Can Yoga Help Cancer Survivors?

When we think about our health, we often separate it into various categories: physical health, mental health, emotional health, and so forth.

Modern medicine often does the same, focusing on treating specific symptoms or diseases. However, as we continue to understand more about human health, it’s becoming increasingly clear that our wellbeing doesn’t exist in these isolated categories. It is an interconnected system where our emotional state can impact our physical health and vice versa.

This interconnectedness is highlighted in holistic practices that consider the whole person—body, mind, spirit, and emotions. The concept of holistic health may seem new-age to some, but it has been the cornerstone of several traditional healing systems, including yoga.

Yoga: An Ancient Practice with Modern Implications

Yoga, a practice with its roots in ancient India, is one of the most effective and widely adopted holistic healing systems. In the modern world, yoga has gained attention for its
scientifically-proven ability to promote physical fitness, reduce stress, enhance mental focus, and foster emotional balance. But its benefits extend even further, particularly for people battling chronic illnesses such as cancer.

Yoga for Cancer Survivorship

Cancer, a life-altering disease, leaves in its wake not just physical but also psychological and emotional repercussions. For survivors, the journey post-treatment often involves battling fatigue, managing fear of recurrence, and reclaiming their quality of life.

Recent research presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, 2023, underlines the significant role of yoga in improving fatigue and overall quality of life among older cancer survivors.

The researchers compared a group participating in Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS) with a behavioral placebo group, revealing that yoga participants reported significantly more improvements in fatigue and the emotional component of quality of life.

Yoga and Inflammation

Alongside enhancing quality of life, the power of yoga extends to physiological changes within the body. Chronic inflammation is commonly associated with cancer development and progression, as well as with numerous side effects that can impact treatment and survival. Interestingly, yoga can play a crucial role here as well.

A nationwide, multicenter, phase III randomized controlled trial found that yoga can significantly reduce inflammation among cancer survivors. The trial observed lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers in the group practicing yoga compared to the placebo group.

Yoga as a Beneficial Practice for Cancer Survivors

While the immediate impact of yoga—relief from stress, enhanced flexibility, and improved strength—is visible to the practitioner, the long-term benefits, especially for cancer survivors, are profound.

These studies illuminate yoga’s potential in managing chronic illness and improving survivorship among cancer patients. Yoga has emerged as a powerful, non-pharmaceutical tool that can be incorporated into the survivorship care plan for cancer patients.

In a world where medical advancements often come in the form of new drugs and technologies, the power of ancient practices like yoga serves as a reminder that health and wellness lie in balancing the mind, body, and spirit. As we step onto the yoga mat, we do not just perform a set of poses. We embark on a journey of holistic healing, a journey that allows us to reclaim our health and enhance our quality of life.