The ancient art of yoga has numerous health benefits to people at all stages of life — including when people are battling a disease such as cancer.

This relaxing form of exercise helps individuals get in touch with their bodies. It relies on deep breathing and gentle movements to increase strength and flexibility and promote relaxation.

Under doctor’s supervision, cancer patients may be able to look to yoga as a way to incorporate physical activity and low-impact exercise into their treatment regimen.

Find out how integrative oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center helps those facing cancer.

Yoga for Cancer Patients Q and A

What Symptoms Can Yoga Help Reduce?

Studies have shown that yoga can improve quality of life, fatigue, anxiety, and pain. In addition, aspects of yoga such as meditation, camaraderie, breath work, and improved posture can help with improved attention and breathing.

How Soon into Treatment Can I Start Practicing Yoga?

Yoga teaches us to listen to our bodies, which is one of its major benefits. That being said, you could practice breathing and gentle stretching during your treatments. There may be times to avoid certain aspects of any exercise program during treatment, for example, if you feel unwell, have a fever or have been told that you are neutropenic. These are things to discuss with your doctor or an integrative oncologist.

Are There Any Risks Involved?

A gentle yoga program started with a certified instructor with the support of your doctor should pose no risks.

Would Yoga be Helpful for Individuals Suffering from a Mild Case of Lymphedema?

Absolutely. Finding gentle poses that would help mobilize and strengthen the body would be helpful in this case. Always take care to avoid any trauma, in yoga or in any other setting, to the affected area to reduce the risk of infection.

Can Anyone Teach Yoga to Cancer Patients? How Do I Find a Yoga Teacher That Is Familiar with the Needs of Cancer Patients?

Cancer patients are a varied group so it is best to find direction from a person who knows about the yoga community. Working privately with an instructor would be ideal in this setting. Our program’s participating providers all have an understanding of working with cancer patients. We have a certified yoga therapist onsite at Hillman Cancer Center.

If I Haven’t Exercised Before, Is It OK to Start Now?

A gentle yoga program is an excellent way to start to exercise. Just make sure to listen to your body and take it slow and always tell the instructor you are just beginning an exercise plan. A private instructor is a very good way to start if you are new to yoga.

Are There Any Easy Poses I Could Do at Home that Would be Helpful?

Yes, after checking in with your doctor about considering any physical restrictions you may have, the yoga instructor could suggest starting movement with all the major joints to warm the body up. These movements could be performed lying down in a bed, face up, or sitting in a chair.

Suggested Beginner Yoga Routine

  1. Breathe deeply throughout the routine
  2. Smile and frown for simple face scrunches
  3. Small neck movements such as ears to shoulders, or chin to chest
  4. Shoulder hunches
  5. Elbows and wrist circles
  6. Gently curl the back into a forward bend
  7. Open the chest by lifting the chest and bringing shoulders together in the back
  8. Knee and leg lifts
  9. Ankle circles

What Can I Expect from a Yoga Class?

If it is your first yoga class, it is strongly suggested that you contact the teacher prior to the first class and ask them. Attending a gentle, basics or restorative yoga class would include slow movements with an emphasis on modifications to fit various students’ needs in class.

How Do You Prepare for a Yoga Class? What Should I Bring?

If possible, find out who is teaching the class and ask them how to prepare for their class.

In general:

  • Drink water before, during and after class
  • Wear a more fitted short-sleeved top under a long sleeved top, sweater or jacket
  • Pants could be made of stretch material or loose fitting
  • Be prepared to take off your shoes and possibly your socks if you are comfortable
  • Don’t wear perfume
  • Eat a small meal at least one hour before class

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.

Do you, or someone you love with cancer, feel you could benefit from yoga? To learn more, visit the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center online or call 412-623-7753 to schedule an appointment.