Yoga Helps Breast Cancer Survivors

For those women who have battled and survived breast cancer, the path of recovery is far from over. Breast cancer survivors can experience ongoing effects from the treatments as well as the time they spent with the disease. Treatments can cause menopausal symptoms, infertility, osteoporosis, and ongoing issues with body image, anxiety, and depression. Now there is new evidence available that shows a sustained practice of yoga can ease hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors.

The program, entitled “Yoga of Awareness,” utilizes gentle asana, breathing exercises, meditation techniques, group discussions, and the study of yoga principles. Very different from what we have become accustomed to seeing in our yoga classes, “Yoga of Awareness,” is based on traditional yoga techniques and practices. All of which are “aimed at reducing stress and creating a heightened sense of awareness and acceptance about one’s physical and mental state,” says study co-author Laura Porter.

The women who participated in the study showed reductions in severity and frequency of hot flashes, and also less fatigue, joint pain, and sleep disturbance. They also reported less symptom-related distress and increased vitality. Menopausal symptoms in breast cancer survivors are severe and sudden, and due to the nature of the illness, conventional treatments are rarely an option.

Breast cancer survivor Kathie Billings says the healing does not end once you are deemed cancer free. The road as a survivor is so many things, “fearful but hopeful, lonely at times, learning to love a new body as it is now, moments of weakness and moments of strength. Being a survivor has given me a deeper sense of self awareness.”

Through practicing yoga during her treatments Kathie laid a foundation for recovery and learned how to listen to her body and bring it into a resting state. Yoga helped her learn, “there is no normal. I have learned to find a new normal.” The new normal for Billings now encompasses weight gain, fatigue, a lot of muscle and joint pain and depression. There is also the anxiety and fear of a reoccurrence that she tries hard not to think about, but still surfaces every now and then. She says that yoga has done a great deal to help her deal with the aftermath of the disease and her life as a survivor.

Though the research is still in its early stages, researchers noted that the practice can produce benefits now. With the help of a well-trained yoga instructor, asanas, pranayama, meditation and visualization can be tools to manage the mental anxiety and stress and lessen the menopausal symptoms of survivors. Billings notes, “Yoga has brought awareness to my body. It helps me in falling asleep, and it has assisted me in becoming much more intuitive to my own needs and the needs of others. It has taught me to be much more grounded on my feet and to stand tall in uncomfortable situations. Most of all, I feel security on my mat. I feel freedom…like ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.”

Has yoga helped you with the treatment and recovery from breast cancer? Please share your stories with us in the comments.

Comments 5

  1. I am a 42 year old breast cancer survivor going through my second recurrence in 2 1/2 years. Yoga has been huge in my healing – both mind and body and surroundings. In fact, I think I was brought to yoga a few years before I was diagnosed so that I was able to deal with this cancer. There have been challenges – especially during my second recurrence when I had a reaction to the medicines and wasn’t able to do yoga. But, amazingly – when I can do yoga – I feel I can do and fight anything – and win!! After my first go-round, I was cancer free for a year – and during that time I set up a free yoga for breast cancer survivors class. It was my way of giving back. It is a class that offers restorative and gentle poses to help with healing and stretching and calming the mind. There is also a great sense of camaraderie at the classes. It is so wonderful for me to share yoga with others going through this same stuff as me! I started the class in May of 2006 and I still teach it once a month. I am going through treatments now – and I am hoping this time (the third time) will be the charm!! My yoga community has brought me so much love and support – I couldn’t have been so strong and positive through this journey without my yoga and my fellow yogis and yoginis!! Namaste!

  2. i hae a question, I was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2007, at the time practising Iyengar yoga three times a week, I spoke to my teacher who advised that I did not participate in Iyengar to I was given the all clear, as Iyengar was said to increase cell division. Anybody got any thoughts on this??? Namaste

  3. I have never heard this, but I am not very familiar with Iyengar yoga. I would say to trust your teacher. If you are still wanting to practice yoga, look for a gentle or restorative class that allows the body to immerse in deep relaxation and healing. Maybe there is a Yoga for Cancer Survivors class near you.

  4. I was cancer free for a year – and during that time I set up a free yoga for breast cancer survivors class. It was my way of giving back. It is a class that offers restorative and gentle poses to help with healing and stretching and calming the mind.

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