Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients: Research Reveals Big Benefits

San Antonio, U.S.—Research from the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium reveals benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients

Weekly yoga practice helps breast cancer patients who receive chemotherapy by increasing energy levels, reducing nausea, and improving overall wellbeing, according to a recent study presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.

Breast cancer is a cancer that forms in the cells of the breast. An article on VeryWellMind, medically reviewed by Yamini Ranchod, PhD, MS, explains that, “Typically, the cancer forms in either the lobules or the ducts of the breast. Lobules are the glands that produce milk, and ducts are the pathways that bring the milk from the glands to the nipple.” [1]

 There are different forms of breast cancer, including carcinoma in situ, invasive ductal carcinoma, inflammatory breast cancer, and metastatic breast cancer It is the second most common form of cancer diagnosed in women in the U.S. (the most common form of cancer is skin cancer). [2] Chemotherapy is one of the most common forms of treatment for breast cancer. This treatment uses powerful chemicals to kill fast-growing cells.  However, it does have side effects, including fatigue, and nausea and vomiting.

Yoga [read: forms of yoga and their benefits] is a health practice with spiritual origins. It uses a combination of physical exercises by way of yoga poses (asanas), meditations, and lifestyle changes. It is also one of the fastest rising health and wellbeing practice in the world.

Recent research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mouth Sinai, in New York [3], reveals that there are indeed benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients. There is also evidence that meditation helps with cancer.

What the Study Said About Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients & Chemotherapy


The study found that there are big benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients. In particular, the research highlights that yoga reduces nausea and increases energy levels. Some patients also observed a decrease in depression and better sleep.

For the study, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, in New York City recruited breast cancer patients who were due to undergo or who had already underwent chemotherapy sessions within the two weeks. The women were asked to join either a yoga training program for 12 weeks, or to join a waitlist that would start the yoga classes in twelve weeks, then the first group finished their training.

The study’s participants were given a Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy, Hospital Anxiety, and Depression Scale, as well as the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Inventory. These are questionnaire-style assessments. The participants completed these assessments prior to the beginning of the study, at the halfway point, and at the end.

Importantly, more than half of the yoga group had zero prior experience in practicing yoga. This is important because it means the study reflects the average breast cancer patients who has no experience with yoga.

The results of the research reveal that there are indeed benefits of yoga for breast cancer patients. Practicing yoga was linked with a reduce in nausea, an increase in energy levels, and better quality of sleep. Within twelve weeks, the patients who practiced yoga observed significant benefits in overall physical wellbeing.

Karen Mustian [PhD, MPH,  dean’s professor of oncology, the Department of Surgery, University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York] states that there is significant evidence to suggest that yoga benefits cancer patients and may be effective for different cancer-related outcomes, and especially as relates to the side-effects of cancer, like fatigue and nausea. [5]

Best Types of Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients

Mustian states that there are both good and bad types of yoga for breast cancer patients.

“We have enough level of conclusiveness with the large number and wide variety of phase 2 and some phase 3 trials, that what most people would say is it is reasonable to suggest yoga for treating the side effects and toxicities that patients experience during and after their treatment,” said Dr. Mustian.

Regarding the best types of yoga for breast cancer patients, Mustian recommends focusing on the more gentle styles. She notes that Hot Yoga should be avoided because it is an intense form of yoga and there has been no scientific research into the relationship between Bikram (hot yoga) and breast cancer.

Instead, Mustian recommends the gentle forms of yoga.  “It is safe if you do one of the versions that has been studied, such as gentle hatha yoga, restorative yoga, simple Iyengar yoga or Tibetan yoga.”

Hatha Yoga:

Hatha yoga is a branch of yoga that focuses on the physical aspects. It is known to be a gentle style that is suitable for beginners. It uses many of the most well known yoga poses, such as Warrior, Downward Dog, and Cobra.

Restorative Yoga:

Restorative yoga is a slow and gentle form of yoga that is used mostly for people with health problems or injuries, including breast cancer. Yoga poses in this style are held longer than usual, and additional props, such as yoga blocks, are used to make the asanas (yoga poses) easier to perform.

Restorative Yoga is the practice of asanas, each held for longer than in conventional classes, often with the support of props such as folded blankets, to relax the body

Iyengar Yoga:  

Iyengar yoga is a form of yoga developed by B. K. S Iyengar. It is a very precise form of yoga that is used to improve posture and alignment and to help with physical injuries. Like in Restorative Yoga, poses are held for longer than in other forms of yoga.

Tibetan Yoga:

Tibetan Yoga is based on the “Five Tibetan Rites”. It is an exercise system that has existed for more than 2,500 years and became more popular in the West in the mid-1900s.  It is a series of five yoga poses that have been demonstrated to helped alleviate anxiety, to reduce physical pain, and to improve quality of sleep.

Mustian states that these are the best types of yoga for breast cancer patients. They may also be of benefit in recovery. It is always advised, however, to seek the help of a healthcare professional.

1: A Comprehensive Guide to Breast Cancer, Medically reviewed by Yamini Ranchod, PhD, MS VeryWellMind, https://www.healthline.com/health/breast-cancer\

2: How Common Is Breast Cancer?  The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team, https://www.cancer.org/cancer/breast-cancer/about/how-common-is-breast-cancer.html

3: Yoga Has Benefits During Chemo In Women With Breast Cancer” – Megan Brooks,  https://www.mountsinai.org/about/newsroom/2019/yoga-has-benefits-during-chemo-in-women-with-breast-cancer-megan-brooks

4: Yoga for the Management of Cancer Treatment-Related Toxicities, Po-Ju Lin,1 Luke J. Peppone,1 Michelle C. Janelsins,1 Supriya G. Mohile,2 Charles S. Kamen,1 Ian R. Kleckner,1 Chunkit Fung,2 Matthew Asare,1 Calvin L. Cole,3 Eva Culakova,1 and Karen M. Mustiancorresponding author, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5901971/

5: Yoga Relieves Symptoms in Patients With Breast Cancer, Kate O’Rourke  https://www.clinicaloncology.com/Breast-Cancer/Article/03-20/Yoga-Relieves-Symptoms-in-Patients-With-Breast-Cancer/57679


Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a yoga teacher, meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation. You can read his books on Amazon

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