Cancer-Modified Yoga: Resources for Yoga Teachers

Cancer-Modified Yoga: Resources for Yoga Teachers

“I am so lucky to have so many wonderful yoga teachers, each of them has a unique personality and teaching style, but they all bring something special to our classes.”

— Judy, age 63, two-time breast cancer survivor

Yoga for People Affected by Cancer

We at the Integrative Cancer Review are dedicated to promoting safe, effective and accessible complementary and integrative therapies for cancer care, and yoga plays a key role in those therapies. Recent research validates the role of yoga in cancer treatment and after care. Researchers are reporting findings that are—perhaps–beyond what even many in the yoga community expected as to the many ways that yoga supports health and well-being in people affected by cancer.

In order to support yoga teachers and yoga therapists in providing high quality classes and care in the cancer community, this website will provide a variety of resources, articles, trainings, interviews and other relevant information. Please feel to email us at if you have ideas, comments, feedback or questions.

Teaching Yoga in the Cancer Community

Many of us who are yoga teachers, yoga therapists and complementary healing practitioners have come to these modalities to find healing in our own lives. Many yoga warriors who have helped to bring yoga for people affected by cancer to the forefront have experienced a cancer diagnosis first hand.

However, whether we have had cancer or not, we have all faced challenges that have brought us to our knees and tested our inner fortitude. These experiences help us to empathize with others who are experiencing life challenges, even when those challenges are not exactly the same. Virtually all of us who teach or share yoga have personally experienced, in some way, the healing that yoga can offer.

Whether we use yoga, Reiki, meditation or other modalities, most likely these modalities helped us to navigate problems, illnesses, our shadow side, our fears and our insecurities, and have helped us to build strength and balance into our own lives. Those who have found wholeness through complementary or holistic therapies like yoga often want to share its gifts and support our students’ well-being.

As we share our knowledge, we walk with our students and clients, side by side, as we learn as much from them as they from us. Father Gregory Boyle, the author of Tattoos on the Heart and founder of Home Boy Industries, a rehabilitative program for gang members, says “mutuality is the goal of all of life–you can’t tell who the service provider is and who the recipient is.” That is true for yoga teachers, yoga therapists and complementary healers. As we teach, we seek to reduce or eliminate any perceived or communicated differences, yet stay strongly grounded in our own sense of self and our connection to the practices that we are sharing.

Getting to Know Our Yoga Students in the Cancer Community

As we teach in the cancer community, we encounter all types of people, situations and challenges. Typically, the students we teach or clients we work with in the cancer community are incredibly diverse. Cancer has no limits with gender, age, race or ethnicity. Our students or clients may be pre-treatment, in-treatment, out of treatment or going back and forth in between. They may be fit and athletic or extremely medically complicated. Or both. They might be caregivers, friends or family members of people diagnosed with cancer. They might be bereaved, healing from the loss of a loved one.

Yoga is new to many of the students who practice during or after cancer treatment, as well as for the loved ones of these students. For many, our classes or therapeutic sessions can be their first introduction into holistic modalities. Our job as yoga teachers and therapists is to introduce our students to the best set of tools we have in order to meet their needs and to help support their healing, physically, emotionally or otherwise. We can help to empower the students by sharing the extraordinary tools of yoga and meditation and by making the teachings safe, effective and accessible. We also empower our students by respecting their boundaries and our own, and by supporting their freedom to turn down anything that we offer.

Teaching yoga for people affected by cancer can be challenging but greatly rewarding: challenging because of the diversity of the students and their needs, rewarding because of the great courage and openness that the students bring, their responses to the practices and the community created by these classes. It’s inspiring to see the development of both students and teachers as they evolve through the practice of yoga, cultivating compassion, confidence and self-awareness.

Teaching Ahimsa

A primary teaching principle in yoga is ahimsa, or non-harming, and this is especially important when teaching in the cancer community. We can help students to become more self-aware and to consciously focus on practicing ahimsa in thought, word and action, particularly toward themselves and in their yoga practice. The precautions and modifications students will need can be related to the cancer itself or a side effect of the treatment of cancer, as well as other conditions they may also have. Some people with cancer are medically complex, with many other conditions in addition to cancer.

Every teacher and every yoga class setting and time of day will attract a different group of students, so each teacher needs to be aware of their own class mix and plan accordingly. Some commonalities in Western society (and elsewhere) generally include a need to slow down, to increase awareness, to balance the mind/body complex, to reduce stress and stress hormones, to let go of the attachment to thoughts and emotions, and to increase mobility. All of these same issues may exist in students dealing with a cancer diagnosis, but the need to address these issues, and others, may be even more pronounced. Addressing needs such as these creates a focus for our teachings, which helps our students, whether they are cancer survivors or caregivers, in treatment, or post-treatment. As yoga teachers, we have many opportunities to provide support to people on the cancer journey, and it is a gift to be able to serve in this way.

Additional articles, resources and interviews on yoga practices for the cancer community will continue to be posted in the future.

Please feel to contact us if you have ideas, comments, feedback or questions, or visit us and comment on Facebook.

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