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Hospitals Using Yoga For Cancer!?

When Cheri Clampett was diagnosed with cancer, she maximized her healing potential by complementing medical treatment with a gentle practice. This was the foundation of Therapeutic Yoga (TY), Clampett’s blend of restorative poses and other healing modalities.

Since then, Clampett has brought TY to patients and staff at the Beth Israel and NYU Langone hospitals in New York, and to the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, where she works. She also gives teacher trainings with yoga therapist Arturo Peal.

As more hospitals incorporate yoga into treatment programs, Therapeutic Yoga is becoming a vital part of healing for patients and a thriving new field for yoga instructors. YogaCity NYC’s Suzan Colón spoke with Clampett about TY and her upcoming training in New York at Integral Yoga.

Suzan Colón: How would you describe Therapeutic Yoga?

Cheri Clampett: It’s a blend of yogic technologies focused on supporting people in healing: restorative postures, gentle yoga, breath work, hands-on healing, guided imagery. TY is geared toward fitting yoga to the person, not making the person fit the yoga. It looks at an individual’s special needs and creates a healing practice.

Traditionally, in India, all yoga is for healing. TY is an evolution of what I saw was needed, and what could easily be brought into hospitals. One of the opportunities I saw in the early days was at an AIDS hospice. I created a way of teaching people who were very ill, combining simple propping, energy healing, and massage. The results were improved T-cell counts and increased energy. Being a cancer survivor myself was the beginning for me, and I went on to share that.

SC: How does TY work?

CC: These gentle, yin-based practices are deeply relaxing. They turn off the stress—or fight/flight response—and turn on the parasympathetic, or rest/digest response. When we get calm, the body starts to focus on mending. Then it’s about going inside, meeting whatever needs healing. We mentally scan the body and find the tension, meet it with the breath, soften and explore. TY is a time of bringing compassion and breath to those areas, along with guided meditation and soothing imagery. An oncologist told me, “What you’re doing is equally important to what I’m doing in certain ways, to release stress.” It’s vital for someone in the healing process to turn off the stress response.

SC: Who can benefit from TY?

CC: Our trainers bring it to different populations—people with cancer, arthritis, spinal cord injuries, the elderly. But more yoga studios are finding that TY classes are among their most popular, full of people of all ages, injured, ill, or just stressed. Arturo and I started giving trainings at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York 17 years ago because it’s a school of healing and they had the bolsters and props necessary for our training. Now, more and more centers have these kinds of restorative classes. It’s a wonderful practice that reaches the full spectrum of needs. We’re all healing, all the time, on some level—not just from physical issues, but emotional challenges, trauma, and stress.

SC: You started teaching TY in 1999. What was the medical community’s attitude toward yoga back then?

CC: There were times I had to say I was doing stress reduction or stress management. Doctors were fine with that, but if you went into the yoga realm, it was not okay. Then studies started coming in with the medical evidence around yoga’s benefits, and viewpoints began to change.

Now, patients are demanding more integrative programs, and doctors themselves are doing more yoga. Medicare is paying for people to do Dean Ornish’s program for heart disease, which incorporates yoga. Blue Cross gave guided meditation CDs to patients to prep them for surgery, and they saved $500 per patient on less pain medication and patients leaving the hospital earlier. The Health Savings Account is paying for yoga therapy. There’s more and more happening with the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Oz and Dr. Norman Shealy say that the future of medicine is more energetic in nature. Recently, I spoke at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara, where I work, and said, “What we do as yoga therapists is teach patients how to breathe well and visualize the medicine doctors prescribe as a healing medicinal force. Our intention is to support what you doctors do.”

SC: It's interesting, given the prevailing attitude among yoga enthusiasts, that yoga can cure anything on its own.

CC: We are invited in as support medicine. We can do something very special and different, but we have to honor the doctors and their work. I would never give my opinion on whether or not a patient should do chemo or similar treatment. What I can do is give them yoga and meditation techniques, and help them talk to their physicians about what we do. We have to respect each individual’s journey. Don’t “should” on anybody; just bring the incredible benefits that complement the treatment they choose.

SC: Do you think yoga will eventually have as much emphasis on healthcare as it does on physical fitness?

CC: [big sigh] I hope so. What I’ve witnessed in 25 years of teaching is that yoga is a tremendous healing modality. It’s been proven. TY can hold a strong light into the area of healthcare. The graduates of my program have been pioneers in that area, and it’s wonderful to see how much healing they’ve brought. Yoga has the potential to support us in every moment of life. It’s an incredible gift, and everyone should have it.

For more information on Therapeutic Yoga, click here; TY training at Integral Yoga Institute, June 12-17, click here.

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