Breast cancer and its treatment may cause symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, decreased range of motion, and weakness. Exercise and other integrative therapies, including yoga, can ease these symptoms, help patients feel better during treatment, and can be scaled to fit each patient’s unique needs and abilities.
“Yoga has many physical and emotional benefits for all cancer patients,” says Ann Marie Turo, OTR/L, yoga instructor in Dana-Farber’s Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, where she teaches chair yoga, Hatha yoga, Pilates, yogalates (yoga and Pilates fusion), and foot fitness classes. For breast cancer patients, who might experience lymphedema following surgery or radiation, Turo says yoga can help restore range of motion in the arms and improve strength and mobility. Yoga can also reduce stress and anxiety, which in turn can lower heart rate and blood pressure.
“Research has increasingly shown that breast cancer patients who practice yoga experience many benefits, including increased energy, diminished anxiety, and better overall quality of life,” says Jennifer Ligibel, MD, a breast oncologist in Dana-Farber’s Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers and director of the Zakim Center. “The mission of the Zakim Center is to provide patients access to integrative therapies with proven benefits, such as yoga, to help support healing during and after cancer treatment.
Specific benefits of regular yoga practice include increased body awareness; improved cardiovascular, respiratory, and bone health; better blood flow; and enhanced mood, sleep, and concentration, which are often compromised during treatment.
“Yoga is a feel good exercise,” adds Turo. “And it’s a tool you can use anywhere – in bed, sitting on a chair, or on a mat.”
Turo recommends easing into a yoga routine, and some of her favorite poses can be done in a chair or at a desk. View the infographic below for a step-by-step guide to stretches that will help increase range of motion and body awareness following breast cancer treatment.
Check the Zakim Center’s program calendar to learn more about Turo’s classes and other group programming at Dana-Farber.