Can yoga provide a gentle path to triumph for cancer survivors?

Jun 19, 2023
Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS) is a soft form of yoga that potentially cuts cancer risks. Source: Getty

Yoga, a centuries-old practice known for its physical and mental benefits, has now emerged as a potential non-pharmaceutical alternative to keep cancer at bay.

In a groundbreaking study presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), researchers unveiled the remarkable effects of a soft form of yoga called Yoga for Cancer Survivors (YOCAS).

Dr Karen Mustian, the study’s lead author, was intrigued by the integration of mindfulness and physical yoga exercise.

She discovered that combining movement, focused breathing, and mindfulness created a powerful synergy that resulted in amplified benefits, particularly for individuals with chronic health problems.

This realisation sparked her fascination with the potential of yoga to enhance overall wellbeing.

“We wanted to understand how yoga was working, when it improves everything from pain to insomnia, to fatigue, to quality of life, [to] anxiety,” she said.

“If you take a look at the data that was just presented at ASCO, you can see in fact that we can do that for not only pretty much every cancer survivor out there, but we can do it in elderly people who are over the age of 65, and that doing yoga is safe for them and it works for side effects.”

This specialised yoga, tailored specifically for those who have battled cancer, not only improved the odds of survival but also significantly reduced the risk of cancer recurrence.

For the study, over 500 individuals with an average age of 56, who had undergone cancer treatment within the past two months to five years, participated in a randomised controlled trial.

These participants were divided into two groups: one practising the YOCA, which involved gentle Hatha and restorative yoga, and the other engaging in a placebo program developed by ASCO as part of the Cancer Treatment and Survivorship Care Plans initiative, which included recommendation-based health classes.

Both groups attended two 75-minute sessions per week for a duration of one month. Throughout the four-week period, blood tests were conducted on each participant to monitor their inflammation levels.

According to the researchers, inflammation, whether acute or chronic, is universally associated with the development and progression of both primary and secondary cancer.

Their results revealed that individuals who practised YOCAS yoga exhibited significantly lower levels of pro-inflammatory markers compared to those who participated in the education classes.

Per their report, the “data suggest that YOCAS yoga significantly reduces inflammation among cancer survivors.

“Clinicians should consider prescribing it for survivors experiencing inflammation, which may lead to a high chronic toxicity burden and increased risk of progression, recurrence and second cancers.”

The benefits of yoga extend beyond its potential in cancer care, as a study conducted in 2019 shows this form of exercise may potentially reduce the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.

And that’s not all, yoga also offers a gentle yet powerful solution for older adults looking to enhance their mobility.

Engaging in regular yoga sessions can help improve flexibility, balance, and strength, thus promoting better mobility and reducing the risk of falls and injuries.

Though yoga offers an abundance of health benefits before you hop on the mat and stretch out a pose, it’s important to talk about this form of exercise with your GP or health professional.


IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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