How yoga brings benefits to those living with cancer

Research shows that yoga can have a wide range of benefits for those living with and recovering from cancer. These include improvements in sleep, digestion, fatigue, and stress. While it can’t be said that each type of cancer calls for a specific toolbox of yoga techniques, a yoga therapist might consider the symptoms associated with a client’s unique cancer journey and collaborate with them to build an individualized yoga therapy program. 

In an article with Cancer Health, Smitha Mallaiah, MSc, C-IAYT, shares some examples. 

Mallaiah emphasizes that yoga is not about getting fit and tackling the most difficult poses: “If you can breathe, you can do yoga.” She goes on to explain the clinical protocols she employs for various individuals undergoing treatment for different types of cancer.

For clients with breast cancer, Mallaiah focuses on easing the side effects of lymphodema—a build-up of fluid in soft body tissues that can be caused by removal of lymph nodes. “We do stretching and strengthening exercises that keep the lymph moving, combined with deep breathing,” explains Mallaiah. “We avoid practices such as a plank or downward dog that put pressure on lymph nodes.”

For clients preparing for treatment for head and neck cancer, Mallaiah employs a prehab yoga therapy program; this includes exercises for the head and neck that will aid in swallowing after surgery. This improves weight maintenance and can make the need for a feeding tube less likely.

For clients receiving treatment for uterine and cervical cancers, which can lead to fatigue and long-term pain, Mallaiah focuses on the pelvic floor and breathing. “Certain poses benefit the pelvic floor area, and breathing practices help with pain and fatigue,” she explains. “It can be extremely beneficial.”

For more on yoga therapy and its clinical applications for patients with cancer, read the full article here

Find an IAYT-certified yoga therapist here.

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