Yoga has been around for centuries and we know it’s useful for people who experience anxiety and depression, but we’re also learning more about its positive effects after a diagnosis of breast cancer.
We know that getting started can be the hardest part, so this International Yoga Day we’ve put together some simple instructions for starting yoga after breast cancer:
- Five yoga poses you can try at home
- Tips for finding a yoga studio
- Things to remember before you start
What are the benefits of yoga for people with breast cancer?
Yoga may help you to:
- improve your emotional wellbeing
- reduce cancer-related fatigue
- reduce pain
- take time for yourself
- lower stress and anxiety
New research published this month suggests that there are real benefits to regularly practising yoga after a breast cancer diagnosis, particularly for emotional wellbeing, cancer-related fatigue and pain.
Being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment can cause anxiety and, for some people, depression. It’s really important to look after your emotional wellbeing and yoga is a great way to take some time to relax and focus on yourself. The breathing techniques practised during yoga can slow down mental chatter and give your mind some rest, which can make a big difference to your overall stress levels.
Is it safe to practise yoga after breast cancer?
Some people think that they can’t do yoga after breast cancer surgery, or worry they aren’t the right body type, age or fitness level. But anyone can start practising and enjoying the benefits of yoga.
If you have cancer-related fatigue, anxiety or depression, you may not feel able to attend a yoga class or you may find it too tiring to complete a full class. You can try these simple poses at home to gently build your strength and stamina.
1. Breathing exercise – three-part breath
Benefits: Encourages full and complete breathing and helps release muscle tension and increase oxygen supply to the blood.
How to practise the pose: The 'three parts' refer to the diaphragm, the chest, and the abdomen. First breathe in a large breath as though you're filling your lungs, stomach and whole chest with air. Then exhale completely.
Top tip: Practise three-part breath before other poses to bring your focus to your body. You can also do this at any time of the day if you're feeling stressed or distracted.
2. Child’s pose
Benefits: Helps stretch the hips, thighs and back muscles while relaxing the chest muscles.
How to practise the pose: Starting on your hands and knees, exhale and lower the hips towards your heels, reaching your arms out in front of you. Breathe slowly and continue to reach through your arms and shoulders as you bring your head to the floor. Breathe and hold for 4–12 breaths.
Top tip: Use rolled-up blankets or towels to rest your head on if bringing your head to the floor is uncomfortable.
3. Standing forward bend
Benefits: Stretches the hips, hamstrings and calves, relieving tension in the spine, neck and back.
How to practise the pose: From standing, exhale and hinge forward at the hips. Reach your hands down so your palms are flat on the floor and press your head against your knees. Breathe and hold for 4–8 breaths. Release by bending the knees, keeping the back straight, and inhale as you come back up to standing.
Top tip: Bend your knees while you fold forward. Try to gently straighten the legs to increase the stretch on the back of the legs.
4. Legs up the wall
Benefits: Takes pressure off the spine and neck, aids circulation and relaxation.
How to practise the pose: Position yourself next to a wall, with your knees close to your chest while lying on your side. Exhale and roll on to your back as you push your legs up the wall. Keep your legs straight and firm as you sink your shoulders and back into the floor. Draw your head and neck away from your shoulders, extending your arms out to the side with your palms facing up. Remain in the pose for 5–10 minutes and relax into the pose as you breathe. To release the pose, bend your knees and roll onto your right side.
Top tip: It might feel awkward getting into the pose at first. Don't worry about that, and just take your time getting into a comfortable position.
Benefits: Helps calm the mind and relieve feelings of stress.
How to practise the pose: For this final pose, lie with your back flat on the floor and your legs out straight. If this is uncomfortable you can bend your legs, placing your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to the side and make any adjustments you need to make with your body to feel comfortable. Placing a rolled-up blanket or towel under your knees can help to release your lower back.
Top tip: Close your eyes and breathe naturally. Relax your face and jaw and let go of any tension in your back or neck. Stay in this relaxed pose for 5–15 minutes.
Look for one-to-one support
If you’re feeling up to it, you may prefer to find a class where you can have one-to-one support and ask questions.
Speak to different studios or teachers before choosing a yoga class. Some may have experience of teaching people who’ve had breast cancer treatment.
Let your teacher know
Tell your teacher about your breast cancer treatment before you begin.
New to yoga?
If you’re new to yoga, choose a hatha or Iyengar class, or one specifically aimed at beginners.
Check with your GP
Always check with your GP (local doctor) or hospital team before starting any new activity.
Listen to your body
Stop doing any pose if it’s uncomfortable. Some stretching and pulling is normal if you’ve had surgery, but it should never be painful.
The beauty of yoga is that you can practise it anywhere with very little equipment or space. However, it’s important to get a good-quality yoga mat, especially when you’re starting out, as it helps cushion your joints, give you stability and prevent you from slipping.
Find out more about complementary therapies and breast cancer.
For more information, support and inspiration to help you move beyond breast cancer, try our BECCA app.