Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Patients

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Yoga is a 5,000-year-old practice based on Indian philosophy that has gained popularity in the United States in recent decades. Yoga programs designed for cancer patients are now available at many cancer centers and community organizations, and they offer many benefits for people living with cancer.

This article provides basic information about yoga and its benefits during cancer care. It also offers some tips on how to get started and any precautions you should know about before you do.


What Is Yoga?

Yoga combines intentional positions and stretches, rhythmic breathing, and meditation. The word comes from the Sanskrit word “yuj” which means to join or unite. Yoga seeks to unite the body, mind, and spirit. It is a philosophy of creating wholeness within oneself to promote health and vitality.

There are many types of yoga, but Hatha yoga is the form of yoga most people mean when they use the word. Hatha yoga refers to any type of yoga that combines poses ("asanas") and breathing techniques ("pranayama").

The practice of yoga, with its slow and gentle motions, is still possible for many people with cancer who are otherwise physically limited. It also may help with their fatigue, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

Yoga for People With Cancer

Yoga can help anyone center their thoughts and maintain flexibility, but also has benefits specifically for people living with cancer. Several studies have looked at the benefits of yoga for people with cancer. These studies find both physical and mental health benefits for people with cancer.

Physical Benefits

Yoga can help improve flexibility, strength, muscle tone, and balance. These all may be compromised when you undergo surgery or prolonged bed rest due to cancer treatments. Activity levels in general can be affected by a host of cancer symptoms, but yoga can help address each of these issues. Some are listed here.

  • Loss of appetite: In some cases, yoga may help with the loss of appetite that often comes with a cancer diagnosis.
  • Pain: Yoga may decrease cancer-related pain when used as a complementary treatment. That means yoga is used along with pain medication and other tools of traditional medicine.
  • Sleep and insomnia: Yoga may help people with cancer who have a hard time falling or staying asleep. This is more important than it may sound, because insomnia in cancer patients can increase fatigue, lower quality of life, and may even play a role in survival.
  • Fatigue: In a few studies, yoga was linked to a notable decrease in cancer-related fatigue. This is also key, because most people with cancer report fatigue from cancer and its treatments.

Emotional Benefits

Coping with a cancer diagnosis and treatment can be an emotionally taxing experience. Yoga has certain benefits that may help ease that burden.

  • Anxiety: Through its centering activities and breathing practices, yoga may reduce the anxiety associated with cancer.
  • Stress: Yoga seems to play a role in lowering stress levels for people living with cancer. Studies have shown improvements in the stress reported by patients and the levels of stress-related markers measured in the body.
  • Emotional distress: People living with cancer report less emotional distress related to their disease when they do yoga regularly.

Getting Started

Your doctor may be able to recommend yoga classes at your cancer care center, or give you ideas and resources for finding yoga sessions in your community. Some health plans cover the cost, or offer lower rates for these classes.

It is important to note that yoga may relieve some symptoms of cancer but it is not a treatment for cancer. Yoga is usually used in an “integrative” fashion. This means it is another pathway for individuals to cope with cancer symptoms, while still using surgery and chemotherapy to treat the cancer itself.

As with any activity, it is important to talk with your doctor before starting yoga. Some yoga positions may cause strain on joints and muscles that could harm certain people living with cancer. 

In addition to yoga, try to learn about other integrative treatments for cancer. They include acupuncture, massage, and qigong.


Yoga is an ancient practice with modern benefits. Many people with cancer find it boosts their energy levels and their outlook. At the same time, it offers physical exercise without being too strenuous or causing pain.

Some research studies have supported the use of yoga, and it’s an option that’s accessible for most cancer patients. Before starting yoga, make sure to check with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you.

A Word From Verywell

Few things in life are as upsetting as a cancer diagnosis, and with it come the uncertainty and stress that many people experience. Yoga offers a way to deal with that stress. It also may help to protect flexibility, balance, and muscle tone to help people feel their best in difficult times.

If you think you’d like to try it but you still feel uncertain, consider asking a friend or family member to join you at your yoga sessions. It’s something you can do to build up not just yourself but those in your support system too. It’s one way to extend yoga’s benefits while making it even more fun.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Danhauer SC, Addington EL, Cohen L, et al. Yoga for symptom management in oncology: A review of the evidence base and future directions for research. Cancer. 2019;125(12):1979-1989. doi:10.1002/cncr.31979

  3. Mustian KM, Sprod LK, Janelsins M, et al. Multicenter, randomized controlled trial of yoga for sleep quality among cancer survivors. J Clin Oncol. 2013;31(26):3233-3241. doi:10.1200/JCO.2012.43.7707

  4. Stan DL, Croghan KA, Croghan IT, et al. Randomized pilot trial of yoga versus strengthening exercises in breast cancer survivors with cancer-related fatigue. Support Care Cancer. 2016;24(9):4005-4015. doi:10.1007/s00520-016-3233-z

Additional Reading

By Lynne Eldridge, MD
 Lynne Eldrige, MD, is a lung cancer physician, patient advocate, and award-winning author of "Avoiding Cancer One Day at a Time."