Research shows that people can control physical functions, such as breathing, heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure, through yoga practice. By controlling these physical functions, yoga can help people reduce stress levels and improve feelings of relaxation and well-being.
Research also shows that people with breast cancer who do yoga may feel less stressed, enjoy a better quality of life, and experience
- sleep disruption
- cognitive impairment
- musculoskeletal symptoms
This article looks at whether yoga is safe for people with breast cancer. It also outlines poses as well as benefits and risks of practicing yoga for breast cancer patients and survivors.
Researchers agree that people who are
However, a person should always consult a doctor or physical therapist about starting physical activity, especially after surgery.
A person who has had surgery for breast cancer, such as a mastectomy, may experience arm and shoulder problems that certain yoga poses could aggravate. An experienced yoga instructor can modify poses to accommodate a person’s needs.
If, following surgery, a person experiences lymphedema, a condition in which extra lymph fluid builds up and causes swelling, they should consult with their doctor or physical therapist about safe and beneficial yoga poses.
Yoga has many benefits for breast cancer patients. For example, it:
- reduces fatigue
- betters quality of life
- lessens the symptoms of nausea
- increases relaxation
Gentle poses that do not strain the chest, arms, and shoulders can help people with breast cancer experience the benefits of yoga most effectively.
Learn about wider science-backed health benefits of yoga practice here.
It is advisable for people with breast cancer to practice these five poses:
Balasana, or Child’s Pose, helps stretch the hips, thighs, and back muscles while relaxing the chest muscles.
- Start on all fours.
- Exhale and lower the hips toward the heels.
- Reach the arms forward, outstretched.
- Breathe slowly and keep the arms stretched out, with the hands on the floor and the palms facing up or down.
- Bring the forehead to the floor.
- Hold the pose for 4–12 breaths.
2. Dirga Pranayama
Dirga Pranayama, or Three-Part Breath, encourages deep, complete breathing and helps increase the supply of oxygen to the blood while releasing muscle tension. It also helps relieve stress and bring focus to the body.
The three parts refer to the diaphragm, chest, and abdomen.
- Breathe in deeply as if filling the stomach, lungs, and chest with air.
- Exhale completely.
- Repeat until feeling more relaxed.
3. Viparita Karani
Also known as Legs Up the Wall Pose, Viparita Karani takes pressure off the neck and spine and encourages circulation and relaxation.
- Position the body next to a wall. Bring the knees close to the chest while lying on one side.
- Exhale and roll onto the back.
- Bring the legs up the wall.
- Keep the legs straight and firm and let the shoulders and back sink into the floor.
- Draw the head and neck away from the shoulders, extending the arms out to the sides, with the palms up.
- Remain in the pose for 5–10 minutes and relax into it while concentrating on breathing.
- To release the pose, bend the knees and roll onto the right side.
This pose, also known as Standing Forward Bend, stretches the calves, hamstrings, and hips, relieving tension in the neck, spine, and back muscles.
- Begin by standing upright with feet hip-distance apart.
- Exhale and slowly hinge forward at the hips, bending the knees as much as necessary.
- Reach the hands down toward the floor, placing the palms or fingertips on the floor or blocks.
- Release the head and neck toward the ground.
- Breathe and hold for 4–8 breaths.
- To release the pose, bend the knees more while keeping the back long and inhale as you return to standing.
Savasana, or Corpse Pose, helps calm the mind and relieve feelings of stress.
- Lie with the back flat on the floor and stretch the legs out. If this feels uncomfortable, bend the knees and place the feet on the floor.
- Extend the arms down by your sides, with the palms facing up.
- Place a rolled-up blanket or towel under the knees if there is tension in the lower back.
- Relax into the pose and breathe naturally.
- Relax the jaw and let go of tension in the back, neck, and face.
- Stay in this pose with the eyes closed for 5–15 minutes.
Breast cancer patients and survivors who practice gentle yoga that has been approved by a healthcare professional should face no adverse effects or risks.
A person with breast cancer should avoid any poses that put stress on their shoulders, chest, or arms, such as Plank Pose.
However, people should remain cautious of potential injury. Risks may include:
Strenuous yoga poses may present the risk of lymphedema for people who have had lymph nodes removed during breast cancer surgery.
Lymphedema causes swelling due to excess fluid. It may affect a person’s arms or legs.
A yoga instructor who has experience with breast cancer patients and survivors will be able to decide which poses and types of yoga are safe.
A person who has had breast cancer should therefore always talk with a yoga instructor before starting a class.
People with bone metastasis, where breast cancer has spread to the bone, may be at risk of fracture during yoga.
A person with bone metastasis should consult a healthcare professional on whether yoga is a safe activity for them. They could also try guided imagery meditation instead.
Research shows breast cancer patients and survivors can benefit from yoga in various ways. For example, it can help them feel less fatigued and more relaxed, allowing them to enjoy a better quality of life.
People with breast cancer and those who are breast cancer survivors should practice gentle yoga and do poses that do not strain the chest, arm, or shoulder areas.
To ensure that their yoga practice is safe, they should seek guidance from a healthcare professional about which poses not to include in order to avoid potential risks, such as lymphedema and fractures due to metastasis.