Yoga and Cancer

The “Integrative Oncology” column in the August 2010 issue of the journal Oncology gives us a great evidence-based boost, with its summary of reports that yoga helps reduce cancer symptoms and greatly improves quality of life in cancer patients.

The summary, by Barrie Cassileth, PhD, highlights two recent studies reported at the 2010 meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology, which found improvements in sleep quality and fatigue related to yoga, and puts them in the context of other recent findings on the benefits of yoga.

A dozen studies from the last six years, many of them as recent as 2009-10, contribute to mounting evidence for the benefits of yoga, not only for chronic conditions but for improving quality of life.

Some of the suggested benefits evidenced in these studies include: improved and more restful sleep, reduced fatigue, improved mood, decreased stress, reduced hot flashes, reduced joint pain, and increased well-being. It’s a list that probably appeals to all of us, with or without cancer!

The studies tested yoga as an intervention, and from the summary it appears that there were various forms of yoga used. This variety is something that interests me, in part because I’m teaching a specific protocol of asana (poses) for a UCSF study on restorative yoga for metabolic syndrome, and in part because, as someone who designed informal research for over a decade, I understand the challenges for conclusive findings when a variety of interventions are used. With so many lineages, approaches, and teachers, there’s value in asking “what kind” of yoga is offered.

Some of the studies blended pranayama (breathing practices), Hatha asana, Restorative yoga asana, and meditation. One of them used a “Yoga of Awareness” program, which I’m not familiar with. (Any of you blog readers out there who know about this?) Another draws from Tibetan yoga techniques. And, a final study used Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a practice that I teach, which blends meditation, body awareness, and gentle yoga.

As someone who can tell you anecdotally about the amazing effects of yoga in my own life, it’s heartening and exciting to see formal trials of yoga yielding such good news. Particularly, for those of us — likely most, if not all of us — who are connected with someone who has faced, or someone who is currently facing, cancer.

2 comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    My husband has cancer and we are currently practicing restorative and other yoga techniques with Rachel Lanzerotti on a weekly basis. I just need to attest to her incredible, warm and amazing style in teaching, practicing and healing. I feel that she has massively improved my husband's symptoms in dealing with very toxic cancer treatments and helped work on our connection throughout all of this, with each other, the world at large, and mindfulness. I cannot recommend Rachel highly enough as a practicioner of yoga for cancer patients.

  2. Rachel says:

    I'm honored to work with you both.

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