Integrating yoga therapy with conventional cancer care in hospital settings

By Sadie Grossman

I represent The Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at Hillman Cancer Center—part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—as their on-site yoga and mindfulness therapist. We’ve trained over 60 nurses in hand and foot massage techniques, aromatherapy, seated and bed-bound physical yoga poses (asana), breathing techniques (pranayama), and guided meditations. This approach arms those on the front line of the cancer treatment experience, empowering nurses to provide not only medical care but integrative care as well. Employing yoga therapy tools facilitates calm exchanges between nurses and patients and breaks up long hours of sedentary experiences. We provide access to mini integrative, whole-person care sessions—in bed or a chair—right in the hospital setting. 

Nurses often play a big role in the experience of someone with cancer because these members of the care team have a unique opportunity to develop caring relationships with patients. Training oncology nurses in specific integrative modalities supports the nurses to improve the patient experience with integrative tools for well-being.

This developing protocol allows nurses working directly with patients who are currently in treatment for various types and stages of cancer the ability to offer yoga therapy tools despite the constraints of space, hospital noises and interruptions, and limited physical mobility. We have provided these frontline caregivers with useful yoga tools so they can provide “mini” yoga sessions—conducted in a similar format to medical rounds—to interested patients. Our objective is to standardize this approach, empowering oncology nurses without previous yoga experience with integrative tools for individualized care.

There is something truly special about practicing yoga in this setting. Most importantly, we support patients in working through anxiety associated with their cancer journey by teaching them yoga therapy tools they can use almost anywhere.

Sadie Grossman, MS, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, conducts trainings for oncology nurses and sees patients privately at UPMC’s Wellness and Integrative Oncology Program at Hillman Cancer Center.