Don’t underestimate the power of a yoga pose to have a profound, positive impact on a client’s life. Researchers from The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center recently presented scientific validation that mind-body interventions beneficially influence the health of cancer patients. The study, presented June 4 at the 42nd annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology by Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson, is one of the first to incorporate yoga as part of a treatment plan for cancer patients.

“Cancer and its treatments are associated with considerable distress, impaired quality of life and reduced physical function,” Cohen says. “This is particularly true for women with breast cancer who receive multi-modality treatment over an extended period of time. The main objective of this study was to examine the feasibility of integrating a daily yoga program into the treatment care plan for women with breast cancer undergoing radiation treatment, and determine if this is something the patients found useful and enjoyable, as well as assessing aspects of their quality of life.”

Sixty-one women with breast cancer undergoing radiation were randomized to participate in the yoga classes twice weekly at, or around, the time of their radiation appointments, or, as the control group, to be offered yoga post-treatment. The patients ranged from Stage 0 to Stage 3 disease; 48% had undergone breast-conserving surgery, and 75% had received chemotherapy prior to radiation treatment. The yoga program was designed specifically for the women in this group and emphasized breathing and relaxation. Researchers excluded positions that would be difficult, given the patients’ possible weakened range of motion.

After just one week of yoga and radiation, the women reported significantly increased physical function, as well as general health, compared to the control group. Study participants also reported marginally better social functioning, significantly lower levels of sleep-related daytime dysfunction, as well as marginally lower levels of fatigue overall. “It was gratifying to see that we could make a clinically significant difference in the quality of life of these women in such a brief program,” says Kavita Chandwani, MD, yoga instructor and co-investigator responsible for overseeing the trial. “Whether it’s yoga or some other type of mind-body program, we believe this study shows how beneficial it is to participate throughout treatment to help with quality of life-based issues.”