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.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network

Two guidelines evaluate yoga for cancer care.

NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology: Cancer-Related Fatigue. Version 2.2022 ›

Recommend yoga during active treatment or after treatment to manage cancer-related fatigue

NCCN Guidelines for Patients®: Survivorship Care for Cancer-Related Late and Long-Term Effects, 2020 ›

List yoga as a treatment option for joint pain (arthralgias) and muscle aches and pains (myalgias)

Society for Integrative Oncology

Two guidelines evaluate yoga among people with cancer.

Evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: complementary therapies and botanicals ›

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

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)

Ornish Lifestyle Medicine ›

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

Servan-Schreiber D. Anticancer: A New Way of Life. New York: Penguin Books. 2009.

This book provides tips on how people living with cancer can fight it and how healthy people can prevent it.

 

Other recommendations

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.

Traditional medicine

Yoga is recommended by practitioners of Ayurveda.

Learn more about traditional medicine and how to find traditional medicine practitioners.

Expert commentary

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.

Helpful poses 

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

Home resources

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

Authors

Nancy Hepp, MS

Lead Researcher and Program Manager
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Ms. Hepp is a researcher and communicator who has been writing and editing educational content on varied health topics for more than 20 years. She serves as lead researcher, program manager, and writer for CancerChoices. Her graduate work in research and cognitive psychology, her master’s degree in instructional design, and her certificate in web design have all guided her in writing and presenting information for a wide variety of audiences and uses. Nancy’s service as faculty development coordinator in the Department of Family Medicine at Wright State University also provided experience in medical research, plus insights into medical education and medical care from the professional’s perspective.

Nancy Hepp, MS Lead Researcher and Program Manager

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS

Senior Clinical Consultant
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Laura Pole is senior clinical consultant for CancerChoices. Laura is an oncology clinical nurse specialist who has been providing integrative oncology clinical care, navigation, consultation, and education services for over 40 years. She is the co-creator and co-coordinator of the Integrative Oncology Navigation Training at Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC. Laura also manages the “Media Watch Cancer News That You Can Use” listserv for Smith Center/Commonweal. In her role as a palliative care educator and consultant, Laura has served as statewide Respecting Choices Faculty for the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) Collaborative as well as provided statewide professional education on palliative and end-of-life care for the Virginia Association for Hospices and Palliative Care.

For CancerChoices, Laura curates content and research, networks with clinical and organizational partners, brings awareness and education of integrative oncology at professional and patient conferences and programs, and translates research into information relevant to the patient experience as well as clinical practice.

Laura sees her work with CancerChoices as a perfect alignment of all her passions, knowledge and skills in integrative oncology care. She is honored to serve you.

Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS Senior Clinical Consultant

Last update: October 7, 2022

Last full literature review: January 2022

CancerChoices provides information about integrative in cancer care, a patient-centered approach combining the best of conventional care, self care and evidence-informed complementary care in an integrated plan cancer care. We review complementaryin cancer care, complementary care involves the use of therapies intended to enhance or add to standard conventional treatments; examples include supplements, mind-body approaches such as yoga or psychosocial therapy, and acupuncture therapies and self-care lifestyle actions and behaviors that may impact cancer outcomes; examples include eating health-promoting foods, limiting alcohol, increasing physical activity, and managing stress practices to help patients and professionals explore and integrate the best combination of conventionalthe cancer care offered by conventionally trained physicians and most hospitals; examples are chemotherapy, surgery, and radiotherapy and complementary therapies and practices for each person.

Our staff have no financial conflicts of interest to declare. We receive no funds from any manufacturers or retailers gaining financial profit by promoting or discouraging therapies mentioned on this site.

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