Can Yoga Really Help Someone with a Cancer Diagnosis?

Can Yoga Really Help Someone with a Cancer Diagnosis?

Yoga can make a difference in the life of someone facing a cancer diagnosis. Clinical trials are proving it, and the students in a Yoga for Cancer class in Denton, Texas are evidence of it as well.

The doctors and scientists at the Integrative Medicine at MD Anderson are at the forefront of research on cancer and how yoga can help. Their work focuses on reducing the negative aspects of cancer treatment and improving the quality of life utilizing meditation, Tibetan yoga, Patanjali-based yoga, and other behavioral strategies. Their findings have been published in medical journals and within the yoga community around the world.

Here is a compilation of some results of studies conducted by MD Anderson(and also with their collaboration with the Swami Vivekananda Yoga Anusandhana Samsthana in Bangalore, India). Subjects undergoing treatments for cancer noticed improvement in the following areas:

  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue
  • Intrusive thoughts, anxiety, anger, depression
  • General health and physical function
  • Nausea frequency and intensity
  • Ability to find meaning in the cancer experience
  • Secondary lymphedema (a result of the removal of lymph nodes during surgery. Studies are showing that it can be relieved through movement, isometric exercises, and breath-work.)
  • Cortisol levels

Dr. Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson Cancer Center, believes a big predictor of yoga’s effectiveness lies in the results of the cortisol levels. Cortisol, a stress hormone that is high in the a.m. and tends to drop at night, is affected in a beneficial way as a result of the yoga practice. In his lecture from the oncology symposium he says, “Cancer patients need yoga more than any person on this planet.”

According to Cohen, developing a yoga practice also helps patients in recovery after completing cancer treatment: “The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention. Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult.”

Dr. Cohen explains that the reason the patients are seeing such positive results from this study is that their attendance at the yoga sessions was consistent. At Yoga Bridge, we see this on a weekly basis in our Yoga for Cancer classes.
This is far from being scientific, but here are some responses from our students when asked what their yoga practice does for them:

  • Calms me
  • Helps my anxiety
  • Sends away troubles and worries (Billy, age 11, son of breast cancer student)
  • Keeps my mind focused
  • Helps me fall asleep
  • Helps with balance
  • Restores my body and soul
  • Yoga is nurturing
  • Yoga is empowering!


It’s great that Western science is beginning to notice the benefits of yoga for those with chronic illness. In our sweet, little Yoga for Cancer class, we’ve known it all along.


Lecture from Oncology Symposium at MD Anderson, July 2012

MD Anderson News Release 05/18/11

Susan Reeves

Susan is a yoga teacher and co-founder of Yoga Bridge. Yoga Bridge is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that addresses the needs of people in any stage of cancer diagnosis and recovery through the healing practice of yoga in a supportive and nurturing environment. Yoga Bridge offers Yoga for Cancer classes and Yoga for Cancer teacher trainings in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.