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Massey’s growing yoga program provides comfort and support for individuals facing cancer

Nov 04, 2019


Cancer patients and survivors face a variety of physical and mental symptoms including fatigue, muscle weakness, bone density loss, depression and stress. Research shows that yoga can ease these issues while also improving strength, concentration and flexibility. According to the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, the popularity of yoga has grown dramatically from 9.5 percent of U.S. adults practicing yoga in 2012 to 14.3 percent in 2017.

To meet this demand and address patient needs, VCU Health physical therapist Sue Stella worked with Massey's Integrative Health team to develop and implement yoga classes specifically for people with cancer. Stella launched the program in January 2019 by teaching a six-week series. As popularity grew, more classes were added and a second yoga instructor, VCU Health nurse practitioner Anna Kutcher, joined the program.

We sat down with Sue and Anna to discuss the program and their expectations for the future of yoga at Massey.

How did Massey's yoga program develop? 

Sue: “We started with research to determine which non-medical interventions were proven to help patients with the symptoms and side effects of cancer and its treatments. Then we distributed a needs assessment asking the patients what offerings they wanted to see at Massey. The patients chose diet and exercise. From here, we developed the yoga classes.”

What was your role?

Sue: “I worked with Susan Chandler, nurse program director for Massey Integrative Health, Dr. Masey Ross, medical director for Massey Integrative Health, physical therapist Mary Shall, VCU Health Risk Management and the Department of Physical Therapy to develop the credentials needed for instructors and the training required. I then developed the appropriate class format and worked with Massey Integrative Health to market the program, educate healthcare providers and recruit participants. I was also the first instructor and taught multiple six-week sessions.”

Anna: “As the classes became more popular, the need increased for more instructors. Upon completion of my 45-hour Yoga 4 Cancer training, I stepped in to teach a four-week session. I have led numerous sessions since then.”

How do cancer patients benefit from yoga? 

Sue: “Yoga has been shown to help with the management of symptoms associated with cancer and cancer treatments regardless of the patient’s age or disease stage. This includes anxiety, depression, fatigue, cognitive impairment, sleep disruption and musculoskeletal symptoms such as reduced balance, flexibility, strength and lymphedema.”

What specialized training is needed to teach yoga to cancer patients?

Anna: “The recommended training is to complete at least a 200-hour yoga teacher training program prior to obtaining additional certification in yoga for cancer. Massey is partnering with Yoga 4 Cancer to offer this accreditation to yoga instructors in the Richmond area.”

Sue: “I have a Doctorate in Physical Therapy. Physical therapists teach patients how to prevent or manage their condition so that they will achieve long-term health benefits. Additionally, I have had extensive training and experience in Oncology, Neurology and Orthopedics. This training was combined with the YogaWorks 200-hour yoga instructor training and the 45-hour Yoga 4 Cancer training.” 

Can you tell us more about the Yoga 4 Cancer training?

Anna: “The training is a great experience. A large volume of information is organized into digestible pieces over months of online training. The Y4C methodology has many focuses, with a special emphasis on the immune system. Examples of how yoga for cancer promotes immunity include choosing poses that support the lymph system, including twists and adding lymph massage to certain poses. There is also an emphasis on yoga as an opportunity to build community. Last but not least, the training teaches considerations for safety.”

How has the response been to Massey's yoga classes? 

Sue: “Fantastic! Feedback has been outstanding and each class has been full with a waiting list. The main request we receive is for more classes. Several patients have reported benefits from taking a class. One participant was undergoing balance testing prior to starting yoga at Massey. She had the tests re-administered after approximately 10 weeks of classes and she was amazed at her improvements.” 

Anna: “Feedback on the classes has been very positive so far and I believe the momentum is just getting started.” 

What do you expect for the future of yoga at Massey?

Sue: “Our goal is to increase the amount of yoga classes available for cancer patients and ensure that area yoga instructors have the proper credentials to work with our patients. To accomplish this task, we are partnering with Yoga 4 Cancer to host a training program at Massey that will include a combination of online learning and in-person education.”  

Anna: “I expect that yoga for cancer at Massey will continue to grow. We have only been able to offer classes at one location and I anticipate with more trained teachers and growing interest from the community, there will be more availability soon.”

Yoga classes at Massey are ongoing and free to our patients. If you are interested in participating, call 804-828-8478 for current class information.

Massey’s Yoga 4 Cancer teacher training begins in November 2019 with an online curriculum. The on-site training component will be held the weekend of January 17-19, 2020. The program is open to yoga instructors and healthcare practitioners seeking to support cancer patients and survivors at all stages.

For more information and to register, visit

Limited scholarships available for VCU Health, VCU and MCVP employees! Click here for an application. Submit to


Written by: Melissa Mitchell

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