Breast cancer: regaining quality of life with yoga?

Many people report that yoga is good for them physically, psychologically and spiritually. The number of studies on yoga has increased markedly in recent years. There are already many studies of the impact of yoga on the patient’s condition, especially in breast cancer patients.

What is yoga?

Yoga is a practice that originated in India. It usually consists of physical exercises (stretching or asanas), breathing techniques and meditation or relaxation.
There are different types of yoga that you can do with very different intensities:

  • In the West, the most common form is hatha yoga. It combines specific physical postures and exercises to stretch and improve the body’s flexibility, breathing exercises, relaxation and meditation.
  • Iyengar yoga is based on hatha yoga, but when performing asanas, practitioners often use props such as bricks or straps.
  • Ashtanga (vinyasa) yoga focuses primarily on working postures and respiratory control. A variant of this is “power” yoga, where practitioners continuously dynamically adjust position, movement and breathing technique.
  • Bikram (“hot” yoga) is performed in high temperatures and high humidity.

How does yoga work? The physical exercises (asanas) involve standing, bending, stretching, twisting and balancing the body. This improved the body’s flexibility and strength. Breathing exercises and control are designed to help the practitioner focus and relax the mind. The goal of meditation is to calm the mind. Although there are different theories about it: The exact mechanism of action of yoga is unclear.

How to do yoga? You can do yoga in classes led by a yoga teacher. But you can also practice yoga on your own and be guided by apps, internet videos, DVDs or textbooks.

What effect does yoga have on breast cancer patients?

The evaluation of summary studies (systematic reviews) shows that yoga has at least as good an effect on the participants’ health as other training measures. And: Yoga is often better than doing nothing against the symptoms:

  • There is evidence to show that yoga has a positive impact on breast cancer patients’ quality of life and stress levels.
  • In case of severe fatigue (fatigue) yoga seems to be better than doing nothing in breast cancer patients. The same goes for insomnia.
  • Yoga also appears to help with anxiety and depression and to help increase mental well-being.
Experts see benefits

In its current guideline, the Gynecological Oncology Working Group (AGO) rates yoga as positive and states that patients can practice yoga to improve quality of life, stress, fatigue, sleep, anxiety and depression.

Important to know: It should be noted that the studies worked with different yoga programs, i.e. different techniques and durations. This makes it difficult to compare results. The quality of the studies evaluated so far also varies greatly, and the study results are of low to medium evidential value. This is primarily due to the risk of bias in the studies:

  • There are no dazzling possibilities in such studies as in a drug study: This means that patients are aware that they have done yoga and therefore expect an effect.
  • Researchers are assessing effects that patients have usually assessed themselves.

Can you hurt yourself with yoga?

According to evaluations of previous studies, yoga does not appear to pose any higher risk than other forms of sports training. If adverse effects were detected, they mainly concerned the musculoskeletal system. They occurred mostly when practitioners did handstand, shoulder stand and headstand, or when the yoga exercises were unattended. Most of those affected recovered completely.

Caution with bone metastases: Bone metastases often make the bones unstable. It makes patients more likely to have fractures, e.g. However, experts generally do not advise against sports activities in the case of bone metastases. However, affected women may need to avoid certain exercises.

  • If in doubt, seek the advice of your treating physician and your yoga teacher.


Physical activity is good for: It has been scientifically proven that physical activity can reduce anxiety, depressive symptoms and fatigue in breast cancer patients and improve patients’ quality of life and physical functions. Therefore, physical activity can be beneficial in the situation you describe.

Yoga is a useful way to: Yoga seems to have a positive effect on complaints from breast cancer patients. It is a relatively safe method that you can easily perform. For this reason, yoga is an option for physical exercise that you can try to improve your fatigue and quality of life.

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