Being Well

Yoga Poses for Cancer Patients

Child's pose is a restorative yoga pose that can help you feel grounded and relaxed during cancer treatment.

When you are going through cancer treatment, you experience physical and emotional side effects that can be difficult to defeat. Fortunately, with a combination of medication and alternative therapies, you can make treatment a bit more bearable. Yoga has been shown to be a wonderful way for cancer patients to alleviate stress and feel better. Whether you are in the midst of diagnosis, treatment or transitioning to post-treatment life, these yoga poses for cancer patients can provide the support and relief you need.

Yoga During Diagnosis

Being diagnosed with cancer is stressful and can cause feelings of anxiety. The process of diagnosis can take a toll on your body as well. Tests, scans, blood draws and other procedures to recognize cancer and gauge the progression is exhausting. A literature review published in the Indian Journal of Palliative Care notes that yoga poses for cancer patients can be used as an intervention to relieve stress and improve mood, both important during the diagnosis stage.

For pre-scan stress, or “scanxiety,” try deep breathing in savasana; Yoga Journal provides step-by-step instructions. Typically saved for the last pose of a formal yoga class, this pose can help you feel grounded and in control. With every breath in, think of the word “peace,” and with every breath out, think of the word “strength.” You can alternate the words each time depending on what you need to feel before your scan. Savasana can also be used during MRIs or other stressful scans when you need to remain still.

Yoga During Treatment

Cancer treatment can be difficult on your body and mind. Yoga can give you the gentle movements you need to feel more like yourself, all while offering the opportunity for expanded breathing and meditation techniques. When you are going through treatment, gentle or restorative yoga poses are best. Try a combination of poses that don’t require you to leave the floor or your bed. Yoga Journal describes how to do these types of poses, like reclining bound angle pose, happy baby pose and legs up the wall pose. These poses can help with relaxation, anxiety and sleep.

Yoga After Treatment

After you have a NEAD (no evidence of active disease) scan, your oncologist and medical team will begin to set you up for a plan going forward. During this time, you will be taking maintenance meds and going in for preventative scans, but you will also be learning how to live your life again without cancer being at the forefront of every appointment or conversation. Yoga can be especially helpful during this time not only to dial back anxiety and increase your feelings of control, but to also help you begin to trust your body again.

As you begin to feel stronger and better, you can use your yoga practice to become comfortable with and proud of your body again. Try taking classes at a studio to have hands-on adjustments from instructors, or set a goal to work on certain poses (like forward fold) daily to see and feel the progress that accompanies regular practice.

Yoga can be transforming and life-giving during all phases of your cancer journey. The practice does not require any more from you than you are able to give, and your practice can adapt as your body changes during diagnosis, treatment and beyond. Namaste.

Yoga is one way to alleviate stress during treatment. UVA Cancer Center also offers support services that may help, such as counseling and support groups.

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Haley Burress
Haley Burress