Getting started with yoga


If you're new to yoga, it can be hard to know where to start. Meet with your healthcare providers before starting any yoga practice, even if it is described as gentle, restorative or targeted to people with breast cancer. You will need to consider your physical ability as well as which types and poses are safe for you.


Finding the right yoga for you

Today people diagnosed with breast cancer have many options for yoga. Start by looking for a practice tailored to people like you.

Finding a teacher

In general, yoga instructors are not licensed or overseen by a professional organization. Some instructors may be unaware of the science behind healthy body movement or the impact of breast cancer treatments on the body.

Search for someone qualified to teach yoga to people who have had breast cancer treatment. Your instructor should have training in building strength and flexibility after surgery. Those connected to hospitals or cancer or rehab centers may be more likely to know about safe poses for women with breast cancer. Some instructors in private practice receive special training as well.

Remind your teachers about your health status over time, and make sure they will accept advice from your healthcare team.

Finding a class

Consider starting with personal or small-group yoga sessions. Many large hospitals and healthcare centers offer group yoga classes designed for people with cancer.

Open group classes at private studios aren’t typically designed for people diagnosed with cancer. They may feature poses that could increase the risk of lymphedema or that should not be practiced if you have metastatic disease. Avoid hot yoga classes and poses that put too much weight on the arms.

If you are in active treatment, avoid drop-in classes, unless they are specific to people with breast cancer.

With all classes, it can be helpful to contact the instructor first to discuss your treatment. Ask about their training, observe the class and take notes. Write down the names of poses and look them up on Yoga Journal's pose finder. Share them with your provider, describe the body movements and talk about the instructor’s training.

The mental practice of yoga

Yoga exercises both the mind and the body. If you are in active treatment, yoga’s mental exercises, called mindfulness, are a safe way to begin a practice.

To practice mindfulness, watch your breath as you inhale and exhale, or concentrate on a specific experience, noticing without judgment if your mind wanders. If you have an upsetting thought, don’t follow it with a string of other thoughts. Instead, bring your attention back to your focus: the breath, or the moment.

Some who practice yoga say they feel a deep sense of security and calm, even in times of distress. It may take time to create that experience, especially with the challenges of breast cancer. But it may help you as you move through treatment and manage the changes in your life.

The physical practice of yoga

In general, yoga is viewed as gentle and safe. Yoga instructors who work with women who have had breast cancer surgery can show you safe and enjoyable poses for beginners.

Still, be aware that some poses, or asanas, can physically tax people who have or had breast cancer. These poses may increase your risk for lymphedema or harm you if you are living with metastatic disease.

Your teacher or providers should be able to show you how to modify poses, changing the position of the body to make the pose less intense and less challenging. Listen to your body, and change poses when they cause you discomfort.

You can adapt your yoga practice as your body changes. Continue to talk with your providers about your exercise status over time.


Reviewed and updated: October 9, 2018

Reviewed by: Mary Pullig-Schatz, MD


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