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Yoga for Cancer

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Updated May 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Yoga is a mind-body exercise that originated in India more than 4,000 years ago. A fundamental component of ayurveda (the traditional medicine system of India), yoga combines precise postures, deep breathing, and meditation in order to promote physical and emotional health.

The Health Benefits of Yoga

Research suggests that yoga may help ease symptoms associated with these health conditions:

  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • asthma
  • diabetes
  • migraine
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • back pain
  • high blood pressure
  • Yoga has also been found to help promote weight maintenance and reduce heart disease risk.

    Learn more about the benefits of yoga.

    Yoga For People With Cancer

    Studies suggest that yoga may offer many benefits for people coping with cancer. Here's a look at some key findings.

    1) Relieving Anxiety

    Yoga may help ease anxiety in breast cancer outpatients, according to a 2009 study of 98 outpatients assigned to receive either yoga training or a brief therapy session prior to undergoing surgery. The study also showed that daily yoga sessions helped manage treatment-related side effects.

    2) Reducing Stress

    Breast cancer outpatients who practice yoga may have lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression than those who don't practice yoga, according to a study published in 2009.

    3) Improving Quality of Life

    In a pilot study published in 2006, researchers found that a seven-week yoga program significantly improved quality of life for cancer survivors. The researchers also observed a significant improvement in emotional function among the study's 20 yoga-practicing participants.

    4) Enhancing Sleep Quality

    A 2004 study of 39 lymphoma patients indicates that weekly yoga sessions may help reduce sleep disturbance, improve sleep quality, lengthen sleep duration, and reduce the use of sleep medications.

    Learn more about natural sleep aids.

    Is Yoga Safe For People With Cancer?

    If you have cancer -- or any other chronic condition -- be sure to talk to your doctor about choosing a yoga program that's right for you. While yoga is generally considered safe, certain postures may be difficult to achieve or may induce muscle and/or joint damage if not executed properly.

    It's important to note that practicing yoga is not known to slow or stop the growth of cancer. To that end, the American Cancer Society warns that relying on yoga alone and avoiding or delaying medical care may have serious health consequences for people with cancer.

    Sources:

    Cohen L, Warneke C, Fouladi RT, Rodriguez MA, Chaoul-Reich A. "Psychological adjustment and sleep quality in a randomized trial of the effects of a Tibetan yoga intervention in patients with lymphoma." Cancer. 2004 15;100(10):2253-60.

    Culos-Reed SN, Carlson LE, Daroux LM, Hately-Aldous S. "A pilot study of yoga for breast cancer survivors: physical and psychological benefits." Psychooncology. 2006 15(10):891-7.

    Rao MR, Raghuram N, Nagendra HR, Gopinath KS, Srinath BS, Diwakar RB, Patil S, Bilimagga SR, Rao N, Varambally S. "Anxiolytic effects of a yoga program in early breast cancer patients undergoing conventional treatment: a randomized controlled trial." Complement Ther Med. 2009 17(1):1-8.

    Vadiraja HS, Raghavendra RM, Nagarathna R, Nagendra HR, Rekha M, Vanitha N, Gopinath KS, Srinath BS, Vishweshwara MS, Madhavi YS, Ajaikumar BS, Ramesh BS, Nalini R, Kumar V. "Effects of a yoga program on cortisol rhythm and mood states in early breast cancer patients undergoing adjuvant radiotherapy: a randomized controlled trial." Integr Cancer Ther. 2009 8(1):37-46.

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