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Yoga for cancer patients

When I started teaching chair yoga, my main focus was to assist office workers as I had suffered from lower back pain. However, during COVID-19 self-isolation I started teaching virtual chair yoga classes on facebook live and my friend’s relative from the UK joined online one day. After a gentle chair yoga class video live streamed, my friend shared with me that her 88 years old relative has lung cancer and that the chair yoga class on facebook live had helped her immensely.

Ashford Breast Cancer Support Group in UK contacted me soon after that beautiful comment and I was so happy to be able to help other cancer survivors that we organized a gentle chair yoga class for their members.

It was a really nice experience for all the participants getting to do chair yoga from the comfort of their own homes and noticing how their body was responding to the movements. Some of the attendees share with me their feedback after the class:

I thoroughly enjoyed the chair yoga session. It was comprehensive and easy to follow. This is so good for Breast Cancer patients that have had a mastectomy as it helps with the arm movement. I will check out Flowithme site for further information.” – Heather

Sara streamlined a live chair yoga class on Zoom for our monthly charity event. Sara is very personable and engaging and has a sense of fun in her teaching approach. All attendees felt revived and relaxed after the session. I would highly recommend her”. - Ann

There has been a lot of research and studies done on the benefits of yoga for cancer patients.

Benefits of yoga for cancer patients

1. Lower fatigue: Several studies have linked yoga with reduced fatigue in cancer patients. Several studies have reported a significant decrease in fatigue through the use of yoga.

2. Reduce stress: Battling a life-threatening disease is physically, emotionally, and mentally stressful. Yoga may be able to help with this aspect of cancer as well. One study found that practicing a seven-week yoga routine was able to reduce the likelihood of developing “mood disturbance” by up to 65 percent. Other research has found that the reduction in stress also improves quality of life, appetite, and could be responsible for reduction in pain.

3. Improve physical functioning: In addition to everything on your mind, cancer affects your ability to move. Spending time in the hospital or sick at home can make the body stiff and sore and make it more difficult to complete daily tasks. As a regular form of exercise, yoga is a gentle way to stay limber and active. A review of 16 trials found that regular yoga practice can improve functional well-being in both cancer patients and survivors.

4. Sleep better: a combination of physical and mental stress can make sleep difficult, but healing the body requires ample rest. Yoga can help with insomnia and make it easier for cancer patients to relax at night. Some research has found yoga to be able to help improve sleep quality, efficiency, and duration.

How to start?

Cancer patients and survivors wholly unfamiliar with the practice of chair yoga should talk with their doctor about programs that may be specific to their condition. An increasing number of cancer centers offer such wellness programs. If your doctor has giving you the green light to practice chair yoga, this 30 minute class may help you to start your chair yoga journey.

Research into yoga in cancer care

  • Healing Yoga for Cancer Survivorship (HYCS)

A new study has found that participation in a yoga program helped cancer survivors feel better physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It also showed a correlation between practicing the more "contemplative" aspects of yoga -- intention setting, mudra, pranayama, and final relaxation -- and a greater increase in emotional and spiritual well-being.

Participation in the Healing Yoga for Cancer Survivorship (HYCS) protocol showed an 8.8% decrease in physical symptom severity (i.e., fatigue, sleep disturbance, pain, and interference of side effects), a 6.6% increase in functional well-being (i.e., ability to work, concentration, ability to sleep, and acceptance of illness), a 10.3% decrease in emotional symptom severity (i.e., sadness, nervousness, worry about recurrence, and hopelessness), and a 13.9% increase in spiritual well-being (i.e., peacefulness, life purpose, harmony, self-reliance, and gratitude),” says study author and yoga therapist Cheryl Fenner Brown, who developed the HYCS protocol.”

Study participants included 19 mixed gender cancer survivors with an average age of 56 years and an average time since completing radiation and chemotherapy treatment of just over three years. Their diagnoses included breast cancer, lymphoma, leukemia, melanoma, and neuroendocrine, endometrial, ovarian, brain, rectal, and kidney cancers. Breast cancer made up 35% of the yoga participants, but the data from this particular group are still being analyzed. The control data were not analyzed due to a small sample size.

  • University of York - An evidence-based review of yoga as a complementary intervention for patients with cancer (Smith KB, Pukall CF)

There is no scientific evidence to prove that yoga can cure or prevent any type of cancer. The Dare Study performed in March 2010 included 10 trials and it found that yoga could help to reduce anxiety, depression, tiredness (fatigue) and stress for some patients. And it improved the quality of sleep, mood and spiritual well being for some people. This study suggests that yoga might help people with cancer cope with symptoms and side effects.

The authors of the study said that overall yoga may be associated with some positive effects on psychological well being for people with cancer. But the review results have to be used with caution because there were some weaknesses and differences in the research studies included.

Other studies have shown yoga can help reduce tiredness and depression in people with breast cancer. A small study of men with prostate cancer also noted an improvement in their quality of life and general wellbeing when they practised yoga regularly.

Yoga can also have an impact on sleep. Some people reported that their sleep improved after following a regular yoga programme.

Other research suggests that yoga may help people with other health problems such as:

· high blood pressure (hypertension)

· lower back pain

· joint problems, such as arthritis

· asthma

· epilepsy

· irritable bowel syndrome

· anxiety and depression

It is very important to let your yoga teacher know if you have any of these conditions before you begin.

If you want to know more about chair yoga contact or visit for further information to organize your own class.

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