Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients

7 min read

Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients


When you’re in recovery or treatment for breast cancer, the medication and treatments come with many side effects that can take an unwanted toll on your body and spirit. Working with your oncologist, you choose a treatment plan for your breast cancer; however, as treatment progresses, you may need to add activities and exercise that benefits you both physically and emotionally, because the toll of treatment can create a lot of anxiety in your life. You need an outlet. You need a way to recenter your mind and build strength and flexibility in your body. Your oncologist probably refers to this as a complementary therapy. One such therapy has already been proven to help breast cancer survivors and patients — yoga. It combines exercise and controlled breathing into one exercise.

Yoga Basics

Originating in India, Yoga began around 5,000 years ago. At that time, people practiced yoga as a lifestyle, combining ethics, nutrition, meditation, and exercise. Over the centuries, yoga has developed into many forms. In the United States, most of the forms of yoga don’t require a lifestyle change or commitment. The yoga exercises help the practitioner control their breathing and develop a healthy exercise routine. The most common forms of yoga practice in the U.S. include: 

  • Hatha
  • Vinyasa
  • Ashtanga
  • Bikram
  • Iyengar
  • Kundalini

You’ve probably seen people practicing yoga. It seems improbable that you can ever turn and twist your body into these shapes. You can do it! Yoga is one exercise that people at all skill levels can be successful at, and it’s an exercise for people of all ages and ability levels. There are more than 100 forms of yoga, so you’re sure to find a class and practice that suits your level and physical capabilities. 

Getting Started

If you haven’t practiced yoga before, you want to look for a beginner’s class. When you already have a background in yoga, and you’re returning to a class, you want to talk to the instructor about your needs as a breast cancer survivor. It’s a good idea to look around your local area for a class dedicated to breast cancer survivors and patients. 

Most experienced instructors can successfully help you work within your limitations. The classes are a series of stretches or poses, and as you assume a pose you practice controlled breathing as you hold it. If you’re a newbie, you may find the poses hard to achieve, and it could feel a little awkward at first. During your first few classes, pay close attention to what your body is telling you. Yoga stretches your muscles, but this should never be painful. 

Throughout the class, the instructor will help individuals achieve and maintain the poses. In some cases, they may suggest an easier variation for beginners. The instructor may use foam blocks or pillows to help you achieve a pose. Your instructor also helps you with deep-breathing exercises. While you might feel like you have two left feet when you start, stick with it. Yoga can help you relax, and you’ll come to enjoy it. 

Benefits of Yoga for Breast Cancer Patients

Many breast cancer patients can participate in some form of yoga even when they aren’t physically capable of taking part in more rigorous exercise. With so many types of yoga, the instructor is able to adapt poses for you. 

A recent study recruited 200 women in treatment for breast cancer and introduced yoga as a form of exercise. Within three months, the patients showed improvement in the fatigue and inflammation caused by powerful breast cancer treatments. Other studies have found a host of benefits for breast cancer patients in all stages of treatment. Here are a few of the benefits:

Improvement in Quality Sleep

Most forms of exercise can help you sleep better. With yoga, you get the added calming benefits of deep breathing, relaxation, and meditation to help you drift off to sleep and stay asleep. 

Yoga forces the mind to concentrate on the body which helps quiet the mind and promotes a feeling of calm. 

Improvement in Quality of Life

As yoga helps to improve the other symptoms of your breast cancer treatment, you’ll find it easier to return to the things you love. This brings a better quality of life. Also, you may find yourself happier when you reduce your anxiety and sleep better at night. 

Reduction in Anxiety and Stress

Between the diagnosis of breast cancer and the rigorous treatment plan, you’re probably experiencing a high amount of anxiety and stress about the present and future. Breast cancer treatment can multiply your anxiety since it has such a large impact on both your physical body and your normal day-to-day routines. While moving from pose to pose, you begin to concentrate on your body, and this in turn helps you settle your mind. 

Reduction in Depression

From the moment that you heard the words “breast cancer,” you’ve been waging a war against a deadly opponent. It’s pretty common for breast cancer patients to suffer some level of depression. Exercise helps improve your physical condition and enables you to spend more time on old hobbies, which helps alleviate depression. 

Decrease in Fatigue

Breast cancer treatment can take a toll on your body and cause extreme fatigue. Fatigue is a common side effect with many cancer patients; however, an increase in activity and improvements to your health can help reduce the fatigue that you feel. 

Improvement in Mobility and Function

Breast cancer treatment can cause inflammation, scarring, neuropathy, and limit your mobility. During yoga, you find increased oxygen levels and blood circulation that can help alleviate or even eliminate these symptoms. 

Treatments like chemotherapy and hormone therapy create stiffness and limit your range of motion. But, as the old saying goes, “a body in motion stays in motion.” Practicing yoga puts your body in motion, and allows you to focus on regaining your balance, and increase your range of motion and strength. 

Manage and Reduce Pain

Practicing yoga can not only help cancer patients improve range of motion. Restorative yoga positions, along with managed breathing, can also bring pain relief to cancer patients. Cancer treatments can take a toll on your body, but using yoga to increase your range of motion also encourages healing, and in return, pain reduction.

Download our free guide for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.

Things to Consider Before Starting Yoga

Before starting any exercise program, you need to discuss it with your oncologist. Yoga classes are usually a good idea for breast cancer patients. However, there is always the possibility of complications, so discuss any issues or changes that you notice with your oncologist. 

Know Your Personal Limits

After breast cancer treatments, you may find yourself extremely fatigued, or you may experience reduced respiratory function. Some breast cancer patients find even the beginning yoga classes more than they’re up for initially. Talk to the instructor. They may offer a restorative yoga; it’s an easier form of yoga with a goal of healing. 

Some breast cancer spreads or metastasizes to other areas of the body and may cause further challenges in a yoga routine. This spread can lead to additional surgeries or treatments.

For example, if cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, you may have had them removed. When performing exercise after this surgery, you’re susceptible to lymphedema. In breast cancer patients, lymphedema leads to swelling in the legs, arms, and other parts of the body. Yoga has been shown to reduce lymphedema.

Another example, when breast cancer spreads to the patient’s bones. Bone cancer can cause your bones to weaken and increases your chances of fractures. By practicing yoga, and working on your balance, new bone growth is promoted which can help patients increase their bone density.

It’s a good idea to sit down with your oncologist and the instructor to discuss your needs and expectations before starting a yoga class. If you find yourself concerned about the classes or something going on inside you, take a break and discuss it with your doctor immediately. It’s essential that you find a yoga class that allows you to work at your own pace. 

Finding a Qualified Instructor

Not all yoga teachers have the same qualifications. There are various levels of qualifications. In some cases, the teacher has only practiced for a few months, while others may have practiced for years. You can discuss their qualifications with prospective instructors before selecting one. Your oncologist may have a reference for a teacher or class they know with experience in working with breast cancer patients. You want to make sure that you feel comfortable and trust the instructor. 

At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, we partner with you not only for breast cancer treatment but to help you through the process from start to finish. We find value in recommending yoga classes for breast cancer patients and survivors. Contact us today for an appointment. 

Download the Free Guide for helpful tips for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients.