Yoga For Cancer?

The Benefits of Yoga for Cancer Patients and Survivors

Heather leading a yoga class for cancer patients

Through the ancient practice of yoga and meditation, cancer patients and survivors learn how to manage stress, enhance immune function and feel better overall. Restoring energy, improving joint movement, alleviating joint pain while instilling a sense of calm and connection…these are all possible through yoga.Therapeutic yoga poses can help establish a true sense of wellbeing and vitality in a balanced manner. According to The Therapeutic Yoga Kit by Cheri clampett and Biff Mithoefer, Our neurological relaxation response is activated during a relaxing yoga or meditation session. This leads to a host of documented benefits including the reduction of our stress hormone production, a decrease in blood pressure and muscle tension, and an increase in immune function and activity.

For one cancer survivor, these benefits are amongst a long list of many reasons why she keeps coming back to yoga.

“It (Yoga) makes ME feel like I’m doing something good for myself and that makes me feel more positive in all aspects of my life. I feel ‘up’ and ready to face the day. Yoga reinforces my appreciation of the beauty of life.”

How Yoga Helps Cancer patients and Cancer Survivors explains that living with cancer can be overwhelming, both mentally and physically. Through gentle yoga poses and breathing exercises, toxins accrued during treatment can be cleared out more effectively, blood circulates better, and the lymphatic system is enhanced thus leading to the increase in immune function.  The article Yoga for Cancer in Practice in Yoga Therapy Today, 2009 agrees that through yoga, cancer patients and survivors restore strength, flexibility and increase their anti-cancer immune cells.

For many individuals living with cancer, a sense of wellbeing is attainable. By incorporating a regular, gentle yoga practice into a weekly routine, cancer patients and survivors learn that they can feel good once again, both mentally and physically. Another current yoga student and cancer survivor describes her experience with yoga:

“In the midst of chemo treatment for breast cancer, I did my best to go to yoga class every Friday. It was tough getting there, but once I was in class with friends who were in the same situation as me, I relaxed and just lived in each moment. As the teacher talked us step by step through each breath and pose, I was amazed at what I was doing. At home, I would have been sitting on the sofa- in class I was moving, stretching, feeling good. I was getting out, laughing, making new friends, being a survivor, having a positive attitude.
It felt good to be with positive people, and think good thoughts. Yoga taught me to breathe through some hard times. And get up and move to feel better. When I missed a class, about halfway through the next week I just felt like something wasn’t right- then I remembered what I was missing. Being on the mat, centering during class, meditating, moving, and relaxing, lasted throughout the week. And…… My doc took me off blood pressure meds……I really think that yoga was a part of that!”

The Yoga For Tranquility classes taught through Healing Point Acupuncture & Healing Arts in partnership with the Claudia Mayer Cancer Resource Center are therapeutic and restorative in nature. Whether battling cancer or having recovered from the experience, feelings of exhaustion and stress can be overwhelming. Gentle yoga stretches and poses are explored in this class, with great emphasis on doing what is possible for the individual student. Yoga teaches us that we have to honor the messages of the body, so we will be approaching yoga poses with this always in mind. By practicing yoga in a gentle way and resting when necessary, you will be in full control of your yoga experience.

Using simple breathing techniques, guided meditation, restorative poses and stretches with gentle movement, yoga can be extremely helpful in managing the stress and the side effects of cancer. If you are currently going through treatment or recovering, this yoga class will offer variations of poses and movement to adapt to what you need. Overall, you may feel calmer and yet have more energy than before. Most importantly, you will have given yourself the opportunity to nourish your mind, body and spirit in that class hour.

 Yoga for Tranquility is offered Tuesdays 10 a.m.-11 a.m. Howard County General Hospital: Johns Hopkins Medicine Wellness Center Suite 100, 10710 Charter Drive, Columbia, MD 21044. To Register for this class, call (410) 964-9100 x3. Taught by certified Yoga teacher, Heather Thamer, M.Ed, 500RYT.


Heather Thamer is a certified yoga teacher who teaches ongoing classes throughout Howard County. Thamer teaches a variety of classes including Hatha, Gentle, Advanced, restorative and therapeutic, and has been teaching yoga to special populations since 2007. In addition to a 500 level yoga certification, Heather holds a B.A. in Psychology and a graduate degree in Education, is an active volunteer, has two busy children and understands the importance of creating balance for oneself. “Helping others to experience and appreciate the benefits of yoga, regardless of illness, condition, or disability is a goal that inspires me daily”.


  1. Alicia Mandato

    Heather what a beautiful article by a beautiful Yogini. Very proud of you.
    Love to see you soon.

  2. Kate Veness-Meehan

    As a retired physician who has practiced yoga for over 10 years I can affirm what Heather says about the benefits of yoga for stress management and relaxation. At our hospital in North Carolina we even offered classes to parents of premature infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I have taken classes from Heather and appreciate her gentle and holistic approach to the practice.

  3. I’ve watched my mother fight ovarian cancer, then melanoma of the eye, then breast cancer over the last 35 years. I know that the fear and stress of wondering if the cancer would recur was always just below the surface and in her mind. She is 90 now, wish she would have known about Yoga helping her. She is too old to do this now.

    • Your mom sounds like a fighter! I would encourage you to come in and check out the yoga program. There are students of all ages- and no such thing as “too old”. The class is also for family members and caretakers. Maybe you can try it out and see what you think! Best wishes and thank you for your comments.

  4. There are some complementary therapies that may help you through your treatments for your disease and your life after. Try getting a massage, using aromatherapy, getting an acupuncture treatment or even a yoga class. These are all ways to help you relax during one of the most stressful times in your life.