When you are diagnosed with breast cancer, you may seek tools to cope with stress, anxiety, depression, insomnia or fatigue. Studies suggest yoga may help with these challenges during and after treatment. Early research also shows yoga may help improve quality of life.

Reducing stress with yoga may address many health concerns. Some women who take part in yoga studies report less pain, fewer hot flashes and improved strength and body image.

Even if you don’t share these concerns, yoga may serve as one part of your ongoing health regimen or spiritual practice.


What is yoga?

Yoga describes a set of activities practiced on physical, mental and spiritual levels. It is one of many exercise and wellness options for people of all ages during and after treatment.

Modern yoga is based on five basic principles, which are the basis of achieving a healthy body and mind:

  1. Proper relaxation
  2. Proper exercise
  3. Proper breathing
  4. Proper diet
  5. Positive thinking and meditation

Yoga’s physical practice features movement. A person moves the body into a position, holds it, and then moves into a new position. A physical yoga practice can look similar to some forms of martial arts, dance or tai chi.

A well-designed yoga program may help restore mobility and strength after breast cancer surgery. You can adapt yoga to your fitness level and stage of treatment and recovery, changing your poses, called asanas, as you grow stronger or face new challenges over time.

Yoga also aims to slow down mental chatter or racing thoughts and help you feel present in each moment. Yoga’s mental exercises, such as meditation and breathing, can be done on their own or added to the physical practice. Yoga exercises that regulate breathing are called pranayama. Pranayama can be calming and have been shown to improve immune function in people in active cancer treatment.


How is meditation tied into yoga practice?

When you think of yoga, you may think of the poses, physical movements and breathing exercises the practice involves. But well-rounded yoga also involves meditation. Research shows meditation has many benefits, especially to people with breast cancer.

Meditation means connecting to a relaxed, aware state of mind. There are many different types of meditation, but all encourage you to relax. You may focus on your breath, on sounds or on the movement of the body itself.

Meditation helps you to let go of any upsetting thoughts you may have. Your practice may improve your concentration and make it easier for you to redirect your thoughts, without judgment, during stressful times. It may also help you feel more connected to yourself and to those around you.

You don’t need to practice yoga in order to meditate, nor do you need to meditate in order to practice yoga. But yoga helps you to concentrate and relax, both of which are important to meditation.

It may be difficult to focus your mind at first, even in a yoga class with time set aside to meditate. For most people, meditation becomes easier the more often you practice.


Is yoga a religion?

Yoga can complement religion, or it can stand alone as a spiritual practice. If you lack a spiritual venue and now find yourself searching for one, yoga might meet your needs.

The practices taught in yoga don’t ask you to hide negative feelings but to instead acknowledge them and try to be understanding to yourself. Sometimes, doing so can relieve difficult feelings or help you understand what you’re going through in a different way.

Instructors guide a spiritual practice in different ways. Some use readings or chants to help students center themselves and shift away from the day’s worries. Others use a simple meditation that focuses on your breath.

Even if a spiritual practice isn’t for you, yoga may still appeal to you because it can help you develop a quiet mind and more peace within yourself. Feel free to ask your teacher about style and methods. The key is to find an instructor who makes you feel safe and who practices a yoga style that works for you.


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Reviewed and updated: October 9, 2018

Reviewed by: Mary Pullig-Schatz, MD


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