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Yoga for Cancer Patients

Published on February 14, 2013


56% of the leading cancer-treatment hospitals incorporate yoga into their clinic offerings. – Brauer et al.

Yoga can be valuable not only for healthy people but also cancer patients because it helps us so much with stress. The discomfort and debilitating fatigue along with nausea and weakness brought on from chemotherapy and radiation treatments can take a great toll on the body, mind and soul. Patients would be advised to avoid these toxic treatments and use Yoga for healing instead of symptom management.

Yoga offers a source of relief for cancer patients through breathing techniques, meditation and precise postures that will benefit patients, both mentally and physically. Receiving a prognosis for cancer is overwhelming with stress levels going up across the board. With the help of yoga, meditation and breathing exercises, a sense of peace and wellbeing can be more easily achieved.

The benefit of yoga for cancer patients extends to the need for an internal purification process. Increased blood flow enhances the lymphatic flow in the body, which enhances the body’s internal purification process.

How one reacts to stress appears to be a major factor in the larger number of contributing causes of cancer. Many cancer patients lose the ability to cope with their stress. When this control is lost, the patient has to find some new ways of coping. Major stress causes suppression of the immune system, which allows cancer to thrive.

Stress can hasten the spread of breast cancer to the bones, research suggests. Studies of mice showed that responses to stress made it easier for tumors to take root in the bone. By dampening down part of the body’s "fight or flight" mechanism, scientists were able to prevent the cancer invasion.

Those susceptible to cancer are highly vulnerable to life’s stresses and trauma, and they feel unable to cope when life throws a curveball their way. But just about all of us, when we experience inescapable shock, remain deeply affected by the experience and have difficulty in expressing our inner grief, inner pain, inner anger or resentment.

Levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, skyrocket and remain at high levels, directly suppressing the immune system, whose job it is to destroy cancer cells that exist in every human being. Yoga was found to be of value in reducing cortisol levels and to significantly increase the percentage of natural killer cells. Yoga has been shown to improve the overall quality of life in patients with metastatic breast cancer.

Deborah King, best-seller author of Truth Heals: What You Hide Can Hurt You wrote, “You can run as fast as you can. You can try to numb or blot out the pain. You can move across the world… but you cannot outrun your emotions. I certainly tried to run from the emotional pain I had buried deep inside from a childhood of abuse… and ran right into alcohol and valium addiction, promiscuity, an eating disorder, ill health, and by my mid-20s—cancer. It was through the intense inner work I did in the years following my diagnosis—with a 12-step program, counseling, meditation, journaling, and seeking the help of alternative health and healing practitioners—that I discovered the direct connection between my emotions and my physical health, repaired my marriage, and went into remission from the cancer. Oh, and I found an entirely new direction for my life, going from stressed-out corporate attorney to a teacher of health and wellness and a master healer.”


Drs. Jade Teta and Keoni Teta write about using yoga to combat stress and the cortisol levels that accompany it. They say, “Yoga can lower stress acutely and may adjust stress mechanisms in the long run, possibly conferring survival benefit to cancer patients.” Below is a partial list of the research they have unearthed:

Yoga seems to have special action in relation to stress, cortisol, and cancer. Two recent reviews by Silver et al. (2009) and Desaive et al. (2008) discuss the role of stress in cancer and yoga’s potential action against it.[1] Yoga therapy has been shown to predict survivability in breast cancer, is correlated with better outcomes in cancers of the head and neck, and allays anxiety and stress-related dysfunction in cancer treatment.[2]

Balkrishna et al. in 2009 looked at the expression of 28,000 genes in leukemia patients undergoing yoga therapy or no yoga therapy.[3] Of the 28,000 genes analyzed, just fewer than 5,000 genes were shown to be up-regulated in the yoga practitioners vs. the control group. The vast majority of these genes were related to balancing stress-signaling pathways, raising antioxidant status, and increasing survival of white blood cells.

Yoga seems to do more than simply lower cortisol levels, but rather improves the quality of the circadian rhythm by restoring the “flatter” cortisol curves to a more normal undulating pattern. This may be a key mechanism in yoga’s beneficial effect on outcomes in cancer patients.[4]

Some yoga methods can be quite vigorous and stimulating, while others more restorative and relaxing. However, all yoga, regardless of intensity, focuses practitioners on breathing and encourages a meditative awareness of breath and body. Based on research with walking and meditation, it would seem that more restorative yoga sessions would be most beneficial for those weakened by treatment or the disease process.[5]

[1] Smith et al. An evidence-based review of yoga as a complementary intervention for patients with cancer. Psychooncology. 2009;18(5):465–475.

[2] Silver et al. Predictors of functional decline in locally advanced head and neck cancer patients from South Brazil. Head Neck. Epub 2010 Jan 6.

[3] Balkrishna. To study the effect of the sequence of seven pranayama by Swami Ramdev on gene expression in leukemia patients and rapid interpretation of gene expression. J Clin Pathol. 2009;62(11):1052–1053.

[4] Ulger et al. Effects of yoga on the quality of life in cancer patients. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2010;16(2):60–63.

[5] Tsunetsugu et al. Physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the atmosphere of the forest) in an old-growth broadleaf forest in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan. J Physiol Anthropol. 2007;25(2):135–142

Dr. Mark Sircus AC., OMD, DM (P)

Professor of Natural Oncology, Da Vinci Institute of Holistic Medicine
Doctor of Oriental and Pastoral Medicine
Founder of Natural Allopathic Medicine

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