Yoga Meditation: Helping Cancer Patients Manage Side Effects

WRITTEN BY: CancerCenter
Thursday, September 25th, 2014

This post was last updated on Feb. 21, 2017

For a cancer patient who is struggling through treatment and trying to manage chronic pain, the storm of stress can be overwhelming. In addition to traditional treatments, some patients and family members are interested in exploring services that address the mind, body, and spirit to help them manage side effects and stress.

At the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at UPMC CancerCenter, modalities of movement, touch, nutrition, and mindfulness are used within conventional cancer care to address and improve symptoms and quality-of-life.

One example of integrative oncology is the practice of yoga. While yoga and meditation don’t offer a cure, they have been proven to reduce stress and improve quality of life for people with cancer.

Joni Sturgill, a registered yoga teacher and wellness coach of Healthy Body Peaceful Soul and onsite yoga provider at Hillman CancerCenter, shared some information about the meditation aspect of yoga and how it can help.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation is simply a practice and discipline to focus the wandering thoughts of the mind, with the intention of relaxing the body and calming the nerves.

There are many techniques of meditation, which include:

  • Focusing on the breath/deep breathing
  • Using imagery to relax and let go of troubling thoughts
  • Repeating a comforting phrase
  • Using body movements in yoga-based meditation.

Meditation can fall under the umbrella of yoga and other eastern philosophical practices, but it can be found in all cultures in some form.

How Can Meditation Help?

According to the American Cancer Society, meditation can be a supportive adjunct to cancer treatment. With regular practice, it has been shown to reduce:

  • Chronic pain
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • PTSD symptoms
  • Blood cortisol levels

Meditation and mindfulness have been studied more and more over the last 20 years and are becoming an important component to healing the mind and emotions while the body heals. Through meditation, some practitioners say they experience improved mood, greater self-awareness, and an increased ability to relax. The American Cancer Society cites a controlled study of ninety cancer patients who practiced mindfulness meditation for about two months. Other studies have suggested that meditation improves the chance of a positive outcome because of its effect on mood and mental processes.

You can try different practices like yoga and the various techniques of meditation to see what works for each individual. There is no one size fits all solution, and these practices allow for customization. Before beginning any new regimen, you should always clear it with your doctors.

An experienced teacher can offer these options to help people fighting cancer, to help them settle the storm in their minds and their emotions, so that the treatment can do its work and the individual as a whole, can begin to heal, from the inside out.

Have you or a loved one with cancer had any experiences with using yoga and/or meditation to help relieve stress? What form or practice of yoga do you enjoy most or find to be the most therapeutic? We would love to hear from you in the comments below.

Want to learn more about integrative oncology, including yoga and other practices for cancer patients? Check out our Medical Mondays segment focused on integrative oncology.

For more information about the Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at UPMC Cancer Center, visit the center’s website or call 412-623-7753.


UPMC CancerCenter


At UPMC CancerCenter, we are your doctors, caregivers, teachers, and support system. You are not alone in your fight against cancer, and we are committed to providing you the knowledge, inspiration, and specialty cancer care you need so you can face your diagnosis with confidence. We’re here for you – as part of the community – and that’s something cancer can never take away. Read More