The Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Survivors

The conclusion of cancer treatment does not necessarily mean that cancer-related stress, anxiety, and treatment side effects end as well. Cancer survivors frequently report post-treatment difficulties, particularly fatigue, and poor sleep quality. Yoga shows great promise for providing relief, which is great news for the millions of cancer survivors in the U.S.

Yoga and Cancer

To date, numerous pilot studies and clinical trials have measured the effects of yoga on cancer patients and survivors. In one of the most recent studies, Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS), participants took 75-minute Hatha and restorative yoga classes twice weekly for four weeks, beginning two to 24 months after their treatment ended. All reported poor sleep quality before beginning their yoga practice. At the conclusion of the study, 31 percent said they no longer had trouble sleeping, and most reported less fatigue and daytime sleepiness and overall improved quality of life.

The Moffitt Cancer Center also reviewed nine studies of yoga in cancer patients and survivors and found they all yielded modest improvements in sleep quality, stress, cancer-related distress and symptoms, and quality of life. The researchers noted that these studies only looked at a few, specific effects of yoga. Yoga may also benefit cardiopulmonary function, perceptual and motor skills, and other physical functioning important to cancer survivors.

There are many forms of yoga so each study represents a distinct intervention depending on the type of yoga practiced. However, most yoga styles blend gentle poses and stretching, so even patients with limited mobility or functioning can participate. Furthermore, trial results vary somewhat based on the type and stage of cancer and point in treatment.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga is one of the top 10 forms of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). More than 13 million adults and 1.5 million children in the U.S. engaged in yoga in 2006. Most styles of yoga incorporate physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation. In the U.S. and Europe, Hatha yoga is the most common yoga style.

Advocates believe yoga enhances stress-coping abilities and improves mind-body awareness. It also reduces heart rate and blood pressure; improves lung capacity; reduces anxiety, depression, and insomnia; improves overall fitness, strength, and flexibility; and positively influences chemicals in the brain and blood.

Most people tolerate yoga, and it has few side effects. If you incorporate yoga into your post-cancer routine, be sure to tell your physician before you begin so he or she can rule out potential concerns.


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