Yoga for Cancer Survivors - Aura Wellness Center

Yoga for Cancer Survivors

cancer survivorsBy Dorothy Hudson

Yoga is a must for cancer survivors.  About the same time I was ready to choose a topic for this essay, I received a medical scare. What went through my mind then was what yoga practice could add to my health and recovery.

Thankfully, my scare was just a false alarm, but it did cause me to want to research the relationship between yoga practice and the side effects of cancer treatments. At first, I found it difficult to narrow the focus of my topic.



Medical facilities and scientists have taken this subject very seriously, and much research has been done. My interest was drawn to research the effect of yoga practice on subjects undergoing chemotherapy or radiation during a study and those who had completed their treatments.

There is a long list of common complaints with cancer survivors. They experience fatigue, poor sleep or insomnia, anxiety, pain, stress, and emotional distress. In the reviewed studies, changes were measured to show improvements in most of these areas.


Three Branches

Yoga has three branches that unite mind, body, and spirit. Mention yoga, and most people think of the exercise (asana) branch of yoga. Several of the studies that I reviewed used gentle yoga poses with props under the supervision of skilled yoga teachers.

Poses were carefully chosen, with sequencing from mild to more challenging. Inversions and backbends with props were effective for the group of breast cancer survivors. There was a marked decrease in all the subject’s levels of fatigue and an improved perception of their level of health (5 ). Participation in yoga classes allowed these subjects to have some autonomy in their health.

Yoga is not competitive. The participants could all be successful. The poses aid flexibility, strength and balance. Moving through the poses unlocks energy blocks and allows for healing.

There is also the benefit of the socialization of participating in a class with peers. One study (5) of breast cancer survivors showed that their yoga practice improved their perception of health and overall quality of life.


Awareness of Breath

The second branch of yoga is awareness of breath. This is an essential part of asana practice, but can be a beneficial practice without going through poses. Connecting the movement of the body to the movement of the breath opens the muscles and allows for more flow.

It also allows the mind to become calm and non-judgmental by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system thus leading to less anxiety. With deep, slow diaphragm inhalations, the lungs fill with nourishing oxygen.

Pausing at the top of the inhale brings oxygen to those areas of the respiratory system that are normally missing out on it. Exhaling slowly gives the body time to fully release carbon dioxide and toxins from cancer treatment. A final pause at the bottom of the exhalation finishes its expulsion.



Cancer survivors find that connecting with the breath aids in asana practice to strengthen the muscles, gain flexibility and balance, but also allows them to move to more and more challenging poses. Cancer survivors who are not yet able to practice the physical portion of yoga find benefit in pranayama.

It helps them to feel more energized and less fatigued. Fatigue was described by breast cancer survivors as being “debilitating”(2) Studies showed that levels of depression dropped among participants who practiced conscious breathing exercises.

There is evidence to show that breathing exercises can lead to control of physical functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and relief from disease symptoms (3). Sleep disturbance and insomnia are also residual effects of cancer treatment. It has been shown that yogic breathing practice minimizes or eliminates sleep problems in lymphoma survivors (3,2).


About Meditation

Meditation is the third branch of yoga practice. There are several ways to participate in meditation. Focusing on the breath may be best for some people. Others may use a walking or moving meditation. There are also guided meditation and mantra meditation. With the choice of modalities, each person can find one form that will be available to him.

Meditation does not require special equipment or physical prowess so it can be practiced by anyone, even the physically infirm. The benefits of meditation are many. Meditation is used for pain control. The benefit continues as the pain is reduced, stress levels decline. The circle of healing continues since decrease in stress allows for a decrease in pain.

Stress also has an effect on the immune system. Pain and stress slow down the body’s immune system. Reducing these two elements encourages the immune system to be stronger. Heart rates can be reduced through meditation to further improve over-all health. Stress has been found to increase tumor growth and inhibit healing.


Yoga in Hospitals

Some hospitals are now including yoga instructors on their staffs. Cleveland Clinic was the first to hire a full-time yoga therapist to work with both patients and employees. MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston offers 52 yoga classes each year. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in NYC has a part time yoga therapist and offers 20 classes per month. Children’s Hospital Colorado in Denver has a full-time yoga therapist and offers 40 classes for patients and 20 classes for staff each month (7).

Yoga, acupuncture, massage and Reiki used to be referred to as “alternative” medicine. It is interesting that now these modalities are being referred to as “complementary” medicine. Multiple studies with positive results have moved yoga into the mainstream of treatment. Yoga has no side effects, is cost effective and is available to everyone.

Dorothy Hudson is a certified Chair Yoga teacher. She teaches classes in Louisburg, North Carolina.


1. Boucher, Sandy. “Yoga for Cancer”.

2. Bower, Julie E. et al. “Yoga for Persistent Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors”.

3. Tivemedicine.

4. Cose, Andreanne, MD. “Effect of yoga on patients with cancer”. College of Family Physicians of Canada. September 2012. pp 75-79.

5. Dinardo, Kelly. “Ease your symptoms…with yoga?”. O Magazine. April 2013. p109.

6. Dhruva, A et al. “Yoga breathing for cancer chemotherapy-associated symptoms and Quality of life: results of a pilot randomized controlled trial”. https://

7. Eldridge, Lynn, MD. “Yoga for Cancer Patients”. .

8. Yoga Journal. “The Yogi is in”. March 2013. P 26.

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Yoga for Cancer Survivors Today

By Faye Martins and Gopi Rao

If you or someone you know has battled cancer, then you understand the physical, emotional, and mental toll it takes. The journey of recovery is not an easy one, but incorporating yoga into your routine can be a powerful tool in promoting healing and overall well-being. In this article, we will explore the numerous benefits of yoga for cancer survivors and provide tips for getting started with different types of yoga practices specifically tailored to support your unique needs.

The Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Survivors

The benefits of yoga for cancer survivors are vast and encompass physical, emotional, and mental well-being. One of the key advantages is its ability to alleviate treatment-related side effects such as fatigue, pain, and insomnia. Through gentle movements and deep breathing exercises, yoga helps to improve circulation, reduce inflammation, and increase flexibility.

On an emotional level, practicing yoga provides a safe space for survivors to connect with their bodies in a positive way. It can help relieve stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation through meditation and mindfulness techniques. Yoga also encourages self-compassion and acceptance of one’s body post-treatment.

Furthermore, the practice of yoga fosters a sense of community among cancer survivors who often share similar experiences. Group classes or support networks specifically designed for cancer patients offer a supportive environment where individuals can find solace in sharing their journey with others who understand firsthand what they have been through.

In addition to these immediate benefits, research suggests that regular yoga practice may lead to long-term improvements in overall quality of life for cancer survivors. Studies have shown that it can enhance immune function, boost energy levels, improve sleep patterns, and even increase feelings of empowerment.

Incorporating yoga into your routine as a cancer survivor not only offers physical healing but also provides an opportunity for emotional growth and connection with others on a similar path.


Restorative Yoga for Cancer Recovery

Cancer treatments can take a toll on the body, leaving survivors feeling fatigued and emotionally drained. Restorative yoga offers a gentle and calming practice that can help cancer survivors in their recovery journey.

Restorative yoga focuses on relaxation, deep breathing, and supported poses using props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks. It creates an environment of comfort and support where survivors can let go of tension and stress.

During restorative yoga sessions, participants are encouraged to slow down their movements and find stillness. This allows the body to enter a state of deep relaxation, activating the parasympathetic nervous system which promotes healing.

One of the main benefits of restorative yoga for cancer survivors is its ability to reduce anxiety levels. The gentle stretching combined with controlled breathing helps calm the mind and release tension from both the physical body and emotional well-being.

Another benefit is improved sleep quality. Cancer treatment often disrupts sleep patterns due to pain or discomfort. Restorative yoga provides a space for survivors to unwind before bedtime, promoting better sleep hygiene.

No Strain or Overexertion

Additionally, restorative yoga aids in improving flexibility by gently stretching muscles without strain or overexertion. This can be particularly beneficial after surgeries or radiation therapy that may have caused stiffness or limited range of motion.

Moreover, restorative yoga offers an opportunity for connection within a supportive community setting. Engaging with others who have shared similar experiences can provide comfort and solidarity during this challenging time.

It’s important for cancer survivors to discuss any exercise program with their healthcare team before starting it; however, many medical professionals recommend restorative yoga as part of holistic recovery plans because it’s accessible for people at various fitness levels.

Incorporating regular restorative yoga practice into your life as a cancer survivor can bring numerous benefits—physically, mentally, emotionally—to support your overall well-being during recovery.


Tips for Getting Started with Yoga for Cancer

If you are a cancer survivor looking to incorporate yoga into your wellness routine, here are some helpful tips to get started.

1. Consult with your healthcare team: Before beginning any new exercise program, it is important to consult with your healthcare team. They can provide guidance on what types of yoga poses and movements may be safe and beneficial for you.

2. Start slow: It’s important not to push yourself too hard when starting out with yoga as a cancer survivor. Begin with gentle poses and gradually increase the intensity over time as your body gets stronger and more flexible.

3. Find a qualified instructor: Look for an experienced yoga instructor who has knowledge or experience working with cancer survivors. They will understand how to modify poses based on any physical limitations or side effects from treatment.

4. Listen to your body: Pay attention to how different poses feel in your body, especially if you have undergone surgery or radiation therapy. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t force it – modify the pose or skip it altogether.

5. Take breaks when needed: Rest is just as important as movement during a yoga practice, especially if you are still in recovery from cancer treatment. Take breaks whenever you need them and honor what feels best for your body.

Gentle Yoga for Cancer Survivors

When it comes to yoga for cancer survivors, gentle yoga can be a great option. This form of yoga focuses on slow and mindful movements that are suitable for individuals who may have limited mobility or energy levels due to their cancer treatment.

One of the main benefits of gentle yoga is that it helps to improve flexibility and strength without putting too much strain on the body. The slow-paced nature of this practice allows cancer survivors to listen to their bodies and adapt the poses according to their comfort level.

In addition, gentle yoga can also help in reducing stress and anxiety, which are common emotions experienced by cancer survivors. The deep breathing techniques incorporated in this practice promote relaxation and a sense of calmness.

Moreover, gentle yoga provides an opportunity for cancer survivors to reconnect with their bodies after going through such a challenging journey. It allows them to gently explore movement patterns while fostering self-acceptance and self-care.

If you’re considering trying gentle yoga as a cancer survivor, it’s important to start slowly and listen closely to your body’s needs. Always consult with your healthcare team before starting any new exercise program, including yoga.

Remember, each individual’s experience with cancer is unique, so finding what works best for you is key. Gentle yoga offers a safe space where you can honor your body’s capabilities while embracing healing at your own pace.


Yin Yoga for Cancer Survivors

Yin Yoga for Cancer Survivors is a gentle and restorative practice that focuses on holding poses for an extended period of time. This slow-paced style of yoga helps to release tension, increase flexibility, and calm the mind.

For cancer survivors, Yin Yoga can offer many benefits both physically and emotionally. It promotes deep relaxation and stress reduction, which can be especially beneficial during the recovery process. The long holds in each pose allow for a greater release of tension in the body’s connective tissues and muscles.

In addition to physical benefits, Yin Yoga also provides an opportunity for self-reflection and introspection. It encourages mindfulness and allows practitioners to tune into their bodies at a deeper level. This can help cancer survivors reconnect with their bodies after going through such a challenging experience.

It’s important for cancer survivors interested in practicing Yin Yoga to consult with their healthcare team before starting any new exercise program. They may need modifications or guidance based on their specific needs or limitations.

Incorporating Yin Yoga into a cancer survivor’s wellness routine can provide much-needed relaxation, rejuvenation, and support during the healing process.

Medical Research About Yoga for Cancer Survivors

Cancer is a physically and emotionally challenging journey, and survivors often face numerous physical and psychological side effects after treatment. Many cancer survivors have found solace in yoga as a complementary therapy to help manage these difficulties.

Numerous medical studies have explored the benefits of yoga for cancer survivors, shedding light on its positive impact on overall well-being. Research suggests that regular practice of yoga can alleviate symptoms such as fatigue, pain, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and improve quality of life.

One study conducted by the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center showed that breast cancer survivors who participated in a 12-week yoga program experienced reduced fatigue levels compared to those who did not engage in any form of exercise. Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that breast cancer patients practicing restorative yoga had improved sleep quality and reduced cortisol levels.

Yoga has also been shown to positively influence mental health outcomes among cancer survivors. A randomized controlled trial published in Psycho-Oncology demonstrated that participants who practiced mindfulness-based stress reduction through yoga reported lower levels of distress and higher emotional well-being compared to those receiving standard care.

Furthermore, studies indicate that practicing gentle or restorative forms of yoga can enhance flexibility, balance coordination, strengthen muscles weakened by treatments like chemotherapy or radiation therapy.


Incorporating Yoga into Your Journey

If you are considering starting a yoga practice as a cancer survivor:

1. Consult with your healthcare provider: It’s crucial to discuss your intentions with your healthcare team before embarking on any new exercise regimen.
2. Seek professional guidance: Consider working with an experienced instructor familiar with modifications tailored for individuals recovering from cancer.
3. Start slow: Begin with gentle or restorative yoga classes to gradually build strength and flexibility.
4. Listen to your body


Yoga can be a powerful tool for cancer survivors to regain their physical and emotional well-being. The practice of yoga offers numerous benefits including increased flexibility, improved strength, reduced stress levels, and enhanced overall quality of life.

Whether you choose restorative yoga, gentle yoga, or yin yoga, finding the right style that suits your needs is essential. It’s important to listen to your body and honor its limitations while gradually building up your practice.

Medical research has shown the positive effects of yoga on cancer survivors’ physical and mental health. From reducing fatigue to improving sleep patterns and boosting immune function, incorporating regular sessions of yoga into your routine can greatly contribute to your recovery journey.

Remember that every individual’s experience with cancer is unique. Be sure to consult with your healthcare team before starting any new exercise regimen. They will be able to provide guidance based on your specific circumstances.

As you embark on this healing journey through yoga as a cancer survivor, remember that it is not about perfection but rather progress. Allow yourself grace and compassion as you navigate each pose and breath. Embrace the present moment and find solace in the mind-body connection that comes from practicing yoga.

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