I’m excited about this news!
The latest medical findings from the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) are that practicing yoga improves sleep and overall quality of life in cancer survivors. It also improves fatigue. Both fatigue and poor sleep quality are widespread and troubling side effects for people going through cancer, and significantly affect quality of life.
The largest randomized controlled study ever to examine the value of yoga specifically designed for cancer survivors, overwhelmingly showed reductions in the need for sleep medication.
Participants decreased their use of sleep medication by 21%, compared with the control group, who increased the use of sleep medication by 5%.
“This is a readily applicable approach that improves quality of life and reduces medicine intake in cancer survivors…a real positive,” said George W. Sledge, Jr., MD, president-elect of ASCO.
The use of complementary medicine, including yoga, is common among cancer survivors, particularly women. Dr. Sledge pointed out that this study is “a creative application of scientific technique to complementary and alternative medicine approaches.”
“It emphasizes the increasing importance of ameliorating complications of therapy in long-term cancer survivors, as there are literally millions of patients to whom this might be applicable in the United States.”
This confirms my experience, studies and anecdotal research over the last 5 and a half years working with Quest for Life.
Karen Mustian, PhD, MPH, professor of radiation oncology and community and preventive medicine at the University of Rochester in New York, explained that the cancer survivors who participated in the study were enrolled into a specialized program known as YOCAS (Yoga for Cancer Survivors). The instructors were Yoga Alliance–certified, and received specific training for the YOCAS program.
The participants of the study were mainly female (93%), with an average age of 54 years, and 75% had a diagnosis of breast cancer. Patients were randomized to either usual follow-up care or usual care plus yoga. Both groups met the clinical cutoff criteria for impaired sleep quality, and baseline assessments for sleep and fatigue used standardized and traditional tools that are common in oncology.
At the start of the study, 84% of the yoga group and 83% of the control group had clinically impaired sleep quality. At the end of the 4-week study period, 31% of the yoga group had recovered and no longer had clinically impaired sleep quality, whereas only 16% of patients in the control group experienced recovery.
Patients in the yoga group experienced a greater reduction in fatigue than those the control group and a greater reduction in daytime sleepiness.
Those in the yoga group improved their quality of life, whereas those in the control group did not experience any improvement in quality of life.
One of the most important outcomes was that those in the yoga group reduced their use of sleep medication by 21%, compared with those in the control group, who increased their use by 5% during the study period.
“In conclusion, we can state that it is possible that (specialized) yoga and restorative yoga might be useful to cancer survivors in helping these side effects that impair quality of life,” said Dr. Mustian.
I read a lot of research in Cancer and exercise, the benefits of Yoga and meditation and I am glad that this report specifies that this was a very specific Yoga Program. I have found not all yoga is a fit, nor is all yoga appropriate for people with cancer. It is very specialized. It confirms my findings, experience and research from working with thousands of people with cancer and life threatening illnesses over the course of 5 years. And also validates my decision to teach a training program for yoga teachers to work with people with cancer.
I will be speaking about this at the Yoga Australia Conference in Melbourne in April and will write more on this later. If you have any questions or comments about this I’d love to hear from you.
Bernadette has worked with the Quest for Life Foundation since early 2006 and is the Senior Facilitator on our residential programs. Her work is treasured by our participants and our team. She has also been developing and refining a deep understanding of the use of appropriate yoga and meditation approaches for use in oncology and with serious illness.
Bernadette maintains close association with International Yoga Teachers Association and is a senior lecturer for their Teacher Training Course. She has designed and delivered yoga teacher training courses for other organisations. During 5 years in the UK she taught retreats, workshops and classes across the UK and in Europe and worked as a personal ‘lifestyle’ coach. Bernadette brings a gentle and loving nature with insight and compassion borne out of her experience. She can assist a deeper connection with the body as a means to rejuvenate the spirit.