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The Accessibility of Restorative Yoga For Cancer Patients And Survivors

Submitted by Tina Walter, C-IAYT, Certified Yoga Therapist

Strong evidence supports physical activity for cancer patients in treatment and survivorship. However, many patients face barriers to exercise such as fatigue, pain and other cancer-related adverse effects or post-surgical changes.

Restorative Yoga (RT), one of the many types of yoga, can be an ideal practice. RY is accessible for cancer patients and post-treatment survivors of any age, any level of yoga experience, and in all states of health, even those recovering from surgery. 

RY is a gentler style of yoga therapy, requiring minimal physical effort. Persons who practice RY use long-held, resting poses mostly on the floor or in a chair, with an emphasis on breathing and relaxation. It is commonly called “restorative” because of its ability to restore the body to its natural homeostasis by using props like bolsters, blocks and pillows to create supportive poses of ease and comfort that release chronic patterns of muscular tension.

RY poses can be customized and adapted to specific oncology patients. RY eliminates the need for patients to try and fit themselves into the shape and demands of an active yoga pose, including those persons with surgical complications or complex physical limitations. For patients who are sedentary, RY can be an excellent stepping stone to more robust future exercise programs.

RY provides multiple physical and psychological benefits.  Physical benefits include increased muscular strength, flexibility, energy, and decreased pain.  Psychological benefits including stress reduction and an improved sense of well-being are some of the reported outcomes from practicing RY.

From a physiological standpoint, the primary goal of RY is to bring about a relaxation or parasympathetic nervous system response. This is done by holding the supported pose for 5 to up to 10 minutes while focusing on breathing.  RY is often considered more meditation than movement. With routine practice, RY is capable of altering these neural pathways to promote a heightened sense of inner peace.

Research supports the use of RY for cancer patients who are experiencing fear and uncertainty around their health condition, pain, and physical limitations.  In a study of women with ovarian or breast cancer, significant improvements after RY were seen for fatigue, depression and negative affect; further, the women with breast cancer reported improved health-related quality of life (1).

In a 2018 Review in the Current Oncology Reports, based on a total of 24 phase II and one phase III clinical trials, low-intensity forms of yoga, specifically gentle hatha and restorative, are feasible, safe, and effective for treating sleep disruption, cancer-related fatigue, cognitive impairment, psychosocial distress, and musculoskeletal symptoms in cancer patients receiving chemotherapy and radiation, and cancer survivors (2).

These and other studies support RY and other types of yoga as a therapeutic option to help improve physical and psychosocial symptoms in cancer patients and survivors. UC’s Integrative Health Department contracts yoga therapists who are experienced in working with cancer survivors, who, together with the Oncology team, can create safe, evidence-based practices. 

For additional information or to register for classes, please call the Center for Integrative Health and Wellness at 513-475-9567 or visit

1. Danhauer, S.C., Tooze J.A., Farmer D.F., Campbell C.R., McQuellon R.P., Barrett R., Miller B.E. (2008) Restorative Yoga For Women With Ovarian Or Breast Cancer: Findings From a Pilot Study. J Soc Integr Oncol, Spring 2008;6(2):47-58.

2. Lin, P., Peppone, L.J., Janelsins M.C., Mohile, S.G., Kamen, C.S., Kleckner, I.R., Fung C., Asare, M., Cole C.L., Culakova E., Mustian K.M. (2018). Yoga for the Management of Cancer Treatment-Related Toxicities. Current Oncology Report, Feb. 1;20(1):5. doi: 10.1007/s11912-018-0657-2

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