Yoga to Prevent and Treat Cancer

Research on yoga proves it a viable adjunct for cancer prevention and therapy. But with so many forms of yoga available, sometimes it’s hard to know which type of class is useful for which issues.

The American Cancer Society (ACS) says yoga is a verified form of exercise for cancer prevention1. ACS recommends a minimum of either 1.25 hours of high intensity exercise or 2.5 hours of moderate intensity exercise per week to help prevent cancer. Yoga is included in their list of moderate intensity exercise, along with walking and canoeing to name a few. Most yoga classes in the West focus on the more exercise-oriented approach to the yoga poses, and these are likely the types of classes that would fulfill the ACS exercise requirements. That averages out to 2-3 yoga classes per week.

So why choose yoga over walking? This question is at the edge of the current body of research and becoming a hot topic. Harvard University recommends further research at the cellular level to support why yoga might be more helpful than other forms of exercise in preventing or even treating cancer2. Some researchers are considering the theory that fibrosis — lack of extensibility of the tissues — may in part be responsible for the spread of cancer cells. With its emphasis on range of motion and stretching, yoga maintains the integrity of healthy tissues throughout the body. In turn, yoga practitioners reap the positive effects of decreased inflammation and the maintenance of supple fascia. These positive effects could be useful in oncological prevention and treatment.

Beyond prevention, yoga has already been extensively studied for its improvements to well-being for patients undergoing traditional cancer treatment. Specifically, The British Journal of Sports Medicine reported in May 2017 that yoga minimizes fatigue both during and after traditional oncology treatments3. The report says that the yogic emphasis on relaxation is key to the reduction of fatigue. The types of yoga classes that focus on relaxation are called Restorative yoga. They are less frequently taught at yoga studios compared to more exercise-oriented yoga classes, and you may be hard pressed to find them at a gym at all, but luckily you can learn to do these poses at home. You only need to know a handful of Restorative postures, as each pose can be held for anywhere from 5 – 20 minutes. With a few blocks, a yoga strap, and some blankets or towels, you can easily do Restorative poses at home.

How does all of this translate to your yoga practice? Putting together what we know thus far, yoga classes that are more exercise based may be better to prevent cancer, but once chronic illness and the corresponding fatigue arise, it may be time to learn some Restorative yoga poses.

As a physical therapist, yoga therapist, and yoga teacher, I can help you devise a Restorative yoga home program to help you treat your individual health needs. Call Akasha to make an appointment, and I look forward to helping you rest, find relief from fatigue, and a path of maintaining and elevating your health and well-being.

Olivia Barry is a Physical Therapist at Akasha Center for Integrative Medicine. You can make an appointment with her by calling 310-451-8880 or emailing us at


1 activity-cancer-prevention.html

2 Connecting (T)issues: How Research in Fascia Biology Can Impact Integrative Oncology. Langevin HM1, Keely P2, Mao J3, Hodge LM4, Schleip R5, Deng G6, Hinz B7, Swartz MA8, de Valois BA9, Zick S10, Findley T11. Cancer Res. 2016 Nov 1;76(21):6159-6162. Epub 2016 Oct 11.

3 Exercise and other non-pharmaceutical interventions for cancer-related fatigue in patients during or after cancer treatment: a systematic review incorporating an indirect-comparisons meta-analysis.
Hilfiker R1, Meichtry A2, Eicher M3,4, Nilsson BL1, Knols RH5, Verra ML6, Taeymans J7,8. Br J Sports Med. 2017 May 13. pii: bjsports-2016-096422. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2016-096422. [Epub ahead of print].