being investigated for their anticancer potential. Turmeric is a common household spice that has anti-cancer properties. Ashwagandha is often called Indian ginseng and has a cancer-protective effect on healthy cells. Tulsi is also called Holy Basil and is an anti-inflammatory herb used in teas. Triphala is a blend of three herbs which have radioprotective properties and are known to stimulate digestion. Studies show that ginger is as effective as anti-nausea medications in combating chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. Of course, before beginning any change in diet or herbal treatment, you should consult with your physician to determine if there are potential interactions with your current treatment plan.
Ayurveda encourages living in balance with seasonal rhythms because we are designed to live in harmony with nature. According to Ayurveda, fall into early winter is the time to wind down activities, moisturize to counteract dryness and eat warming, grounding foods. Late winter into spring is the time to engage in diet cleanses, eat stimulating foods and engage in more vigorous exercise. Summer and early fall weather dictate that we eat cooling, sweet foods and choose calming activities and thoughts. Following these seasonal routines allows us to live in tune with the universe and to balance our activities throughout the year.
A daily rhythm and routine are likewise important in Ayurveda. Daily self-massage with aromatic oils followed by a bath or shower will hydrate the skin, stimulate circulation and pleasantly engage the senses. Moderate daily exercise, even a fifteen-minute walk outdoors, will stimulate digestion and elimination and calm the mind. Waking and going to bed at regular times encourages good sleep habits and sleep is an essential recovery tool for the body. A daily practice of gratitude, meditation, prayer or journaling can encourage a positive mindset which is so important during times of illness.
Yoga is called the sister science to Ayurveda because it springs from the same Indian philosophical system. Yoga is intended to be a mind-body practice offering physical benefits such as increased flexibility and body strength as well as mental benefits like reduction in stress. Many of those living with cancer find great benefit in daily yoga practice.
Healing from cancer requires a multi-faceted approach. The skills and knowledge of medicine work hand in hand with the cancer survivor’s understanding of their body and their role in the healing process. Ayurveda offers knowledge and tools to those living with breast cancer to become more connected to their body and more empowered with their health.
This blog was written by Cheri Hall, LMT, The Green Spa & Wellness Center