- Detoxifies the Body
- Strengthens the Body
- Bone Strength
- Cardiovascular Strength
- Increases Range of Motion and Flexibility
- Keeps the Spine Strong
- Strengthens the Immune System
- Calms the Nervous System
- Helps Manage Pain
- Helps Manage Fear and Anxiety
- Enhances Body Image
- Enhances a Sense of Empowerment and Well-Being
Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Survivors
Yoga can help you center your thoughts and maintain flexibility but also has benefits specifically for cancer survivors. Symptoms of fatigue, insomnia, and pain can all lower quality of life during cancer treatment, recovery and beyond. In recent years the use of yoga has been evaluated in many studies looking at short and long-term cancer treatment side effects. Some of the benefits that have been supported by studies includes:
Sleep and Insomnia: Yoga may help with difficulty falling asleep or remaining asleep. This is more important than it may sound, as we’ve learned that insomnia in cancer patients can be dangerous — not only by increasing fatigue and lessening the quality of life, but may even play a role in survival.
Fatigue: In a few studies, yoga was associated with a significant decrease in the fatigue related to cancer and cancer treatments. This is also incredibly important, as the majority of people with cancer suffer from cancer-related fatigue.
Anxiety: Through its centering activities and breathing practices, yoga may reduce anxiety associated with cancer and treatments.
Loss of Appetite: In some cases, yoga may result in an improvement when loss of appetite accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
Pain: As a complementary treatment — that is, a treatment that is used along with conventional treatments such as pain medications — yoga may decrease pain associated with cancer.
Stress: Yoga appears to have a role in stress reduction for people living with cancer, both clinically — meaning that people have said they feel less stressed — and as seen in markers of stress in the body. In a few small studies, yoga lowered blood cortisol levels in patients with breast cancer. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted during stress and may play a role in the progression of cancer.
Emotional Distress: Individuals living with cancer reported significantly less emotional distress related to their disease when they incorporated yoga into their weekly routine.
Physical Benefits: Yoga can help improve flexibility, strength, muscle tone, and balance; all of which may be compromised when you undergo surgery or prolonged bed rest due to cancer treatments.
Possible Survival Benefit: An association based on a few studies suggests a possible survival benefit, at least for some people, associated with yoga. An older study found that women with metastatic breast cancer who had a flattened cortisol curve (cortisol is a “stress hormone”) had lower survival rates. In most people, cortisol levels are highest in the morning, with levels decreasing through the day. A randomized controlled study was done looking at women with stage 0 to stage 3 levels measuring cortisol levels. The group who practiced yoga 3 times a week for 60 minutes (either in a group or one-on-one with an instructor) had a steeper decline in cortisol levels through the day than the control group who did not have yoga instruction. Since a steeper decline (less flattening) of the cortisol curve was noted in women participating in yoga, it could be that yoga is associated with improved survival with breast cancer.
It is important to note that these benefits of yoga relate to improvement in the symptoms of cancer and are not considered a “treatment” for cancer. In this context, yoga is usually used in an “integrative” fashion, meaning that alternative methods such as yoga are offered to help an individual cope with symptoms, while traditional medical practices such as surgery and chemotherapy are used to treat cancer itself.
As with any activity, it is important to talk with your oncologist before beginning yoga. Some yoga positions may cause strain on ligaments and joints that could be detrimental to some people living with cancer.