Yoga for Cancer Survivors: Physical and Psychological Benefits

S. Nicole Culos-Reed, Ph.D., Linda E.Carlson, Ph.D.,
Lisa M. Daroux, & Susi Hately-Aldous



Physical activity provides a number of physical and psychological benefits to cancer survivors. Some benefits of activity include lessening the impact of detrimental cancer-related symptoms and treatment side-effects such as fatigue, pain, and nausea, and improving overall well-being and quality of life. The purpose of this study was to examine the physical and psychological benefits of a 7-week yoga program for cancer survivors, offering an alternative form of exercise to the traditional vigorous workout.

This study was designed based on the ‘theory of planned behaviour’ which suggests that attitude, confidence and social support predict behavioural intentions, thereby affecting behaviour itself. Considering these variables, the yoga was practiced in small groups of 10 participants, with each participant getting enough individual attention to ensure they could safely and successfully perform the exercises.

The style of yoga used was a modified version of hatha yoga called yoga therapy. Influenced by the Iyengar tradition of yoga and the study of kinesiology, the yoga asanas (or postures) are modified for people who are particularly stiff, immobile, injured, ill, or under extreme stress. Yoga therapy enables the student to move slowly and safely into the modified asana concentrating initially on relaxing their body, breathing fully, and developing awareness of the sensations in their body and thoughts in their mind. As the sessions progress, the student moves from the modified version toward the full version of the asanas, building flexibility, strength, and balance while maintaining that initial understanding of being relaxed and aware. As a result, the student is always moving mindfully and in their pain-free range of motion while improving at their optimum speed.

Significant differences were seen between the yoga participants (n=20) and the control group (n=18) after the 7-week intervention, both within psychosocial (i.e., enhanced global quality of life and emotional function, and diminished stress, emotional irritability, mood disturbance, tension, depression, anger, and confusion) and physical (i.e., lower resting heart rate and cardiopulmonary arousal and greater cardiovascular endurance) variables. There were also significant improvements in the yoga participants’ physical and psychosocial variables, comparing their ‘before’ measures to those taken after the yoga intervention.

These initial findings suggest that yoga has significant potential, and should be further explored as a beneficial physical activity option for cancer survivors. Gentler forms of physical activity may be an appropriate exercise alternative for people with illness, offering both physical and psychosocial benefits.

Susi Hately Aldous

Functional Synergy inc.
Yoga Therapy and
Yoga for the Desk Jockey Corporate program
functionalsynergy.com
 
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