Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Medical News Today

March 4, 2014

By Honor Whiteman

Radiation therapy is one of the main treatments for cancer, and one of the most common side effects of the treatment is fatigue. But new research from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center suggests that for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy, yoga may combat this side effect by regulating stress hormones, improving quality of life beyond treatment.

The research team, led by Prof. Lorenzo Cohen, recently published the study findings in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Yoga Improves Quality of Life for Breast Cancer Patients

Yoga is an ancient exercise that originated in India around 5,000 years ago. The activity combines physical postures, breathing exercises, relaxation techniques and meditation, and it has been associated with other health benefits.

Last year, Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that yoga can help lower blood pressure, while a 2012 study suggested that the exercise may help prevent adolescent mental problems.

To assess whether yoga could provide health benefits for breast cancer patients, the researchers analyzed 191 women with stages 0-3 of the disease.

Researchers say yoga could combat fatigue for breast cancer patients undergoing radiation therapy and improve overall quality of life during and after treatment.

All women were randomized into three groups: yoga, simple stretching or no instruction in yoga or stretching.

The women in the yoga or simple stretching groups were required to attend 1-hour classes for 3 days a week during the course of their 6-week radiation treatment. All sessions were tailored to breast cancer patients.

During the study period, the women were asked to report on their quality of life, including levels of fatigue and depression, sleep quality and how they were able to function on a daily basis.

The researchers conduced electrocardiogram (ECG) tests and took saliva samples from the women at the baseline of the study, the end of their radiation therapy and at 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment. This was to measure the participants' levels of cortisol - known as the "stress hormone."

Yoga reduced women's cortisol levels and fatigue

Results of the study revealed that the women who took part in the yoga sessions showed the sharpest decline in cortisol levels of all the groups, suggesting that yoga was able to regulate the stress hormone.

The investigators say this finding is important because increased stress hormone levels during the day - known as blunted circadian cortisol rhythm - have been associated with worse breast cancer outcomes.

Furthermore, the researchers found that women in the yoga group reported a reduction in fatigue, whereas the women in the other two groups did not. The women in the yoga group also reported better general health and functioning at 1, 3 and 6 months after radiation treatment.

These women also reported being able to find meaning in their experience of illness, while women in the other two groups did not.

"Combining mind and body practices that are part of yoga clearly have tremendous potential to help patients manage the psychosocial and physical difficulties associated with treatment and life after cancer, beyond the benefits of simple stretching."

Additionally, he says research has shown that adopting a yoga practice after cancer treatment can help breast cancer patients cope with their experience.

"The transition from active therapy back to everyday life can be very stressful as patients no longer receive the same level of medical care and attention," explains Prof. Cohen. "Teaching patients a mind-body technique like yoga as a coping skill can make the transition less difficult."

The research team is now in the process of a phase III trial of women with breast cancer, with the aim of understanding how yoga can improve physical function, biological outcomes and quality of life after radiation therapy.

This is not the first study to find a link between yoga and health benefits for breast cancer patients. Medical News Today recently reported on a study suggesting that for breast cancer survivors, yoga can reduce symptoms of fatigue and inflammation.

A Therapy Gains Ground in Hospitals

Integrative Medicine - Kula for Karma

As the health benefits of yoga are increasingly recognized, more doctors in the US are utilizing yoga therapy as an adjunct practice to modern medicine. According to the New York Times, yoga is offered as therapy in 93 percent of 755 integrative medical centers across the nation—facilities that offer both traditional medicine and alternative approaches to health under one roof.

 A number of doctors advocate the use of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment to modern medicine. Dr. Michael Sinel, an assistant professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of California, says to the New York Times, “I deeply believe in yoga and know the therapeutic value of yoga for health care.” Dr. Sinel has been a strong advocate for combining medical care with yoga therapy to facilitate the healing process.

For many seasoned yoga therapists, collaborating with doctors and hospitals is an important step forward. Larry Payne, founder of a yoga therapy training course at Loyola Marymount University, seeks to bridge the gap between the medical profession and yoga teachers and therapists by offering yoga classes for medical students at the David Geffen School of Medicine at U.C.L.A. His idea is that once medical professionals understand and feel the value of yoga themselves, they can then suggest or prescribe it to their patients.

The convergence of yoga therapy and modern medicine is a positive trend that's on the rise. As more and more medical professionals and facilities advocate its use, yoga therapy will become a streamline for alternative healthcare.

A Narrative Review of Yoga and Mindfulness as Complementary Therapies for Addiction

Complementary Therapies in Medicine, PubMed, US National Library of Medicine, June, 2013

Surbhi Khanna, Jeffrey M. Greeson


This paper reviews the philosophical origins, current scientific evidence, and clinical promise of yoga and mindfulness as complementary therapies for addiction. Historically, there are eight elements of yoga that, together, comprise ethical principles and practices for living a meaningful, purposeful, moral and self-disciplined life.

Kula for Karma - Yoga & Mindfulness

Traditional yoga practices, including postures and meditation, direct attention toward one's health, while acknowledging the spiritual aspects of one's nature. Mindfulness derives from ancient Buddhist philosophy, and mindfulness meditation practices, such as gentle Hatha yoga and mindful breathing, are increasingly integrated into secular health care settings. Current theoretical models suggest that the skills, insights, and self-awareness learned through yoga and mindfulness practice can target multiple psychological, neural, physiological, and behavioral processes implicated in addiction and relapse.

A small but growing number of well-designed clinical trials and experimental laboratory studies on smoking, alcohol dependence, and illicit substance use support the clinical effectiveness and hypothesized mechanisms of action underlying mindfulness-based interventions for treating addiction. Because very few studies have been conducted on the specific role of yoga in treating or preventing addiction, we propose a conceptual model to inform future studies on outcomes and possible mechanisms. Additional research is also needed to better understand what types of yoga and mindfulness-based interventions work best for what types of addiction, what types of patients, and under what conditions. Overall, current findings increasingly support yoga and mindfulness as promising complementary therapies for treating and preventing addictive behaviors.