What is yoga?

Yoga is an ancient mind-body health system that began in India more than 5,000 years ago. It has been used in the United States since the 1800s. Yoga means “union” — a union of the mind, body and spirit — and uses slow movement, precise posture, meditation and breathing exercises to reach a state of relaxation.

Can yoga help people with cancer?

As a complementary therapy, yoga can create a sense of well-being, improve the quality of life, provide relaxation and reduce stress for some patients with cancer. Yoga has been shown to relieve some symptoms associated with cancer, however, yoga does not slow the growth or spread of cancer.

About one-fourth of comprehensive cancer care centers offer yoga as a complementary therapy.

How does yoga work?

Yoga classes may be offered at a cancer center, as an adult education class, or in health clubs and community centers throughout your area. Also, you may consider using an instructional book or videotape to learn proper yoga exercises and techniques.

Each yoga program is unique; however, some of the basic techniques are the same and include the following:

  • A yoga meditation session, which takes about 20 minutes to one hour at the beginning or the end of the day.
  • Sitting in an upright position, performing slow, gentle movements and taking slow deep breaths that cause the abdomen to swell.
  • Guided relaxation, meditation, chanting or thinking of a meaningful word or phrase, and/or visualization.
  • The use of dietary guidelines.

Are there any possible problems or complications associated with yoga?

There is no scientific evidence, to date, that states that yoga can affect cancer or any other disease. However, there are two things to consider about yoga before you begin:

  • Yoga involves arranging the body into unique positions, including some that may be difficult for a person with cancer. Remember, the basic principle of yoga is not to push yourself beyond your limits.
  • If dietary changes are a part of the yoga program you are considering, be sure to consult your physician or registered dietitian first. A diet for someone with cancer should be strictly monitored and not amended unless advised by your cancer treatment team.

Yoga, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive, but should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always consult your physician for more information.