March 23, 2023

Yoga for Cancer and Chronic Illnesses


Do the words “yoga healing” conjure images of spa-like relaxation, chiming bells, and waterfalls? This nirvanic bliss may be the end result, but any proactive patient knows that even when it comes to alternative medicine and yoga, a lot of hard work goes into creating a good, safe, personal practice.

How do people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses evaluate alternative medicine practices such as yoga? What exercises and yoga postures are safe for cancer patients? What’s the difference between Ashtanga, Iyengar, Birkam, and restorative yoga, and what form of yoga is best for cancer patients? How can you find a studio that is friendly to cancer survivors? How often should you practice yoga and will it be affordable? What kinds of exercises can young adult cancer survivors do at home?

Listen tonight to the Stupid Cancer Show, at 9 PM EST when co-host Matthew Zachary and I will be talking about yoga and cancer with experts Kelly McGonicgal, Editor in Chief of The International Journal of Yoga Therapy, and Halle Tecco founder of Yoga Bear.

Have you engaged in yoga as a cancer survivor, or someone living with another kind of illness or disability? What was your experience? Was it a physical practice, spiritual practice or equal amounts of both? Did you create a regular routine of going to class or practicing at home, or was yoga more of an off and on activity for you?

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  1. Jen Says:
    March 24th, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    I’m not new to yoga (been practicing over a decade) but things became different for me and my practice both during cancer treatment and afterwards. Pre-cancer, I was a pretty hardcore Bikram yoga (hot yoga) fan. During, I tried to make it to the Restorative class that my cancer center offered three times a week as much as I was able to (note: this was NOT all that frequent, given the constraints of feeling generally ill and finding childcare during the day). Afterwards, as much as I wanted to start up again with Bikram, my acupuncturist recommended against it as I was having hot flashes (hormonal imbalance) and she thought that the Bikram would aggravate it. Instead, I’ve been going to a Yin Yoga and Meditation class.

    Overall, my yoga practice has helped me feel grounded, cared for (I *love* the restorative class’s hands-on healing), and like I was/am doing something positive and good for my body, even in the midst of great changes (some of them very negative) changes in my body. It has helped me feel connected to other people and to myself (if that makes sense), as well as helping to provide a sense of peace in an otherwise very unpeaceful time!

    I’m hoping to go back to Bikram (the hot flashes have subsided but I’m still waiting it out a bit for all my strength to come back), but I’m glad that I took a chance on other styles of yoga that I might never have tried before-I was always afraid, for instance, that a class that included meditation practices would be boring (I’ve found that that is far from the truth!).

  2. Shane Shirley Smith Says:
    March 25th, 2009 at 11:34 AM

    Yoga Bear Rocks!

  3. Eric Durak Says:
    May 25th, 2009 at 9:46 AM

    I work in the area of exercise and cancer, and came across your site researching wellness programs. I am a firm believer that Yoga, NIA, and even hoop dance have tremendous beneifts in terms of healing. Would like to see more information on folks who have done Yoga and how it has affected their recovery. Many thanks, Eric

  4. Gail Lichtenfels Says:
    April 17th, 2010 at 9:11 PM

    I have practiced yoga for over 20 years. I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma(cancer of the bone marrow)in 2007 and was led by intuition to begin practicing Yoga Nidra. I continue to practice hatha yoga and yoga nidra and am now 2 and a half years post stem cell transplant. I had over 10 back fractures before the disease was diagnosed and was in a great deal of pain plus could not move well or comfortably. Hatha yoga was out of the question for a while because of my physical limitations. In the fall of 2008 I began training with Richard Miller, attending his level one iRest training program. That fall I also began a slow and careful posture practice. I am happy to report that I have no back pain and have regained a lot of physical strength, range of motion, and flexibility. I am still working on it and love yoga.
    Glad to see this site. I hope to write more about my experience since I think it could be useful to others. I am finishing Yoga Therapy training with Janice George in Columbus, Ohio and want to work with people on the cancer journey, so far, I am just beginning that.

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