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Yoga as Alternative Therapy for Cancer

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 uses slow movement, precise posture, meditation, and breathing exercises to reach a state of relaxation.

Can yoga help people with cancer?

As an additional 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 can be useful to relieve some symptoms associated with cancer. However, available scientific evidence does not support yoga as an effective treatment for cancer or any other disease. Several comprehensive cancer care centers offer yoga as an additional 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 in your area. Also, you may consider using an instructional book or DVD to learn proper yoga exercises and techniques.

While each yoga program is unique, some of the basic techniques are the same. They include the following:

  • A yoga meditation session. This typically takes about 20 minutes to one hour

  • Sitting in an upright position, performing slow, gentle movements, and taking slow deep breaths that cause the stomach 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?

To date, no scientific evidence exists 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. This includes 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 talk with your healthcare provider or registered dietitian first. A diet for someone with cancer should be strictly watched and not changed unless advised by your cancer treatment team.

Yoga, as an addition to your cancer treatment plan, has the potential to be pleasant and productive. It should not replace the care and treatment provided by your cancer care team. Always talk with your healthcare provider for more information.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Levin, Mark, MD
  • Ziegler, Olivia, MS, PA