If you have breast cancer, yoga can help. The energizing combination of movement and meditation can both reinvigorate your body and lift your spirits. While chemotherapy may affect your energy levels and decrease your motivation to exercise, yoga can be adapted to many different skill levels and physical abilities.

Research has shown that breast cancer patients who practice yoga may improve their quality of life in a number of areas by:

  • reducing fatigue
  • boosting energy
  • improving sleep
  • reducing stress
  • improving overall physical functioning
  • reducing the side effects of radiotherapy treatment

What Is Yoga?

Yoga uses physical poses and breathing techniques to increase your strength, flexibility, and mental well-being. The purpose is to create a balance in your mind, body, and spirit. Some aspects of yoga include:

  • stretching
  • physical postures and movements
  • controlled breathing
  • meditation
  • relaxation
  • imagery

What Is a Yoga Class Like?

Typical yoga classes last between 30 and 90 minutes. During the class, an instructor will usually lead you through a series of sitting, standing, and lying poses, called “vinyasas.”

Yoga positions are usually coordinated with the breath, allowing you to deepen the stretch and increase your mind and body control. Your instructor may suggest using props such as blocks, belts, or rolled blankets to help you get the most out of a pose.

What Do Breast Cancer Patients Need to Know?

If you have breast cancer and are thinking about trying yoga, keep the following considerations in mind.

Find the Right Teacher

While many fitness centers and specialized yoga studios offer classes, not all classes and instructors are alike. Ask your doctor, oncologist, or cancer center staff to recommend a yoga instructor who has experience working with breast cancer patients.

Find the Right Class

While there are many different types of yoga classes to explore, you should begin with a basic “hatha” or “restorative” class tailored to people recovering from illness. Avoid classes that are more advanced or techniques such as “ashtanga,” which may be too vigorous.

Talk to the Teacher Before Class

Many instructors will ask at the beginning of class if anyone has any specific physical limitations or requests. However, you may want to arrive early to let the instructor know privately that you’re being treated for or recovering from breast cancer.

Know the Risks

More strenuous poses can carry a risk of lymphedema for people who have had lymph nodes removed. Some types of yoga may carry a risk of bone fracture in people with breast cancer that has metastasized to the bone.

An instructor who has experience with breast cancer patients should know which poses are safe. However, always check with your doctor about your specific risks before starting a yoga program.

Pay Attention to Your Body

Don’t force yourself into a position that’s uncomfortable or causes pain. If something feels too difficult, sit it out or ask the teacher for a modification.

Good instructors encourage feedback from students during the class about what they need. Let your teacher know if a pose doesn’t feel quite right. They can often provide props such as a pillow or cushion to help your body adjust to it better.