Yoga (Hatha)

Also known by these names

  • Ananda yoga
  • Anusara yoga
  • Ashtanga yoga
  • Bikram yoga
  • Integral yoga
  • ISHTA (Integrated Science of Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda)
  • Iyengar yoga
  • Jivamukti yoga
  • Kali Ray TriYoga
  • Kripalu yoga
  • Kundalini yoga
  • Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy
  • Power yoga
  • Sivananda yoga
  • Svaroopa yoga
  • Tibetan yoga
  • Viniyoga
  • Vinyasa yoga
  • White Lotus yoga

For a more complete list of yoga styles, visit The International Yoga Centers Directory: Yoga Style Definitions.

Key Points

  • Yoga involves regulated breathing, moving through various postures and stretches, and meditation to achieve physical and emotional health benefits.
  • BCCT’s interest in yoga is in its ability to reduce stress; improve quality of life and sleep and reduce fatigue, joint pain and hot flashes in cancer patients and survivors.
  • Yoga’s risks are generally low, but there are some medical conditions that may preclude its practice.
  • Many hospitals, clinics and other health facilities offer yoga classes.

Hatha yoga is an ancient East Indian movement practice and discipline that is part of the larger system of yoga. It has been practiced for thousands of years, with many different styles evolving over the centuries. Hatha yoga involves regulated breathing, moving through various poses (asanas) and stretches, and meditation to achieve physical and emotional health benefits.

Clinical Practice Guidelines

2009 evidence-based clinical practice guidelines for integrative oncology: Mind-body modalities are recommended as part of a multidisciplinary approach to reduce anxiety, mood disturbance, chronic pain, and improve quality of life. Yoga is listed as one of the mind-body modalities.1

Managing Side Effects and Promoting Wellness

Managing or relieving side effects or symptoms, reducing treatment toxicity, supporting quality of life or promoting general well-being

Clinical Evidence

Evidence shows yoga can reduce stress, increase a sense of well-being, improve quality of life, and impart more restful sleep in both newly diagnosed and long-term cancer survivors. Yoga has also reduced fatigue, joint pain and the number of hot flashes a patient experiences, while also increasing vigor. These effects have been found with specific cancers:

  • Improved quality of life in breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy
  • Increased forced expiratory volume in non-small cell lung cancer patients
  • Improved sleep quality for lymphoma survivors
  • Improved fatigue and vigor in breast cancer survivors2
  • Improved arm circumference in patients with lymphedema (swelling caused by a blockage in the lymphatic system)3

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Cautions

Yoga involves movement and balance, and novices are highly recommended to practice under the supervision and guidance of a certified professional, preferably one trained in the needs of cancer patients. Cancer patients may experience bone loss, lymphedema/risk, neuropathy and other conditions as a result of cancer treatments, and so some poses may need to be altered to reduce risk of injury. See these sources for more information:

Adverse events are rare, and a few medical conditions may make yoga inappropriate. There are many different types of Hatha Yoga, and there is likely one among them that is more suited for those with specific physical limitations. Cancer patients interested in beginning yoga are advised to consult their physicians.

Access

Many hospitals, clinics and other health facilities offer yoga classes. Yoga studios are available widely throughout the US and much of the rest of the world. Videos and online sources are also available.

Integrative Programs, Protocols and Medical Systems

For more information about programs and protocols, see our Integrative Programs and Protocols page.

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.

Non-cancer Uses of Yoga

BCCT has not reviewed the effectiveness of this therapy for non-cancer uses.

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Drug-resistant epilepsy
  • Weight maintenance
  • Diabetes
  • Migraines
  • Low back pain
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Arthritis
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Paroxysmal atrial fibrillation
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Written by Nancy Hepp, MS, and reviewed by Laura Pole, RN, MSN, OCNS; most recent update on June 13, 2019. Note: BCCT has not conducted an independent review of research on yoga. This summary draws from the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center’s About Herbs and CAM-Cancer Summaries, plus other sources as noted.

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