There is a wonderful expression in Arabic that captures the essence of our lab’s work: “al haraka baraka.” In English this means “movement is a blessing”. This saying may ring particularly true for pediatric cancer patients and survivors who are coping with treatment related side effects such as fatigue or nausea. Access to adapted physical activity programs offers children an engaging and fun opportunity to ease those side effects. In fact, a growing body of research shows that physical activity (such as yoga, aerobic training, and resistance training) improves the health of children at all stages of cancer treatment .
This summer I had the honour of sharing yoga with children at the Huda Al Masri Pediatric Oncology Unit in Bethlehem, Palestine. I first met with Dr. Mohammed Najajreh, the head pediatric oncologist, and his team of nurses and social workers. They currently offer a number of activities to brighten the children’s’ moods, such as regular birthday celebrations and visits from storytellers. Dr. Najajreh and his team are expanding supportive care services and were enthusiastic about including yoga among the children’s’ daily activities. As an introduction to the topic, we first reviewed research on the benefits of yoga for children during cancer treatment. These include:
The following day I taught yoga to acute lymphoblastic leukemia patients and their family members. The class focused on simple stretching poses to promote circulation, and mindful breathing activities to enhance relaxation. We also wove in the fun factor and the children tried to trick their mothers in the yoga game ‘mirror mirror’, where one person must mimic another person’s movements. Just like our YTY classes in Calgary, the children joked about new names they invented for the yoga poses. Some of my favorite ones were “the fish who can’t run” and “I’m falling asleep in class”. After the session, parents were eager to review selected poses that they thought could help their child relax before bedtime. I then held shorter one-on-one yoga sessions with patients and their parents to provide more detailed instructions on select poses.
Dr. Najajreh and his team are as committed to promoting their patients’ quality of life as they are to treating their diagnoses. They are also open to exploring new interventions that may benefit their patients’ overall health and wellbeing. After the visit, they expressed their excitement at the prospective of including yoga as one such activity that offers multiple benefits to the children and their families. In fact, they recently connected with a local organization specializing in pediatric cancer care services and hope to identify a yoga teacher in the Bethlehem area.
It will be exciting to collaborate with the Huda Al Masri Pediatric Oncology Unit and continue the translation of research into a practical program. This visit provided the opportunity for a first meeting. In addition, our lab donated six yoga mats as well as cancer and exercise materials to the unit. Future ideas include partnering with their team to adapt and translate program and training resources for clinicians, families, and yoga teachers. Such collaboration will make resources available in Palestine as well as to Arabic speaking families here in Calgary and, ultimately, expand supportive care programs for children with cancer.
This blog was originally featured on the University of Calgary’s Health & Wellness Lab blog.
1. Baumann, F.T., W. Bloch, and J. Beulertz, Clinical exercise interventions in pediatric oncology: a systematic review. Pediatric Research, 2013.74: p. 366–374
2. Moody, K., et al., Yoga for pain and anxiety in pediatric hematology-oncology patients: case series and review of the literature. Journal of the Society for Integrative Oncology, 2010. 8(3): p. 95-105.
3. Thygeson, M.V., et al., Peaceful play yoga: serenity and balance for children with cancer and their parents. Journal of Pediatric Oncology Nursing, 2010. 27(5): p. 276-84.
4. Geyer, R., et al., Feasibility study: the effect of therapeutic yoga on quality of life in children hospitalized with cancer. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 2011. 23(4): p. 375-9.
5. Wurz, A., et al., The feasibility and benefits of a 12-week yoga intervention for pediatric cancer out-patients. Pediatr Blood Cancer, 2014.61(10): p. 1828-34.
It is a tremendous honor that my article on sharing yoga with Syrians won "Yoga Article of the Year" in Seattle Yoga News. Endless gratitude to everyone who was part of and supported this inspiring project.