The Role of Yoga in Cancer Therapy

Dr. Swami Karmananda Saraswati, MB, BS (Syd)

At Bihar School of Yoga we have managed patients suffering from cancers and tumours of all types and grades of severity. Many sufferers come to the ashram at a late stage, having undergone prior radiation, surgery or chemotherapy. Others come with only the diagnosis, having rejected the conventional modes of therapy. Still others present without diagnosis, but with symptomatology of early or late cancer.

Our conclusions concerning cancer are derived from many years of experience in yoga therapy and are in agreement with those of medical science:

  1. In its advanced stages, cancer is by and large a fatal disease, even though there have definitely been remarkable exceptions. However, by yogic practices we have found that the predicted rate of progression and growth of cancer can be markedly inhibited, and life extended beyond conventional expectations.
    Yogic practices frequently bring single or multiple remissions in cancer symptoms. Sometimes all clinical and laboratory evidence of cancer disappears from the body, either temporarily or permanently. However, we have found that after an exacerbation of symptoms, it becomes more difficult to attain a subsequent remission.
  2. In its early stages, cancer is frequently an eminently curable condition.

Victor or victim

Where then, do yogic therapy and medical science differ regarding cancer? In the first place, we will never go searching for occult cancer, if it has not declared itself openly. This is because we recognise that a diagnosis of cancer today is often tantamount to imposing a death sentence, much like 'pointing the bone' in more primitive societies. Similarly, we realise the awesome role of the untrained and undisciplined human mind in bringing about its own demise by unconsciously living up to its own self-fulfilling prophecies or the expectations and fears of family, friends and the community at large.

In succumbing to or overcoming cancer, between the two extremes of the condition, it is the mind and its inherent powers which are man's sole enemy and his only friend. It is the mind which determines whether one emerges the victor or the victim. These latent mental capacities are developed in the cancer patient specifically by yoga therapeutics. We utilise asanas, pranayamas,; relaxation, meditation, kriyas and amaroli (shivambu kalpa), according to specific indications.

Science has revealed that the mind changes the hormonal levels in the bloodstream and alters the immune responses. The white cell (lymphocyte) count of the blood has been found to rise within hours of specific visualisations in yoga nidra. The next step is to recognise and acknowledge the direct influence of mental mechanisms in developing cancer, and also in counteracting it.

Reducing autotoxification

Secondly in yoga therapy, great emphasis is placed upon the cleansing and regenerating kriyas of hatha yoga. These promote the elimination of accumulated waste products and metabolic toxins from the digestive tract and the bloodstream, and rectify the states of physiological imbalance which precedes the development of cancer and other chronic, degenerative and auto-immune conditions. This aspect is sadly neglected by modern medical science, where a state of chronic constipation approaching auto-toxicity is often tolerated as normal for years. This is probably because medical science evolved within the climatic milieu of Europe where the low residue, high saturated fat and animal protein diet has led to an almost universal state of constipation. This is the major reason for the enormous incidence of lower bowel cancer in the European communities today.

Can you imagine the build up of toxic wastes and residues in a chronically constipated colon after 10 or 20 years? This is the murky breeding ground not only for cancer, but also diverticular disease, hepato-biliary disease, lymphoma and other lymphoproliferative disorders, cutaneous manifestations such as psoriasis, lyphogranuloma and so on. For this reason, shankhaprakshalana (complete intestinal cleansing) is performed routinely by all those with digestive disturbances, constipation and high tissue toxicity.

We have reason to believe that this practice reduces the subsequent incidence of bowel cancer by correcting precancerous conditions. It also appears to eliminate 'cancers-in-embryo', the developing seeds of cancer. From a consideration of cancer cell dynamics, these 'cancers-in-situ' must be growing symptomatically for up to 5 years prior to detection of active malignancy.

Short sighted faith

The fundamental departure point between yogic and medical sciences is that yoga is directly concerned with health, while medical science has focused its attention upon disease. Please be aware that this is not just a minor semantic difference. By focusing its attention upon cancer, medical science is making a commitment to that disease. As a result, medical men are bound to encounter it more and more, if not in themselves, then certainly in their patients. This is the natural and inevitable law of cause and effect. We shape our own futures and we bring down our destiny upon ourselves. More importantly, as doctors and physicians, we actually create the future for those patients who look to us with full faith. Our own capacities for faith are therefore on trial. Consciously or unconsciously, our own thinking and expectations play such a major role in the outcome of cancer therapy. This is why every physician and surgeon should practise yoga and nurture the capacity for faith culture and wish fulfillment.

The mind of man is enormously powerful. It can produce anything it wants. You can see this clearly if you read such scriptures as Yoga Vasistha or the autobiography of any individual who has risen to greatness in any sphere of life through his own efforts. We don't even have to seek something consciously. It is not necessary to wish for it. In fact, we may wish and hope to avoid cancer, and still develop the disease. Fear is an important cause of cancer. It is the root or underlying samskara.

This is a truth which we have to face if we are ever to solve the mysteries of cancer. Man is developing cancer because deep down in his mind, and in his cellular structure as well, he is generating cancer cells. Those who want to understand and solve the riddle of cancer will have to tackle the disease at precisely this point. And through the practices of yoga this can best be done.

Unless medical science can recognise that matter is a mirror of mind, then there will never be a solution to the 'cancer problem'. 'Cures' will come and go, but cancer will remain with us. It is inevitable. Today methotrexate is the wonder drug, tomorrow it may be laetrile or interferon - but these also are only the manifestations of our short sighted faith. We place our faith in wonder drugs - first one, then another, but the only real wonder drug is yoga.