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How Yoga Helps Rehabilitate Breast Cancer Survivors – Study

Stress, Yoga

How Yoga Helps Rehabilitate Breast Cancer Survivors – Study

Breast Cancer Yoga

Breast Cancer & Yoga

One may survive cancer, but the demons of fatigue and inflammation haunt for the rest of the patient’s life. The less you do physically, the less you are able to do. Its like a downward spiral. Having witnessed my aunt fight with breast cancer for seven years, and then, lose in the end, had turned me all the more determined towards this deadly disease.

I now, take better care of myself and my family, and always keep an open ear for any related news, and on-going researches.

One such study I came across today, is in my field of interest – Yoga. I have always believed yoga can be a cure to almost any kind of problem. Even if it can not heal you physically sometimes, it’ll give you mental strength and courage to put up a tough fight. It seems now, health professionals and researchers are finally acknowledging this fact too.

The study suggests out of all components of yoga that include stretching, strengthening, meditation and breath work, the last two are of highest importance and possess a great ability to deliver monumental results in very less time. 

Read true account of a woman who battled with breast cancer wearing her Yoga armour and came out victorious: Beat Breast Cancer with Yoga – Interview with Kathryn Livingston

Biggest randomized trial on breast cancer survivors

A study in oncology led by Janice Kiecolt-Glaser, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at The Ohio State University in Columbus, has shown substantial decrease in fatigue and inflammation through modest practice of Hatha Yoga in breast cancer survivors.[1]

It is by far the biggest randomized controlled trial done with all biological measures, which brought together 200 women aged 27 to 76. These women had undergone chemo- and radiation therapy between 2 months and 3 years before the trial, and were randomly assigned to either intervention or control group.

As a precautionary measure, it was ensured none of these women had done yoga previously.

The trial went for 3 months, where the intervention group participated in 90-minute of yoga twice every week. The control group during this time were asked not to do it and, both were monitored closely for signs of progress.

Inflammation and fatigue were gauged medically

Inflammation levels were gauged by measuring presence and levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines or protein markers of inflammation in blood. The levels of fatigue and depression were assessed by a series of questionnaires and talk sessions.

Primary results suggest significant increase in vitality

The yoga group did not show any reduction in weight, but gave drastic results in terms of symptoms of fatigue and inflammation.

  • At the end of 12 weeks of yoga classes, the intervention group showed an average reduction in fatigue of 57%, and approx. 20% reduction in inflammation, in comparison to the control group.
  • The benefits of yoga continued to show in form of 41% reduction in symptoms of stress and fatigue, even after the yoga classes were discontinued.
  • The intervention group scored 12% higher vitality scale, compared with the non-yoga group.

Findings of secondary analysis suggest more yoga is always better

  • Frequent practice of yoga produced larger changes in fatigue and depression, as well as a marked 6% decrease in levels of cytokines (inflammation).
  • In concordance with a previous study, on role of yoga in improving pattern of sleep, this study too reported significant improvement in sleep pattern of the yoga group.
  • “Yoga has many parts to it – meditation, breathing, stretching and strengthening. We think the breathing and meditation components were really important in terms of some of the changes we were seeing,” Kiecolt-Glaser said. And that’s because, one of the problems cancer survivors face is a real reduction in cardio-respiratory fitness.
  • According to the researchers, it is a cycle of sleep, depression and inflammation. “When women were sleeping better, inflammation could have been lowered by that,” Kiecolt-Glaser said.
  • Scientists also feel these results can be applied to other people as well. (Read: Why Organizations Should Invest In Yoga For Employees [Infographic])

Key Yoga takeaways for us

  1. Yoga reduces fatigue and inflammation, and increases vitality in a person.
  2. The more yoga you do, the better you feel.
  3. The part of yoga class one should never miss is meditation or Savasana and Pranayama. (Read how: Pranayama enhances longevity)
  4. The better you feel, the more you engage in other activities and lesser the depression.
  5. Just 90 minute sessions, twice a week are enough to turn-around your stressful life.

Suggested Readings

1. Beat Breast Cancer with Yoga – Interview with Kathryn Livingston

2. Miracle Drink that Kills Cancer Cells

3. How Folic Acid promotes Breast Cancer


[1] Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Yoga's Impact on Inflammation, Mood, and Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Clin Oncol. 2014 Jan 27. PMID: 24470004. ^Back to Top^

Last Updated: May 26, 2014

Next Scheduled Update: Jul 26, 2014

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