The room is quiet. Soft light streams through the shaded windows. A soothing voice breaks the silence and addresses the cancer patients and caregivers sitting on yoga mats.
"Focus on your breath. Inhale deeply and exhale," Smitha Mallaiah says. "Bring in positivity and let go of your tension."
Mallaiah, a mind-body intervention specialist at MD Anderson, leads our Yoga for Health class. This is one of several group classes offered for cancer patients and caregivers at our Integrative Medicine Center. The class teaches gentle stretching, breathing and meditation.
Our mind-body intervention specialists offer practices like yoga and meditation to complement cancer treatment and help improve quality of life for our patients and their families.
Mallaiah's goal is to help people taking her class relax and enjoy mindfulness. She says mindfulness is being in the present moment without judgment and realizing your potential for love and kindness.
Cancer affects patients in many ways, Mallaiah says. They're affected by the disease, treatments and side effects such as fatigue. And they're facing the stress of cancer and still needing to manage work and other aspects of life.
"Mind-body practices such as yoga give people the opportunity to be more accepting of their situation and face it and feel more in control," Mallaiah says. "It also provides great physical benefits."
What our mind-body intervention specialists do
Mallaiah, her mind-body intervention specialist colleagues, Rosalinda Engle and Amie Koronczok, along with Alejandro Chaoul, Ph.D., assistant professor in Palliative, Rehabilitation, and Integrative Medicine, are trained in a variety of mind-body techniques. They work together to promote and model habits of health for our patients, caregivers and employees. Recently, they started a yoga class for pediatric patients in MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
They also participate in research studies. Chaoul says incorporating mind-body practices into patient care and research is relatively new, but it's becoming more popular.
Recent research suggests these practices can benefit patients by:
- Improving sleep
- Decreasing side effects of treatment, like fatigue and cognitive dysfunction
- Improving physical well-being and quality of life
- Helping them manage and cope with stress
Improving quality of life for our cancer patients and caregiver
"Bringing simple techniques like mindfulness and relaxation to our patients and their families helps improve their quality of life," Mallaiah says. "If we can enhance quality of life for anybody, even for a single moment, that makes us feel worthwhile."
Bonnie Maxson, who attends the Yoga for Health class, says mind-body practices have helped her in her role as caregiver for her husband, Stephen, who is undergoing treatment for esophageal cancer.
"I love the sense of empowerment yoga gives me," she says. "It's the one time of the day I feel I'm in control of my life. The classes also have helped me deal with the joint and back pains that come from sitting for hours in waiting rooms and treatment centers."
Most of all, Maxson enjoys meeting other caregivers through the classes. Together they've created their own support system.
"It helps you feel not so alone because you know everyone is here for essentially the same reason: to find hope," she says.
A longer version of this story originally appeared in Messenger, MD Anderson's bimonthly employee publication.