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St. Clair Hospital Launches Restorative Yoga For Patients With Cancer
By Nancy Kennedy

Holly KoenigYoga is a form of exercise and meditation that began in India 5,000 years ago. It endures to this day and has grown in popularity in the west, and is now a common wellness practice, offered in private studios, gyms, health centers and spas. The benefits of yoga are numerous: regular yoga practice can improve one's health, promote relaxation and reduce stress. More recently, yoga has been recognized as a useful adjunct to medical treatment, as an integrative therapy that enhances the clinical management of many diseases, including cancer. At St. Clair Hospital, the Cancer Care Center is pleased to begin offering this modern application of an ancient practice for patients, caregivers and survivors. Yoga For Patients With Cancer is a new program that the hospital launched in mid June; it features monthly classes in restorative yoga, a subset of Hatha Yoga that was specifically developed to address the special needs of people with cancer, chronic illnesses and disabilities. According to Holly Koenig, RYT, an experienced yoga teacher who will lead the classes at St. Clair, restorative yoga is a gentle form that teaches the body to turn off the stress response and instead relax and feel at peace. "When many people think of yoga, they picture a very athletic, vigorous form of exercise with people contorting into different positions," Koenig says. "Restorative yoga is the opposite of that; it emphasizes gentle movement, meditation, breathing and touch. It's easy to learn and safe for everyone. When you learn to truly relax, your body responds in positive ways and you feel more comfortable in your body. It's great for chronic pain, fatigue, low energy and many other conditions."

Vincent Reyes, M.D., a board-certified oncologist at St. Clair who conceived the Yoga For Patients With Cancer program, tried it himself and is now an enthusiastic proponent and participant. He credits his wife Kathleen, a physician and yoga veteran, and his colleague, oncologist Laney Francis, M.D., of Hillman Cancer Center, for inspiring him. "Dr. Francis directs the integrative medicine program at Hillman and she convinced me that yoga has great value for cancer patients. That has been validated by medical research studies." Yoga has been proven to be helpful not only to persons who are newly diagnosed and in treatment, but also to those recovering from cancer, as part of their survivorship. It can help patients manage their symptoms and ease the side effects that often accompany cancer treatment, Dr. Reyes says. "The data in medical journals indicate that yoga can effectively reduce inflammation, decrease muscle and joint pain, promote better sleep and improve the person's feeling of well-being. It can also reduce feelings of depression and anxiety that commonly accompany a diagnosis of cancer. Yoga can improve muscle strength, tone, balance and flexibility, all of which may be adversely impacted by cancer treatment. Restorative yoga can be tailored to individual needs; you can do it seated. It's ideally suited to people who might be limited by shortness of breath, low energy or pain."

Yoga For Patients With Cancer was developed by Dr. Reyes and Heather Martorella, R.N., M.S.N., O.C.N., Oncology Nurse Specialist at St. Clair. Classes are conducted at 6:30 p.m. at the Dunlap Conference Center on the Fourth Floor of St. Clair Hospital. There is no charge, but those who wish to participate are asked to pre-register. Yoga mats, water bottles and fruit will be provided at the sessions, and participants should bring two bed pillows and wear comfortable clothing that moves with the body. Each class will last from 60-75 minutes. Koenig teaches at the Dormont location of South Hills Power Yoga and has years of experience. She is excited about St. Clair Hospital's initiative. "Dr. Reyes wanted to be able to offer something really special to his patients, and I'm looking forward to working with him and the patients. My message to anyone who is curious about trying yoga is this: Just come. We welcome you. I have never had a patient express regret about participating." Adds Dr. Reyes, "I encourage people who are struggling with the symptoms and complications of cancer and other conditions to give it a try and come to Yoga For Patients With Cancer. Come and bring a friend. I am planning to attend every session."

For a complete schedule of sessions and more information, please call 412.942.5082



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