Yoga is a complementary mind–body therapy that may help people manage cancer symptoms or adverse effects of treatments and improve their quality of life. The summary of research from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health on mind–body interventions suggests that yoga may help with anxiety, depression, distress, and stress in people with cancer. Results of studies of patients with early-stage breast cancer and survivors suggest that yoga may help to reduce fatigue. Meditation, one of the tools of yoga, has similarly been shown to address anxiety, stress, fatigue, and general mood and sleep disturbances.
Yoga is a synergistic system of knowledge and practices grounded in ancient Indian philosophy, with a goal of stilling the fluctuations of the mind and developing physical, mental, and emotional equanimity. It is widely popular in the United States: As of 2012, 9.5% of US adults had reported using yoga, with 8% using meditation.
Physically challenging styles of yoga are less appropriate for patients with cancer coping with health challenges than are hatha, yin, therapeutic, and Viniyoga. Viniyoga adapts the tools of yoga (breath, movement, meditation) to the needs, goals, and abilities of the individual. There is a continuum, ranging from group classes to individual yoga therapy, in which the therapist customizes and supports a program for the client.
CLINICAL ONCOLOGY GUIDELINES
Clinical oncology practice guidelines based on a systematic literature review from 1990 through 2015 detail a growing body of evidence for recommending mind–body therapies as supportive breast cancer care during and after treatment. Specifically, yoga and meditation appear to be highly or moderately helpful for reducing anxiety and stress, improving depression and mood disorders, and enhancing quality of life.
A review of 11 randomized clinical trials (RCTs) and 6 non- RCTs found consistent support from the efficacy of yoga to improve mental health outcomes (such as distress, mood and anxiety) during cancer treatment. Some research found improvements in sleep, fatigue, and quality of life during treatment. A review of 9 RCTs and 6 nonrandomized studies of yoga use by cancer survivors suggests physical and psychosocial benefits. Preliminary findings show potential relief from fatigue, dyspnea, gastrointestinal issues, menopausal symptoms, pain severity, and improvements in respiratory function, heart rate, and HRV, as well as sleep-related benefits, emotional well-being, vigor, stress, and cognitive functioning.
YOGA CHANGES HOW THE MIND FUNCTIONS
Neuroscience and psychology show that the default state of the human brain is mind wandering—ruminating about the past or thinking about the future. Yoga and meditation shift attention to the interoceptive neural network by directing attention to present-moment interoceptive bodily sensations such as breath. Genetics and life experiences contribute to individual capacity for interoceptive awareness. That capacity can improve with training. Regular practice develops an attentional habit and capacity to direct attention to interoceptive sensations. An increased capacity and propensity to direct attention to bodily sensations (interoceptive awareness) promotes emotional and bodily awareness. In other words, we notice how we are feeling when we get triggered, making it more likely we will make different choices, such as stop and take a deep breath, think and then respond, rather than just react.
SELF-REGULATION HELPS MAINTAIN PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL BALANCE
Self-regulation is “our ability to control how we feel and act. What self-regulation of bodily tries to do is to maintain homeostasis; and self-regulation of emotional states helps us maintain equilibrium, or balance. Interoception and bodily states are inseparable; interoception and emotional states are inseparable. The autonomic nervous system continuously makes metabolic and vascular adjustments to try to maintain homeostasis (and keep us alive). Conscious awareness of bodily states (through interoception) alerts our mind to make changes in the body or our environment to maintain homeostasis. Good emotional awareness means that someone detects bodily signals and can clearly differentiate how each emotion feels. That awareness enables that person to take steps to alter emotions or situations to maintain, increase, or decrease an emotion.
EFFECTS OF YOGA
Practicing yoga regularly can potentially support change in the way the mind and body function:
ADVICE FOR PATIENTS WITH CANCER
Yoga interventions are noninvasive, low cost, and can be adapted for people who have functional or other impairments. Selecting an appropriate style of yoga and an experienced, certified instructor will minimize potential risks of harm for people undergoing cancer treatment, including elderly patients and those with limited mobility. Knowledgeable, experienced yoga teachers often offer private sessions adapted for the individual that can be practiced at home. Certified yoga therapists are trained to deliver individualized therapeutic yoga