How yoga helps beat cancer

21 June 2016 | Nikola Ellis

women doing yoga

Every week, I receive emails and phone calls from women who have recently been diagnosed with cancer. With one in eight Australian women being diagnosed with breast cancer and one in three women being diagnosed with cancer at some point in their life, it’s a disease that touches many of us. But instead of being discouraged by the numbers, I am inspired by the spirit of the cancer patients I meet and amazed at the medical advances that allow so many people survive and thrive after diagnosis and treatment.

I’m also encouraged by the increasing number of people who turn to yoga when they receive their diagnosis. There’s a lot of evidence to show the benefits of yoga and meditation for people with cancer and it’s wonderful to see more oncologists and support groups recommending yoga for cancer patients.

At my practice Adore Yoga, we tailor our approach to help students during three distinct phases of their cancer journey.


Many women contact our Pink Yoga program soon after diagnosis. This is often a time of shock, fear and incredulity. Why me? Will I survive? What about my children? Yoga has two main benefits at this stage. Firstly, it helps students to manage anxiety and keep a clear head at a time of great worry and confusion. Secondly, it provides practical ways to take charge on their health. I often give students a simple practice that they can do as soon as they come out of surgery, providing a sense of control over their own health at a time when many feel helpless and vulnerable.


Cancer patients often move from surgery to chemotherapy. Students are usually happy to know their bodies are free from the cells that were making them sick and go into chemo feeling well and optimistic. But few complete their chemo without a few ‘down days’. This is when yoga comes into it’s own. Whether it’s the physical side effects of the treatment or the mental effort of getting through a difficult time in their lives, students find the calm, balance and acceptance that yoga brings is invaluable.

Post Treatment

In Australia, we are fortunate to have an excellent medical system that looks after cancer patients extremely well. However, when treatment has finished, patients are sent back to their everyday lives with the expectation that they will just ‘carry on’. For many people, the way they see the world is profoundly changed by their experience of cancer.  They are in the process of renegotiating their relationships, the way they feel about their work, their aspirations and priorities. Yoga is especially helpful at this time, giving students an anchor at a time when everything around them is changing. The stillness and focus of their practice helps them to build a clear perspective and new directions.

While many cancer survivors thrive after treatment, some need to undergo further treatment and may never be free from cancer. Many palliative care facilities now offer yoga and meditation, based on evidence that these practices can help patients manage pain and improve their quality of life.


Cancer Council NSW’s survivorship programs support cancer survivors in this post treatment phase –

The ENRICH program offers an opportunity for cancer survivors to take charge over their health through a practical healthy lifestyle program. The ENRICH program educates cancer survivors on nutrition and exercise and how to incorporate these into their daily life.

The Living Well After Cancer program for cancer survivors explores life after cancer treatment and offers an opportunity for survivors to come together to discuss the challenges and impacts of cancer survivorship, to acknowledge common emotions and learning and accepting that there is a ‘new normal’ after treatment.

The Survivorship Webinar program provides live and recorded webinars to support all people who have been affected by cancer. These resources are available 24/7 on any mobile device.