Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday, part II

Admission: I couldn't figure out how to continue with the first Sunday post, so here's part II. It was necessary to get outdoors and enjoy the sunshine and this overall glorious fall weather here this afternoon.

to continue...
Cohen was considering why yoga wasn't showing a reduction in intrusive thoughts. His research was showing improvements in physical functioning but increases in intrusive thoughts. He began thinking about trauma research, which shows that having intrusive thoughts is a positive not a negative finding because if one is allowing oneself to think about what is happening to the body, to one's life, relationships, etc. while in treatment, then the ability to work it through while doing the yoga would actually be beneficial.

A lower level of depression among cancer patients is a significant predictor of survival. Cohen discussed that through the research we know that living with cancer causes stress which causes physiological changes that leads to widespread damage in many organs and systems of the body.Through yoga practice this is reduced such that a better quality of life is maintained.

One of the areas that turned out to be especially important in many of the studies shared is that of the qualitative feedback generated. Cohen employs journal writing with subjects (along with blood samples, videotaping of the yoga sessions, etc) that proves to reveal much that cannot be measured. quantitative vs qualitative. The qualitative feeback is extremely important. Key point: there is a lot of insight that can be gained that is missed through data collection. We learn that people can find meaning, spiritual or otherwise, in the illness experience.

Another point Cohen made is that many beneficial effects of yoga may have nothing to do with the yoga. So it is important to have active control groups in one form or another. In other words, it might prove better to have a control group that is doing some other kind of physical activity since any kind of physical activity can also alter mood in a positive direction.

Throughout the weekend, 'what kind of yoga' is being tested, used for an intervention, etc was occasionally brought up for discussion. Cohen said that this was brought up to him by the Vivekananda group who is a partner on the current breast cancer research. Cohen typically calls the yoga in his research studies hatha yoga. But the Vivekananda group preferred that it be called Patanjali Yoga and he agreed to it.

The breast cancer patients in the studies at MD Anderson have yoga onsite. This is also considered a positive event because it is something a woman can form a positive association with something when she comes in for treatment.

Of note is that at M.D. Anderson they have begun training nurses to teach mindfulness techniques to patients who will be undergoing treatment. This should break down the Pavlovian relationship that occurs between the patient, their treatment and their drugs.

Dr. Cohen spoke so fluidly and clearly about the benefits of yoga for people receiving radiotherapy for cancers that it begs the question, why isn't it a standard of care at M.D.Anderson Cancer Center where he is the director of Integrative Medicine.

He explained to us that for Yoga or mindbody practices to become standard of care, it is going to take more than evidence, even though it is evidence that puts it in the pipeline. It will also take showing that there is a cost saving for this low-tech, next to free therapy. He has included a cost benefit aspect in the most recently funded study for a phase 3 clinical trial on yoga with breast cancer patients. It is the hope that the subjects will not need to check in as often as those in the control group, not phone in as frequently, need fewer medications, etc. But even more than that he emphasized that it is going to take the general public, people at the grass roots level, applying political pressure.

Another study that Dr. Cohen will be working on is the effects of meditation on what is commonly referred to as 'chemo-brain'. Women on chemotherapy show forgetfulness, lack of attention, general fogginess and he hypothesizes that meditation activates the same areas of the brain that the chemo is hindering. Watch for this.

Cohen ended by telling us that he has asked many yoga masters over the years what would the yoga practice be that would ensure a person would turn to a path of wellness. All have answered that it would take a daily practice of 6 months. This is the real challenge, he says, because how many people will do this? If we would, then it would really change the physiology, the dna, and then it would be something the body would be telling us to do, not the mind.

Again, I will post some of the highlights from Dr. van der Kolk within the next 2 - 3 days and will also not 'last post' when this is completed.

Thank you for reading. In service, Julie


  1. I'd be curious to hear about Mary Lou Galantino's cancer presentations too Julie if you heard her and she wasn't stopped by the weather coming up!
    thanks again....!

  2. hi julie, looking forward to your last posts. thank you so much for doing this, for uniting us all through your words. keep blogging!
    peace ....

  3. Thanks so much for a wonderful blog! I feel as though I were at the conference.