Research has shown that yoga and other types of mind-body practices can help improve patient outcomes, particularly quality-of-life. However, none have become standard of care, or are on the clinical care pathway for cancer patients.
The Status of Yoga Research
- Research suggests that yoga might:
- Improve mood, decrease stress and sense of well-being
- Improve cardiovascular health such as reducing heart rate and blood pressure
- Improve muscle relaxation and body composition
- Help with conditions such as anxiety, depression, and insomnia
- Improve overall physical fitness, strength, and flexibility
- Positively affect levels of certain brain or blood chemicals.
Patients who participated in the yoga program reported that their ability to engage in everyday activities – walking up stairs or around the neighborhood, carrying groceries – all improved. Studies also found improved sleep and reduced fatigue levels, and preliminary analysis suggests lowered stress hormone levels.
Through lecture, breath work, guided imagery and gentle physical postures, students learn techniques to manage treatment side effects, cultivate emotional balance, reduce stress and improve overall health.
While it’s not a cure for cancer, yoga enhances physical and emotional wellness—and brings a peace many patients had thought they’d lost forever.
People with cancer may use yoga to:
- Help cope with the side effects of cancer treatments, such as nausea, discomfort, pain, and fatigue;
- Comfort themselves and ease the worries of cancer treatment and related stress;
- Feel that they are more empowered with their own care and well-being.
- These are based on the belief that your mind is able to affect your body. Some examples are:
- Meditation: Focused breathing or repetition of words, matras or phrases to quiet the mind;
- Yoga: Systems of stretches and poses, with special attention given to breathing;
Questions to ask Your Health Teacher and Doctor
- What types of Yoga might:
- Help me cope, reduce my stress, and feel better?
- Help me feel less tired?
- Help me deal with cancer symptoms, such as pain, or side effects of treatment, such as nausea?
- Improve my level of vitality and wellness?
- Are there any kinds of yoga (hot, power, kundalini) or poses ( backbends, inversions, balancing) that I should avoid?
If I decide to try a Yoga:
- Will it interfere with my treatment or medicines?
- Can you help me understand these articles I found about ygoa?
- Can you suggest a yoga practitioner for me to talk to?
- Will you work with my yoga practitioner?
Choose Yoga Teachers with Care
- Choosing one should be done with the same care as choosing a doctor. Here are some things to remember when choosing a Yoga Teacher:
- Ask your doctor or nurse to suggest someone or speak with someone who knows about yoga.
- Ask whether someone at your cancer center or doctor’s office can help you find a yoga teacher. There may be a social worker or physical therapist who can help you.
- Ask whether your hospital keeps lists of centers or has staff who can suggest people.
- Contact Yoga Alliance to get names of practitioners who are certified. This means that they have proper training in their field.
- Contact local health and wellness organizations.
- Ask about each practitioner’s training and experience. They should be certified a Yoga Alliance approved school.
- Call your health care plan to see if it covers yoga.
What general questions should I ask the Yoga Teacher?
- What types of yoga do you practice?
- What are your training and qualifications?
- Do you teach other students with my type of cancer?
If You Are Thinking About Yoga
- Do not use yoga as a replacement for conventional care or to postpone seeing a doctor about a medical problem.
- If you have a medical condition, consult with your health care provider before starting yoga.
- Ask about the physical demands of the type of yoga in which you are interested, as well as the training and experience of the yoga teacher you are considering.
- Look for published research studies on yoga for the health condition you are interested in.
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a complete picture of what you do to manage your health. This will help ensure coordinated and safe care.
If you’re taking a class and have difficulty with a pose, an experienced instructor will design an easier posture for you or give you modifications to make it more accessible. Many teachers use props such as blocks or cushions to make the practice more comfortable.
If you find even basic classes to be too difficult, ask your teacher if there is a “restorative” yoga class you could try. These gentle classes are beneficial when recovering from illness or surgery and involve a minimum of physical work, concentrating on breathing while being supported by pillows, blocks, blankets and other props.
Important things to consider before trying yoga
- Like all practices, yoga comes with some risks:
- Risk of inexperienced instructors: Because of the variation in certification requirements for yoga teachers, it’s possible to take a class with a yoga teacher who has very little experience. This is not always safe and can result in injuries. Ask your oncologist or cancer center staff to recommend highly experienced yoga instructors who regularly work with cancer patients.
- Risk of lymphedema: In people who have had lymph nodes removed, some of the more strenuous yoga types and poses may present a risk for lymphedema.Lymphedema (pronounced LIMF-eh-DEE-ma) is a side effect that can begin during or after breast cancer treatment. It isn’t life threatening, but can last over a long period of time. Lymphedema involves swelling of the soft tissues of the arm or hand. The swelling may be accompanied by numbness, discomfort, and sometimes infection. A yoga instructor who has experience with breast cancer patients will know which yoga types and poses are safe.
- Risk of fracture in people with bone metastasis: In people with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone, some types of yoga may carry a risk of fractures. If you have bone metastasis, ask your doctor whether yoga is right for you, or if there is a gentle form of yoga such as restorative yoga or another practice that might work better, such as guided imagery. Always check with your doctor before you begin a yoga practice, especially if it vigorous or physically challenging.
What are your thought about practicing yoga and when you have cancer?