“Yoga has a dramatic effect on improvement in reducing insomnia, nausea, aches and pains, as well as increasing the tolerability of chemotherapy,” Andrew Pecora, M.D., chief innovations officer at the John Theurer Cancer Center in Hackensack, New Jersey, said in an interview. “This is all proven.”
Although many misconstrue yoga to be a form of religion, it is a 5,000-year-old system of postures and breathing techniques that originated in India. The practice aims to increase the quality and mindfulness of life by uniting the physical, mental and emotional.
A pilot study conducted by researchers from Wayne State University and Barnes-Jewish College examined the outcomes of yoga for survivors of lung cancer in varying stages of the disease. They found that yoga significantly improved mood, sleep efficiency and quality of life.
And those benefits extend to patients with other cancer diagnoses, too. Linda Bailey, who has triple-negative breast cancer, signed up for a Kula for Karma yoga class when it was offered at the Triple Negative Breast Cancer Foundation.
“As a patient with triple-negative breast cancer, I felt like I was dealt an additional burden and there was no one who quite understood my situation,” said Bailey. “The class provides a support group. I don’t mean that we all sit and talk about our situations, it’s just that we are all there, in a quiet, peaceful fight to adjust to our bodies and lives."
That inner peace was something Geri Topfer, founder and president of Kula for Karma, had to learn herself. “I dealt with a lot of social anxiety at the time,” she said. Then, a friend of hers suggested she take a yoga class. “I ended up doing every training imaginable,” said Topfer.
It wasn’t long before she was teaching yoga in a traditional studio setting, but there was still something missing.
“It wasn’t resonating with me, but I didn’t quite know what I was meant to do,” she recalled. Topfer realized her true calling was to bring yoga and its benefits to children and family services. Using her business background, she forged ahead and established the nonprofit organization.
Nearly 10 years later, Kula for Karma offers therapeutic yoga and meditation for patients with cancer, caregivers, veterans, senior citizens and many more groups. The organization works specifically with the medical community to create yoga and meditation programs that complement traditional treatment approaches.
“Yoga therapy is being recognized more and more,” said Topfer. “Our doctors, from the very beginning, are writing prescriptions for patients to take [one of our] classes.”
Based in the New York metropolitan area, the organization is leading the way in the integration of therapeutic yoga, meditation and stress management into mainstream medicine and health care. Classes are taught by specially trained volunteer instructors and thanks to corporate sponsors, partners and private contributions, classes are free to all participants. In addition, Kula for Karma’s classes are modified for all body types, conditions and levels.
“We have executive, medical and business advisory boards,” explained Topfer. “We consult with everyone for the best approach for different populations.” One of her goals is to make Kula for Karma the specialists in hospital-based programs for cardiac and oncology patients.
Participants of Kula for Karma’s classes also learn portable tools for managing stress, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. “We give you the tools that you need when you aren’t with your doctor, not with your therapist, not with your nurse, not with your hospice nurse,” said Topfer.
With a focus on growth and expansion, the organization recently launched a class for firefighters dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder and are looking to create similar programs for medical professionals within hospital settings.
Topfer acknowledged that while yoga may not be the cure, Kula for Karma is there to help patients manage their journey every step of the way.
“The disease is the disease,” Topfer said. “The only power that you have is what we can do in the day-to-day to really know what it looks like to take care of ourselves.”
For those interested in programming or funding, more information can be found here.