Yoga for Living with Breast Cancer


With continual improvements in screening uptake and adjuvant cancer treatments, the number of Canadian women surviving breast cancer continues to grow.  Unfortunately, current medical interventions are often accompanied by a host of negative side effects.  Several meta-analyses and systematic reviews provide evidence for the benefits of physical activity (PA) in reducing the symptom burden in breast cancer survivors through improvements in fatigue, physical functioning, and QoL.  Research to date in breast cancer survivors has primarily examined standard aerobic exercise programs (e.g., walking or cycling), resistance exercise programs (e.g., weight lifting), or a combination.  Despite the numerous benefits that can be gained from participation in aerobic and resistance exercise programs, PA levels among breast cancer survivors are low, hence there is a need to examine other forms of PA for those breast cancer survivors unable or unwilling to participate in traditional exercise programs.  

Yoga is a low impact, gentle form of PA where use of physical postures (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and relaxation/meditation are incorporated to integrate and bring balance to the body, mind, and spirit.  Although preliminary evidence suggests some psychological and physical benefits may result from yoga in cancer survivors, there is still very limited data and further feasibility research is warranted.

Project Summary

We are currently conducting a pilot evaluation of an ongoing Iyengar Yoga program designed specifically for breast cancer survivors, currently receiving treatment or within 6 months of finishing treatment, that are undergoing repercussions of diagnosis and treatment such as pain, fatigue, shoulder immobility, or lymphedema, anxiety.  Iyengar yoga (IY) is one of the most widely practiced forms of yoga in the Western World.  This system of yoga includes a modified approach to performing the asanas (postures) for individuals who are stiff, immobile, injured, and/or ill with the use of yoga props and supports, enabling poses to be adapted to the age and fitness levels of participants and modifications made on the basis of individual needs.  The primary purpose of this study is to evaluate the impact of an IY program on generic and disease-specific QoL, psychosocial and physical functioning in breast cancer survivors.  A secondary purpose is to examine participants overall evaluation of IY, including directly reported benefits and barriers as well as a motivational evaluation of IY. 

Previous Research

In a pilot study of 24 breast cancer survivors participating in 12 weeks of  IY we found substantial improvements in QoL, psychosocial functioning, and motivational profile.  Moreover, positive program evaluation and good adherence from program participants provides support for the acceptability and feasibility of IY with breast cancer survivors. 

Speed-Andrews, A.E., Stevinson, C., Belanger, L.J., Mirus, J.J. & Courneya, K.S. (2010).  Pilot evaluation of an Iyengar Yoga program for breast cancer survivors.  Cancer Nursing, In press.