September Teacher of the Month: Abby Denny

Abby Denny.jpeg

Our teacher of the month for September 2017 is Abby Denny, who teaches for Kula at Valley Hospital. We are so grateful for Abby's warmth, generosity, kindness, and dedication to helping others. Here's Abby's story in her own words:

"The combination of my own cancer journey and yoga practice has lead me down a wonderful path in more ways than I ever imagined. When one of my friends told me about Kula for Karma and the volunteer opportunities to help give back, I wasted no time. I did not have the opportunity to experience Kula’s services as a patient, but feel so grateful that I can help give back as a teacher and survivor.

Everyone comes to their yoga mat with their own stories, their own highs and lows, and being able to help guide people through their practice and their journey is a gift I am happy to share. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009 myself, I began practicing yoga on a regular basis as a way to navigate life from an honest and open place. I needed to find a way to dig deep, fight and continue to be true to myself as a wife, mother, and most importantly as a woman. Through the guidance of wonderful gurus along the way, yoga became an integral part of my daily life.

At Valley Hospital, I try to give my students a space that is safe, nurturing and peaceful. I remind them that they must learn to trust themselves, to love themselves, to continue to show their brave spirit and be courageous each and every day as they move on and off the mat. I am very honored to share my practice and guide these incredible survivors. I continue to gain so much strength and motivation from them, as I hope they do from me.

I am constantly learning and should complete my 500 hour yoga certification next year, continuing to build on my own core practice. My goal is to create a community where relationships with yourself, your yoga practice and your peers can help you to handle life’s twists and turns from a place of warmth and gratitude.

I enjoy cooking, gardening, golf and my wonderful family. I am proud to support Breast Cancer by participating in AVON39, hoping to walk all 7 cities with the wonderful support of family and friends."

Thank you for everything you do, Abby! 

Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Medical News Today

March 4, 2014

By Honor Whiteman

Radiation therapy is one of the main treatments for cancer, and one of the most common side effects of the treatment is fatigue. But new research from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests that for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, yoga may combat this side effect by regulating stress hormones, improving quality of life beyond treatment.

The research team, led by Prof. Lorenzo Cohen, recently published the study findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Yoga is an ancient exercise that originated in India around 5,000 years ago. The activity combines physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and meditation, and it has been associated with other health benefits.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that yoga can help lower blood pressure, while a 2012 study suggested that the exercise may help prevent adolescent mental problems.

To assess whether yoga could provide health benefits for breast cancer patients, the researchers analyzed 191 women with stages 0-3 of the disease.

Researchers say yoga could combat fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy and improve overall quality of life during and after treatment.

All women were randomized into three groups: yoga, simple stretching or no instruction in yoga or stretching.

The women in the yoga or simple stretching groups were required to attend 1-hour classes for 3 days a week during the course of their 6-week radiation treatment. All sessions were tailored to breast cancer patients.

During the study period, the women were asked to report on their quality of life, including levels of fatigue and depression, sleep quality and how they were able to function on a daily basis.

The researchers conduced electrocardiogram (ECG) tests and took saliva samples from the women at the baseline of the study, the end of their radiation therapy and at 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment. This was to measure the participants' levels of cortisol - known as the "stress hormone."

Yoga reduced women's cortisol levels and fatigue

Results of the study revealed that the women who took part in the yoga sessions showed the sharpest decline in cortisol levels of all the groups, suggesting that yoga was able to regulate the stress hormone.

The investigators say this finding is important because increased stress hormone levels during the day - known as blunted circadian cortisol rhythm - have been associated with worse breast cancer outcomes.

Furthermore, the researchers found that women in the yoga group reported a reduction in fatigue, whereas the women in the other two groups did not. The women in the yoga group also reported better general health and functioning at 1, 3 and 6 months after radiation treatment.

These women also reported being able to find meaning in their experience of illness, while women in the other two groups did not.

"Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching."

Additionally, he says research has shown that adopting a yoga practice after cancer treatment can help breast cancer patients cope with their experience.

"The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention," explains Prof. Cohen. "Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult."

The research team is now in the process of a phase III trial of women with breast cancer, with the aim of understanding how yoga can improve physical function, biological outcomes and quality of life after radiation therapy.

This is not the first study to find a link between yoga and health benefits for breast cancer patients. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that for breast cancer survivors, yoga can reduce symptoms of fatigue and inflammation.

Yoga May Help Breast Cancer Patients


by Kathleen Doherty

TUESDAY, March 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Women with breast cancer who practiced yoga had lower levels of stress hormones and reported less fatigue and better quality of life, new research shows.

"Yoga is having an impact on subjective well-being, as well as better regulation of cortisol, a stress hormone," said study co-author Lorenzo Cohen, director of the integrative medicine program at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston. "Better regulation of stress hormones has been linked with better survival and longer survival."

The study is published in the March 3 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Other research has found yoga helpful for cancer patients, Cohen said, but some of those studies have looked at small numbers of patients and others have not compared the yoga group to a "control" group to measure results.

Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients - Kula for Karma

For the new study, Cohen assigned more than 160 women with breast cancer who were undergoing radiation therapy to do either yoga or stretching up to three times a week for an hour each session. Those two groups were compared to a control group that received no instruction in either yoga or stretching.

The women reported on their quality of life, including how fatigued or depressed they felt, and described their daily functioning. They gave saliva samples at the study's start, the end of treatment, and at one, three and six months after treatment, so cortisol could be measured.

Women in the yoga group had the greatest reduction in cortisol levels across the day, which reflected the ability of yoga to help regulate stress hormones, the study authors noted.

After finishing radiation treatment, which is linked with fatigue, only the yoga and stretching groups reported feeling less tired, the findings showed. The yoga group had more benefits in physical functioning than the other two groups.

No differences were found between the groups for mental health and sleep quality. That may have been because all the women were doing fairly well on those measures at the study's start, Cohen said.

Previous studies have linked exercise with better well-being and less fatigue among cancer patients, said Dr. Joanne Mortimer, director of women's cancer programs and co-director of the breast cancer program at City of Hope Cancer Center in Duarte, Calif.

Recommending exercise to a cancer patient who is already tired may sound counterintuitive, Mortimer said, but research suggests that's not so.

"This study supports that the more you do, the better off you are," Mortimer explained.

Cohen put it this way: "I think it's important for breast cancer patients to engage in some sort of activity to buffer [dealing with the disease]."

Yoga, he said, provides an important mind-body approach to help patients get physical activity, relax and calm their mind.

While yoga class offerings are widespread, Cohen pointed out that "it's important to find the right kind of yoga teacher. It's about doing a gentler form of yoga."

He suggested women with breast cancer ask their doctor first if they can participate in yoga, then find a yoga instructor with experience leading a class that includes cancer patients.

How Yoga Can Help Women with Breast Cancer

ABC News, May 4, 2014

By Danielle Krol, M.D. (@dailydosemd)

Yoga for Breast Cancer - Kula for Karma

Yoga can help ease pain, fatigue and depression among women battling breast cancer, a new study found. It might even help them survive.

The study of 191 breast cancer patients linked yoga to improvements in self-reported quality of life, including measures of mood, pain and fatigue. Practicing yoga also appeared to help regulate the stress hormone cortisol, which is tied to poor survival among breast cancer patients.

“The benefits of yoga are above and beyond stretching,” said Lorenzo Cohen, a professor of oncology at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and lead author of the study published Monday in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. “These findings may improve outcomes in cancer survivors.”

To conduct the study, Cohen and his team randomly assigned 191 women with breast cancer who were undergoing radiation therapy into one of three groups. One group did yoga, another did simple stretching exercises, and a third group did neither. The participants in the yoga and stretching groups attended sessions for one hour, three days a week throughout the six weeks of their radiation therapy.

Throughout the study, Cohen’s team asked patients a series of questions assessing their quality of life, fatigue level and sleep quality, and tested their cortisol levels. By comparing the groups, they found yoga significantly reduced fatigue, raised physical function and health perception scores and reduced cortisol levels.

Dr. Barrie Cassileth, chief of the integrative medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, said the new findings lend additional weight to the science behind mind-body approaches to cancer treatment.

“Yoga is a very important intervention, and this was a high quality investigation,” said Cassileth, who was not involved with the study. “This study looked beyond the physical benefits of yoga by looking at the physiologic measure of stress: cortisol.”

The new research is part of an ongoing effort by researchers at M.D. Anderson to scientifically corroborate mind-body interventions in cancer care. The study was done in collaboration with Swami Vivekananda Anusandhana Samsthana, India’s largest yoga research institution.

Breast Cancer is the most common cancer among women, with an estimated 232,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year, according to the National Cancer Institute.

Doctor’s Take

Integrative medicine, a philosophy that explores new ways to treat the mind, body and spirit, is increasingly popular among physicians. Now research is starting to provide concrete evidence on the benefits of yoga, especially in the cancer setting.

A practice that began over 5,000 years ago, yoga has only recently begun to be integrated into medical therapy at cancer centers across the country. And while its original focus may have been wellness and emotional health, studies like this, which look at physical measures like cortisol levels, suggest that yoga’s effects may extend beyond what many doctors once believed.

The study adds to mounting evidence that yoga can be used to control physical functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, metabolism and body temperature. And for women undergoing treatment for breast cancer, it might be one more reason to look to this ancient practice for improved quality of life and possibly a better chance of beating their disease

How the Mind-Body Aspects of Yoga Can Help Breast Cancer Patients

Yoga for Breast Cancer - Kula for Karma

The mind-body aspects of yoga specifically could carry benefits for women undergoing breast cancer treatment, according to a small new study.

The research, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, shows that women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer who were enrolled in a yoga intervention (that included meditation, relaxation and breathing techniques) experienced improved stress hormone regulation, decreased fatigue and improved general health.

"Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching," study researcher Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, said in a statement.

The study included 191 women with breast cancer of varying stages, who were randomly assigned to one of three groups as they underwent their radiation treatment for six weeks. One group did simple stretching, the second group did yoga, and the third group did no yoga or stretching. The yoga and stretching groups did their assigned activity for one hour, three times a week.

The participants self-reported their fatigue and depression levels throughout the intervention, and researchers also collected saliva samples and administered echocardiogram tests at the beginning of the study, at the end of the radiation treatment, and then one, three and six months after the radiation treatment had ended.

They found that overall, the participants who were assigned to the yoga group experienced the greatest gains in all measurements of health. Specifically, the yoga group had the greatest decreases in cortisol levels throughout the day. And after radiation treatment, the yoga and stretching groups experienced decreases in fatigue, compared with the control group. Months after the radiation treatment, the yoga group self-reported higher general health, and were also more likely than the other two groups to say that they found some kind of meaning of life from their cancer experience.

Previous research has indicated that yoga could decrease inflammation and fatigue among breast cancer survivors. One study showing this effect, published in the same journal as the new study, posited that the beneficial effects could come from yoga's ability to improve sleep.

How Yoga Helps Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors

Yoga University

Cancer patients who practice yoga as therapy during their treatment often refer to their yoga practice as a life-saver. No matter how sick from treatments and no matter how little energy, many find that the one thing that would bring relief were a gentle set of therapeutic yoga poses geared for cancer patients.

Yoga for Cancer - Kula for Karma

When battling cancer, the worst part is not just the symptoms of the disease itself, but often the discomfort and debilitating fatigue brought on from cancer treatments. Whether faced with the scar-tissue of surgery or ongoing nausea and weakness from chemotherapy or radiation, cancer patients endure a long road of physical trials.

But as many cancer patients and cancer survivors are discovering, there are ways to strengthen their bodies and deal with the uncomfortable side-effects of treatment, both during and after treatment. As the interest in more holistic approaches to healing is growing, yoga therapy for cancer patients and cancer survivors is emerging as one of the more successful methods for combating the physical discomfort of cancer and cancer treatment.

How does yoga help relieve the suffering that cancer all too often brings with it? Gentle yoga poses for cancer patients can work magic on many levels. First of all, yoga used as therapy for cancer can help clear out toxins accrued during cancer treatment more effectively. Yoga asanas stimulate not just muscles, but also increases blood flow, balances the glands and enhances the lymphatic flow in the body, all of which enhances the body's internal purification processes. The deep, relaxing breathing often emphasized in yoga for cancer therapy also increases the current of oxygen-rich blood to the cells, delivering vital nutrients to tired cells and further clearing out toxins.

In addition to removing toxins, yoga for cancer can help dissipate tension and anxiety and enable cancer patients to settle into a greater sense of ease and well-being.  Stress depresses the body's natural immune function, which may be one of the reasons that there is evidence that people who practice yoga for cancer have greater recovery rates.

Regular exercise also has been shown to stimulate the body's natural anti-cancer defenses. However, few cancer patients or cancer survivors feel up to the task of engaging in a 'regular' exercise regimen. Many find that yoga as therapy for cancer provides an ideal, balanced form of whole-body exercise. It's no wonder that more and more doctors have begun to recommend yoga for cancer patients and cancer survivors.

For those enduring chemotherapy and radiation, yoga for cancer provides a means to strengthen the body, boost them immune system, and produce a much-sought-after feeling of well-being. For those recovering from surgery, such as that for breast cancer, yoga can help restore motion and flexibility in a gentle, balanced manner.

Yoga for cancer survivors and patients also provides an internal anchor of calm. Many practicing yoga therapy have discovered an interesting, subtle benefit, an increased awareness of a great, internal stillness and sense of unity. They've found, at the most fundamental level of their own consciousness, a sense of true health and vitality that spills over into other aspects of life.

Meditation and Yoga Can Help Cancer Patients Sleep

Global News

CALGARY – A Calgary study involving patients from the Tom Baker Cancer Centre has found meditation and yoga can help people struggling with cancer-related insomnia.

Yoga for Cancer Patients -- Kula for Karma

Research published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology involved 111 cancer patients struggling with sleep disturbances.

Half of the group was treated using cognitive behavioral therapy and the other half was treated using a combination of mindful meditation, gentle yoga and mood managing techniques.

“We looked at before and after the two-month treatment and three months later,” explains study co-author Dr. Linda Carlson. “What we found, was that right after the treatment the cognitive therapy was better for improving some of the sleep duration and sleep efficiency. But three months later, the mindfulness had caught up and help helped people improve their insomnia.”

Carlson says the research provides a second treatment option for cancer patients.

An estimated 59% of cancer patients experience sleep problems during and after cancer treatment.

Study First to Compare Benefits of Mind-Body Practices to Simple Stretching Exercises

MD Anderson News Release 05/18/11

For women with breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy, yoga offers unique benefits beyond fighting fatigue, according to new research from The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

While simple stretching exercises improved fatigue, patients who participated in yoga that incorporated yogic breathing, postures, meditation and relaxation techniques into their treatment plan experienced improved physical functioning, better general health and lower cortisol (stress hormone) levels. They also were better able to find meaning in their cancer experience.

Lorenzo Cohen - Kula for Karma

The findings, to be presented next month in an oral session at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology by Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson, are the latest in an ongoing effort to scientifically validate the age-old belief that mind-body interventions have a beneficial impact on the health of cancer patients. The research was conducted in collaboration with India’s largest yoga research institution, Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana in Bangalore, India.

The study assessed, for the first time, yoga benefits to cancer patients by comparing their experience with patients in an active control group who integrated simple, generic stretching exercises into their lives. “The combination of mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical distress associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching,” said Cohen.

To conduct the study, 163 women with breast cancer (stage 0-3) averaging 52 years of age were randomized to one of three groups: 1) yoga; 2) simple stretching; or 3) no instruction in yoga or stretching. Participants in the yoga and stretching groups attended sessions specifically tailored to breast cancer patients for one hour three days a week throughout their six weeks of radiation treatment.

Participants were asked to report on their quality of life, including fatigue, daily functioning, benefit finding, depression and spirituality. Saliva samples were collected and electrocardiogram tests were administered at baseline, end of treatment, and at one, three and six months post-treatment.

After completing radiation treatment, only the women in the yoga and stretching groups reported a reduction in fatigue. At one, three and six months after radiation therapy, women who practiced yoga during the treatment period reported greater benefits to physical functioning and general health. They were more likely to perceive positive life changes from their cancer experience than either other group.

Women who practiced yoga also had the steepest decline in their cortisol across the day, indicating that yoga had the ability to regulate this stress hormone. This is particularly important because higher stress hormone levels throughout the day, known as a blunted circadian cortisol rhythm, have been linked to worse outcomes in breast cancer.

According to Cohen, developing a yoga practice also helps patients after completing cancer treatment. “The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention. Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult.”

Through a grant from the National Cancer Institute – the largest ever awarded for the study of yoga in cancer – Cohen and his team will next conduct a Phase III clinical trial in women with breast cancer to further determine the mechanisms of yoga that lead to improvement in physical functioning, quality of life, and biological outcomes during and after radiation treatment. A secondary aim of the trial, but one of great importance, stressed Cohen, is assessing cost efficiency analysis for the hospital, health care usage costs in general, and examining work productivity of patients.

MD Anderson recognizes the growing body of research indicating that relaxation-based interventions can contribute to the well-being of people with cancer. Through the Integrative Medicine Program, complementary therapies, such as yoga, are offered at MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center, and are used in concert with mainstream care to manage symptoms, relieve stress, enhance quality of life, and improve outcomes for patients and their caregivers. MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine faculty also conduct research in the biological and behavioral effects of mind-body based interventions; the anti-cancer potential of natural compounds; and, acupuncture to treat common cancer treatment-related side effects.

In addition to Cohen, other MD Anderson researchers contributing to this study include: Kavita Chandwani, M.D., former senior research coordinator and yoga teacher; Robin Haddad, M.P.H. , research coordinator, George Perkins, M.D. in the Department of Radiation Oncology; Amy Spelman, Ph.D., Kayla Johnson, B.S. and Adoneca Fortier, B.S., all staff in the Integrative Medicine Program; Banu Arun, M.D., in the Department of Breast Medical Oncology; and Qi Wei, M.S., Sr. Statistical Analyst. Clemens Kirschbaum, Ph.D. contributed from the Technical University of Dresden, Dresden, Germany. Collaborators from SVYASA include NV Raghuram, B.E.; R. Nagarathna, M.D., and HR Nagendra, Ph.D., founder.