An ancient mind-body practice combining movement and stretches with meditation, yoga is used to manage symptoms and side effects and body terrain imbalances common in cancer.
How do experts use yoga?
Both medical groups and integrative experts provide recommendations for yoga in treating people with cancer. Learn more about the approaches and meanings of recommendations.
Clinical practice guidelines
2013 clinical practice guidelines from the American College of Chest Physicians recommend yoga as part of a multidisciplinary approach to treat fatigue.
Yoga is recommended as a second line adjunctive therapy for treating mild to moderate major depressive disorder (not specific to people with cancer).
Yoga can be considered for the management of vasomotor symptoms and sleep disturbance in women with a history of breast cancer noting there is inconsistent evidence regarding its effectiveness.
These 2018 guidelines evaluated yoga favorably for lowering glycated hemoglobin (A1C) in adults with type 2 diabetes.
Recommend yoga during active treatment or after treatment to manage cancer-related fatigue
List yoga as a treatment option for joint pain (arthralgias) and muscle aches and pains (myalgias)
The 2009 guidelines for complementary therapies and botanicals state that mind-body modalities, including yoga, are recommended as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, or chronic pain, and to improve sleep and quality of life.
Clinical practice guidelines on the evidence-based use of integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment › This set of guidelines has been endorsed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).1Lyman GH, Greenlee H et al. Integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment: ASCO endorsement of the SIO clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018 Sep 1;36(25):2647-2655.
The 2017 Society for Integrative Oncology clinical practice guidelines regarding breast cancer patients provide these recommendations:
- Yoga is recommended for reducing anxiety
- Gentle yoga can be considered for improving sleep
Researchers from these organizations came to consensus on these recommendations:
- Yoga may be offered to patients experiencing AI-related joint pain in breast cancer (weak recommendation).
- Hatha yoga may be offered to patients experiencing pain after treatment for breast or head and neck cancers (weak recommendation).
Published protocols, programs, and approaches
Yoga is used in programs, approaches, and protocolsa package of therapies combining and preferably integrating various therapies and practices into a cohesive design for care from these integrative oncologists, drawing from both scientific research and observations from years or even decades of treating people with cancer.
Lise Alschuler, ND, FABNO, and Karolyn Gazella
Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Cancer, 3rd Edition: An Integrative Approach to Prevention, Treatment, and Healing. Berkeley, California: Celestial Arts. 2010.
Alschuler LN, Gazella KA. The Definitive Guide to Thriving after Cancer: A Five-Step Integrative Plan to Reduce the Risk of Recurrence and Build Lifelong Health. Berkeley, California: Ten Speed Press. 2013.
Keith Block, MD
Block KI. Life over Cancer: The Block Center Program for Integrative Cancer Care. New York: Bantam Dell. 2009.
The integrative Block Program has recommendations to people who are at different places along the cancer continuum:
- Those who’ve been recently diagnosed
- Those in treatment
- Those who’ve concluded treatment and need to remain vigilant to prevent recurrence
Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, and Alison Jefferies, MEd
Cohen L, Jefferies A. Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. New York: Viking. 2018.
This book introduces the concept of the Mix of Six, which is identical to six of our 7 Healing Practices ›
Dr. Cohen and Ms. Jefferies explain that while each plays an independent role, the synergy created by all six factors can radically transform health, delay or prevent many cancers, support conventional treatments, and significantly improve quality of life.
Gerald M. Lemole, MD; Pallav K. Mehta, MD; and Dwight L. McKee, MD
Lemole GM, Mehta PK, McKee DL. After Cancer Care: The Definitive Self-Care Guide to Getting and Staying Well for Patients with Cancer. New York, New York: Rodale, Inc. 2015.
These doctors present easy-to-incorporate lifestyle changes to help you “turn on” hundreds of genes that fight cancer, and “turn off” the ones that encourage cancer, while recommending lifestyle approaches to address each type.
Neil McKinney, BSc, ND
McKinney N. Naturopathic Oncology, Fourth Edition. Victoria, BC, Canada: Liaison Press. 2020.
This book includes descriptions and uses of many natural and complementary protocols for cancer in general and for specific cancers. It also includes information on integrative support during conventional cancer treatment.
Yoga is recommended for managing stress.
Ornish Diet and Lifestyle Modification Program (for prostate cancer)
Cardiologist Dean Ornish, MD, has adapted his Ornish Heart Disease Reversal Program for use by men with prostate cancer. The program includes nutrition, fitness, stress management, and love and support.
Gurdev Parmar, ND, FABNO, and Tina Kaczor, ND, FABNO
Parmar G, Kaczor T. Textbook of Naturopathic Oncology: A Desktop Guide of Integrative Cancer Care. 1st edition. Medicatrix Holdings Ltd. 2020.
This book provides information on the treatment of 24 cancers, plus the most effective treatments of the most common symptoms affecting cancer patients while they undergo chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or surgery.
David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD
Between 2009 and 2016, yoga was offered at more than 85% of National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated comprehensive cancer centers, as mentioned on their websites.
Yoga is recommended by practitioners of Ayurveda.
Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find traditional medicine practitioners.
Yoga instructor Alaina Sadick Goss, Smith Center for Healing and the Arts, January 24, 2018:
Choosing a class
It’s important to understand that not all yoga classes are therapeutic or helpful to people with illness or in recovery. Look for classes that are focused on cancer recovery specifically if there is something offered in your community or at a local hospital. Other good alternatives might be classes that are specifically designated as “gentle” or “therapeutic,” but you’ll want to discuss your specific needs and situation with your teacher and your physicians to make sure you’re in a class that is safe for you. Chair yoga can also be a fantastic option.
Choosing a teacher
Some teachers keep updated listings and information on The Yoga Alliance website, so it can be a good source for finding teachers or studios by location. You can search for “cancer” as a keyword to find people who may have specific training. In general, teachers with more experience and education will be better able to keep you safe and offer a class that is beneficial to your healing. A good designation to look for is “E-RYT” which denotes over 1000 teaching hours or RYT 500 which designates at least 500 hours of training have been completed, but direct experience or training with working with people with cancer may be even more important.
Learn about the different poses, how to properly practice them, and their more general benefits at Yoga Journal. Though every situation is different, and doctors should be consulted before yoga is practiced, these poses are typically very helpful for people living with or being treated for cancer
- Legs up the wall: boosts immune function, highly relaxing and helpful if insomnia is an issue, helps reduce swelling in the legs, feet, and ankles, helps reduce anxiety
- Cat/cow: very easy to perform, has a relaxing effect as breath and body connect, great for nervous system function and spine health
- Child’s pose: restful, relieves anxiety
- Downward dog: can help with digestion, invigorating, empowering
- Tree pose (near a wall): grounding, helps with bone health, helps to refine balance in the body and calm the mind
- For yoga at home, the DVD Gentle Yoga for Recovery & Beyond is pretty good. The class is very gentle and appropriate.
- I also really like this book: Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors
Yoga Nidra means Yoga of Sleep. It’s a restorative practice that can be done at home, in bed, or even in a hospital room. It’s incredibly restorative and healing. Some studies have shown that it boosts immune function. Without a doubt it can be immensely helpful for reducing stress and helping the body to rest and heal. Some studios offer yoga nidra classes, which would be appropriate for most people undergoing cancer treatment. You can also download yoga nidra practices to follow at home on iTunes. It’s okay just to choose a teacher with a voice that is soothing to you. One leader in the practice is Richard Miller.
Keep reading about yoga
|1||Lyman GH, Greenlee H et al. Integrative therapies during and after breast cancer treatment: ASCO endorsement of the SIO clinical practice guideline. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2018 Sep 1;36(25):2647-2655.|