Can Yoga Help Cancer Treatment? - Yoga Practice Blog

Can Yoga Help Cancer Treatment?

yoga teacherBy Kimaya Singh

As many of you have learned in Yoga instructor training, there are many different styles. One sub-style of Hatha is Restorative Yoga.  This particular therapeutic style is often recommended for people who are undergoing chemotherapy. When visiting Women and Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, restorative classes are on the menu in the oncology department. The  Stanford Medicine Cancer Institute also refers patients to restorative classes.


Treatment Options

Recovery from cancer can be a slow process and cancer treatments are known to have a number of negative side effects. However, there have been some recent studies that have shown that practicing Yoga during cancer treatment may have a positive impact on the quality of life during this difficult time. Many of the treatment options following a cancer diagnosis can make a person feel weak and nauseated. However, there’s something to be said about the restorative powers of Yoga. It can also help to calm the mind and decrease the anxiety that often accompanies illness.



During cancer treatment, the body undergoes numerous changes. As the drugs pinpoint the cancer cells and work to destroy them, the side effects can often take a toll on a person’s body and mind, by lowering energy levels and contributing to overall feelings of physical weakness. Due to the fact that Yoga training is known to help strengthen muscle tone as well as help to increase energy levels, it stands to reason that it can be beneficial even during difficult times.

Role of Endorphins

Getting the body up and moving, if only for a little while, will also trigger the brain to release endorphins. Those endorphins are natural substances within our bodies that make us feel good. Who doesn’t need that boost?


Peace of Mind

Cancer treatments can also affect a person’s mental outlook. Depression is a common aspect of recovery. This is another reason why Yogic practices can be so beneficial during this time period. Yoga training does more than help strengthen the body, it can also have a positive effect on emotions and mental outlook. The meditative properties go a long way to restoring peace of mind, especially in times of high anxiety. All of that can help to improve the quality of life even during recovery from an illness like cancer.


Does it Really Help?

Taking part in activities that you enjoy and surrounding yourself with positive energy can directly improve your emotional outlook. This is true during normal times, but is also true during times of stress. Incorporating Yoga as a way to strengthen the mind-body connection as well as to tap into the restorative powers that it is known for is something that has shown to have great promise for people who are being treated for cancer.

Pilot Study

Of course, more research is being done on this topic, but there are many cancer survivors who already believe it to be true simply because it worked for them. A 2009 randomized pilot study at the Department of Internal Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine looks promising, but with science and medicine there will be many studies before the medical community makes anything official.


Side Notes for Teachers

A Restorative, Yin Yoga teacher training intensive, or something similar is recommended before working with patients who are recovering from chemotherapy. Pranayama, meditation, and relaxation techniques are just as important as asana practice. Positive visualizations are a very important part of the meditation and relaxation sessions.

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Related Studies

Patrick, D.L. , Ferketich, S.L. , Frame, P.S. . National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference Statement: Symptom Management in Cancer: Pain, Depression, and Fatigue, July 15-17, 2002. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2003; 95: 1110–1117.

Raub, J.A. . Psychophysiologic effects of Hatha Yoga on musculoskeletal and cardiopulmonary function: a literature review. J Altern Complement Med. 2002; 8: 797–812.

Joseph, C.D. . Psychological supportive therapy for cancer patients. Indian J Cancer. 1983; 20: 268–270.

Cohen, L. , Warneke, C. , Fouladi, R.T. . Psychological adjustment and sleep quality in a randomized trial of the effects of a Tibetan yoga intervention in patients with lymphoma. Cancer. 2004; 100: 2253–2260.

Cohen, L. , Thornton, B. , Perkins, G. . A Randomized Trial of a Tibetan Yoga Intervention for Breast Cancer Patients. Presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychosomatic Society, March 2005; Vancouver, BC.

Moadel, A. , Shah, C. , Shelov, D. . Effects of Yoga on Quality of Life Among Breast Cancer Patients in Bronx, New York. Presented at the 7th World Congress on Psycho-oncology, August, 2004; Copenhagen, Denmark.

Speca, M. , Carlson, L.E. , Goodey, E. . A randomized, wait-list controlled clinical trial: the effect of a mindfulness meditation-based stress reduction program on mood and symptoms of stress in cancer outpatients. Psychosom Med. 2000; 62: 613–622.

Related Research

Carlson, L.E. , Speca, M. , Patel, K.D. . Mindfulness-based stress reduction in relation to quality of life, mood, symptoms of stress, and immune parameters in breast and prostate cancer outpatients. Psychosom Med. 2003; 65: 571–581.

Kabat-Zinn, J. . Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness. New York, NY: Delacorte Press; 1990.

Shapiro, S.L. , Bootzin, R.R. , Figueredo, A.J. . The efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction in the treatment of sleep disturbance in women with breast cancer: an exploratory study. J Psychosom Res. 2003; 54: 85–91.

Khumar, S.S. , Kaur, P. , Kaur, S. . Effectiveness of shavasana on depression among university students. Indian J Clin Psychol. 1993; 20: 82–87

Helgeson, V.S. , Cohen, S. , Schulz, R. . Group support interventions for women with breast cancer: who benefits from what? Health Psychol. 2000; 19: 107–114.

Goodwin, P.J. , Leszcz, M. , Ennis, M. . The effect of group psychosocial support on survival in metastatic breast cancer. N Engl J Med. 2001; 345: 1719–1726.

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