Yoga During Radiation Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Featured Publication

If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and will be undergoing radiation therapy, regular yoga during radiation treatment may be beneficial for you!

Today I’m discussing the results of a randomized trial done at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston (1).

163 women with stage 0-III breast cancer participated and were put into one of three treatment groups: yoga, stretching or “waitlist” (no yoga or stretching.)

The yoga program required 3 60-minute classes per week during their 6 weeks of radiation therapy that included:

(1) preparatory warm-up synchronized with breathing;

(2) selected postures, or asana (forward-, backward-, and side-bending asanas in sitting and standing position, cobra posture, crocodile, and half-shoulder-stand with support); 

(3) deep relaxation (supine posture); 

(4) alternate-nostril breathing, or pranayama; and

(5) meditation.

The stretching program included standing, lying down, and sitting positions that were similar to the physical movements in the yoga exercises (eg, horizontal arm stretch, breast stroke, neck stretch, quarterback throwing a football), but without the mindfulness and directed breathing components.

The waitlist group was observed without any exercise or mindfulness intervention. 

The study assessed differences between the 3 groups at the end of radiation treatment and 1, 3 and 6 months after treatment.

They evaluated general quality of life, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cortisol levels (a stress hormone).

They found that quality of life was improved for the patients who practiced yoga/meditation compared to the waitlist group at 1 and 3 months post treatment. 

Patients who did yoga or stretching also had less radiation induced fatigue by the end of treatment.

They also measured cortisol levels in the patients at various time points throughout the day. (Cortisol is a hormone that is involved in the stress response.) The “steeper” the downward decline in cortisol levels from morning to evening, the better the body is regulating the stress response.

The study showed that the yoga participants had steeper cortisol curves at the end of RT and one month later compared to the waitlist group.

In other words, the yoga participant’s bodies had better stress regulation.

This may even have implications for survival. Several other studies have shown that a blunted (flatter, less steep) cortisol response is associated with tumor progression and decreased survival.

In sum…

Doing yoga/meditation during radiation therapy improves… 

quality of life


and the stress response.

It is generally believed that daily practice is best, but this study shows that at least 3 times per week for 60 minutes is beneficial too.

If you are going through radiation for breast cancer, you may also find this meditation I lead this morning entitled “Meditation for Fatigue” to be helpful.

Loving Your Body After Breast Cancer

“I look ugly.”

“The scars are so obvious.”

“This is not me.”

“I’m afraid of what my husband will think.”

“I’m not entering any bikini contests.”

These are actual responses from patients about how they feel about their breasts post-treatment for breast cancer.

As a radiation oncologist, one of the things I see my patients struggle with time and time again are the physical changes the body goes through during treatment and resultant effects on body image.

Most women associate some portion of their concept of self with the physical body. For instance, you may identify as female and along with that, associate breasts with the female form. Your concept of beauty may partly be tied to the breasts. 

“I’m big-chested” or, “I’m petite with small breasts” may be subconsciously a part of who you think you are. Afterall, this has been your body for your whole life and your body shape since puberty, right?!

When the breast is changed by treatment—scars created, size and shape changed, the breast is removed—this can shake your sense of self and body image to the core.

How can you use mindfulness to help you process these negative feelings about your body?

Here are 4 suggestions:

  1. Spend some time contemplating who you are.

You are not your physical body. You are the conscious observer of your thoughts and feelings, whom some might call the soul or the true self. You are pure consciousness. Your true self is resilient and cannot be injured. Being completely at peace with the body you have now and the circumstances of the here and now starts with your connection with your true self. You can strengthen and deepen this connection through meditation. Give yourself permission to come home within yourself to the level where the true you resides. Your true self has remained untouched by cancer.

2. Sometimes just being aware that what you are experiencing is a normal and common reaction can be helpful. 

In fact, it’s so frequent that I’ve posted a meditation on my website which walks you through a mindfulness exercise to help you to love your body. It is day 9 of the free 10-day series:

3. Try a thought download and thought model.

A very helpful tool called a thought download (stream of consciousness writing on the subject of your body right now) and thought model (a method for tweaking your thoughts and feelings about your body) can be a great way to sort through your current feelings and then generate the ones you want.

You create your reality through the thoughts you are thinking.

I wrote about this method in detail in this blog post:

4. Use the law of attraction. 

The law of attraction states that the thoughts you are thinking now will bring about your future reality. So practice thinking positive thoughts about your new body. Ask to love your body, believe in your heart that this already exists for you, and it will become your reality. Ask. Believe. Receive.

Learning to love your body post treatment can be difficult for some, but I want you to know that you have the power to create any feeling you desire about your body. Everything you desire is within you.