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Iyengar Yoga Reduces Persistent Fatigue in Breast Cancer Survivors

Tim Boyer's picture
Iyengar Yoga

Up to 33% of breast cancer survivors are afflicted with symptoms of cancer-related persistent fatigue. Until recently, little has been discovered as a valid modality of treatment for reducing the fatigue and increasing the vigor among breast cancer survivors. Now, however, a recent study shows that Iyengar yoga has promise as a valid treatment that can reduce persistent fatigue.


Persistent fatigue is a crippling condition experienced by many breast cancer survivors that interferes with overall quality of life. While fatigue understandably increases significantly during breast cancer treatment, the majority of survivors eventually regain their former vigor after successful completion of treatment for their breast cancer. However, at least one-third of breast cancer survivors report feeling persistent fatigue that remains as long as 10 years post diagnosis—which indicates that this subset of breast cancer survivors is in need of targeted therapies to alleviate their fatigue.

For breast cancer patients, therapies such as exercise interventions and stress management have successfully addressed cancer-related fatigue during treatment for cancer. However, applying the same therapies to breast cancer patients experiencing fatigue following treatment does not always work as the constant fatigue causes the survivors to be unwilling and unable to participate in traditional exercise programs.

As an alternative to traditional exercise programs such as walking and bicycling, researchers have been looking at using some tailored forms of yoga as an intervention for patients with differing medical conditions. In one study involving patients with multiple sclerosis, a form of Iyengar yoga has demonstrated success in achieving positive results toward treating depression, pain, physical mobility…and fatigue.

Iyengar yoga is a traditional form of Hatha yoga that focuses on the therapeutic benefits of specific postures and breathing techniques to address specific medical conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, osteoarthritis, lower back pain and depressed mood. It is characterized by its use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets as aids in performing postures called “asanas.” The risk of yoga-related injuries is minimized via the prop aids, which makes this type of yoga accessible and relatively safe for patients with particular medical conditions that would otherwise limit their ability to exercise.

In a recent article published in the journal Cancer, researchers published their findings in a comparison study of 15 breast cancer survivor patients with persistent fatigue who received Iyengar yoga for 3 months to a control sample of 16 breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue that did received health education, but no yoga training. The purpose of the study was to evaluate whether Iyengar yoga could be used as a successful intervention toward treating fatigue experienced by breast cancer survivors.

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Measurements for fatigue were made at baseline, during treatment, and 3 months after yoga treatment was completed. Other factors measured included changes in vigor, mood, sleep, perceived stress and physical performance.

What the researchers found was that the persistent fatigue experienced by breast cancer survivors who performed yoga for three months declined significantly between the baseline to post-treatment periods, as well as during a 3-month follow-up relative to the control participants who received health counseling/education only. Furthermore, the yoga test group achieved significant increases in vigor relative to the control participants.

Both groups experienced positive changes in mood and perceived stress, with no significant changes in sleep or physical performance.

The conclusion of the researchers is that Iyengar yoga as a targeted intervention can lead to significant improvements in fatigue and vigor among breast cancer survivors with persistent fatigue symptoms. Furthermore, that the patients’ yoga experience was positive enough to motivate continued yoga exercise at their homes following the study period.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “Yoga for persistent fatigue in breast cancer survivors” Bower, J. E., Garet, D., Sternlieb, B., Ganz, P. A., Irwin, M. R., Olmstead, R. and Greendale, G.; Cancer, Jan. 2012; doi: 10.1002/cncr.26702