What is your advice for yoga students with Hodgkins Lymphoma?

Dear Tari: Do you have experience with students who have lymphoma – in particular Hodgkin’s Lymphoma? In these cases, are there concerns with doing things that would stimulate the movement of the lymphatic system? Any suggestions are appreciated.

To understand Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (HL) know that this is cancer of the lymphatic system… meaning that lymphocytes that help protect against various infections caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi are being over produced. Instead of being a benefit to protect the body, the lymphocytes become the ‘enemy’.

Treatments are designed to manage that over production of lymphocytes. The causes of HL are not known. Suspect are:

  • Epstein Barre virus… eg mononucleosis
  • Age (15-35 and past 50)
  • Family, eg identical twins are high risk
  • and weak immune system.

The risk factor – weak immune system – is the only risk factor that can be manage. And that is prevention of a weak immune system.

As the immune system benefits from all we do in yoga4cancer, there is no risk of movement or practice but only improvements to both side-effects of treatments and the underlining weakness of the immune system. I would argue that not-moving has more risk. I like the ‘polluted lake’ metaphor. If the water stays still, it only becomes stagnant and more polluted. Move!

I would argue that stimulating the lymph system with yogic movement and breathing will not spread cancer but strength the immune function. However, there is no research to prove that one way or the other. Lymphoma organizations recommend exercise and movement. The danger of non-movement is a higher risk for HL patients and all people.

And remember, a key role of a HL patient – like any other cancer patient or survivors – is keeping their body in the best possible condition to ensure the effectiveness of any treatments and ensure they can best handle their specific protocol. This includes managing side effects from treatments that can be debilitating and long lasting. Medications for HL does do damage to the heart and bone density. Bone loss caused by steroids causes significant long term effects. There is extensive research on how yoga can reduce side effects and improve the bodies overall function. (See research paper: Yoga Interventions for Cancer Patients and Survivors)

So my advice to you and your HL patient is to let the HL treatments manage the lymphocyte production and the YOGA manage bone and heart strength. Move and breath with confidence.

Resources and Research: