Satyananda Yoga for Cancer Survivors in Hong Kong

For many people in Hong Kong, yoga is still only perceived as a way to maintain physical health. However, the cancer survivors, whom I had the opportunity to meet while I was in Hong Kong, were looking for something more – they hoped that through yoga, they could obtain some mental relaxation and peace, as well as other physical and psychological benefits.

Even after surgery and treatment, many cancer survivors are constantly facing different worries and fears – about possible relapse and about the impact that they have brought to their families. These anxieties and negative thoughts not only affect their psychological health, but also have a repercussion on their physical health. Many of them mentioned that they always had problem with their sleep, either in the form of insomnia or very light sleep, and this poor sleep quality affected their mood, concentration, as well as physical health.

The cancer survivors were participants of wellness programs offered by a local NGO called Hong Kong Cancer Fund. It provides free programs, such as yoga courses and workshops, to cancer survivors and their families. For the courses and workshops, there were usually about 25 participants in each class, with over 95% being females; and amongst the females, over 90% were breast cancer survivors. Most of the participants were around 60 to 65 years old, with a range from 35 to 70 years old.

One of my courses focused on pranayama and yoga nidra. I was amazed to see the number of people enrolled and participating. One comment from a male participant says it all: In one particular class, I had introduced the practice of bhramari pranayama. After the class, that participant came up to me and said that he was very grateful that he had learnt bhramari pranayama in that class, because it was the first time in many years that his mind was not occupied with worries or anxieties; and he felt moments of being tension-free and at peace. He also said that he would practise it regularly from then on.

The pranayama and yoga nidra course was structured and organized with the expectations from the participants kept in mind. Pre-pranayama practices, such as breath awareness and abdominal breathing were introduced at the beginning of the course. Then as the course progressed, other practices such as bhramari – a tranquillizing pranayama, and nadi shodhana – a balancing pranayama, as well as yogic breathing were introduced. However, a typical class contained also asana, as well as kaya sthairyam and concentration practices.

During the practices of asana and pranayama, an important element of Satyananda Yoga was being emphasized throughout the course, i.e. maintaining the awareness of the practice – on the physical movement, and then on the movement of the breath. For many participants, it was the first time that they felt that they were connected with their physical body and their breath.

For the yoga nidra practice, in addition to the practice of rotation of consciousness, visualization practices taken from the book Yogic Management for Cancer by Swami Nirmalananda, which focus on the visualization of the cosmic prana, were included. These visualizations helped promote an individual’s healing capacity and a sense of well being. Many participants commented that they enjoyed the practice as they felt relaxed and revitalized after the practice.

The reason that these Hong Kong Chinese participants were rather receptive to the visualization of prana and found it helpful might be due to the fact that the concept of prana is quite similar to the Chinese concept of ‘qi’. Therefore, it was relatively easy for the participants to visualize the movement of prana and feel the benefits of such visualization. The concept of sankalpa was also introduced and included in the yoga nidra practice, and some participants mentioned in the evaluation that they found it particularly useful.

As a result of this course, a few workshops on Yoga Capsule were conducted this year. The aims of the workshops were in line with Swami Niranjan’s purpose of introducing the concept of Yoga Capsule: different sets of practices which could be practised at different times of the day, suiting the different needs of the body and mind.

In the workshops, each set of practices would take about 10 to 15 minutes to perform. It was explained to the participants the most appropriate time to perform the different sets of practices. The capsules introduced included: asana, pranayama, yoga nidra and the concept of sankalpa, review of the day, kaya sthairyam, beginners’ antar mouna, and yogic attitudes (yama and niyama). Participants found the idea of yoga capsule appealing as the practices were organized in a manageable time frame and format, and they felt that they could sustain regular practice of the capsules after the workshop. They also felt empowered as they understood the rationale and benefits of different capsules, and how the capsules were suitable for the different needs of the body and mind at different times of the day.

Amidst the turmoil of facing cancer and the various challenges it has imposed on their lives, these cancer survivors found relaxation and peace, as well as a positive outlook through Satyananda Yoga. I am very grateful that I could facilitate this process and bring Satyananda Yoga into their lives.

Swami Amritbindu