Five poses to get you started with yoga after breast cancer

Yoga has been around for centuries and we know it’s useful for people who experience anxiety and depression, but we’re also learning more about its positive effects after a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Yoga for breast cancer patients

We know that getting started can be the hardest part, so this International Yoga Day we’ve put together some simple instructions for starting yoga after breast cancer:

  • Five yoga poses you can try at home
  • Tips for finding a yoga studio
  • Things to remember before you start

What are the benefits of yoga for people with breast cancer?

Yoga may help you to:

  • improve your emotional wellbeing
  • reduce cancer-related fatigue
  • reduce pain
  • take time for yourself
  • lower stress and anxiety

Research suggests that there are real benefits to regularly practising yoga after a breast cancer diagnosis, particularly for emotional wellbeing, cancer-related fatigue and pain.

Being diagnosed with breast cancer and having treatment can cause anxiety and, for some people, depression. It’s really important to look after your emotional wellbeing and yoga is a great way to take some time to relax and focus on yourself. The breathing techniques practised during yoga can slow down mental chatter and give your mind some rest, which can make a big difference to your overall stress levels.

Is it safe to practise yoga after breast cancer?

Some people think that they can’t do yoga after breast cancer surgery, or worry they aren’t the right body type, age or fitness level. But anyone can start practising and enjoying the benefits of yoga.

5 simple yoga poses you can try at home

If you have cancer-related fatigue, anxiety or depression, you may not feel able to attend a yoga class or you may find it too tiring to complete a full class. You can try these simple poses at home to gently build your strength and stamina.

1. Breathing exercise – three-part breath

Yoga for breast cancer patients

Benefits: Encourages full and complete breathing and helps release muscle tension and increase oxygen supply to the blood.

How to practise the pose: The ‘three parts’ refer to the diaphragm, the chest, and the abdomen. First breathe in a large breath as though you’re filling your lungs, stomach and whole chest with air. Then exhale completely. 

Read more  Yoga for Patients with Early Breast Cancer and its Impact on Quality of Life – a Randomized Controlled Trial

Top tip: Practise three-part breath before other poses to bring your focus to your body. You can also do this at any time of the day if you’re feeling stressed or distracted.

2. Child’s pose

Yoga for breast cancer patients

Benefits: Helps stretch the hips, thighs and back muscles while relaxing the chest muscles.

How to practise the pose: Starting on your hands and knees, exhale and lower the hips towards your heels, reaching your arms out in front of you. Breathe slowly and continue to reach through your arms and shoulders as you bring your head to the floor. Breathe and hold for 4–12 breaths.

Top tip: Use rolled-up blankets or towels to rest your head on if bringing your head to the floor is uncomfortable.

3. Standing forward bend

Yoga for breast cancer patients

Benefits: Stretches the hips, hamstrings and calves, relieving tension in the spine, neck and back.

How to practise the pose: From standing, exhale and hinge forward at the hips. Reach your hands down so your palms are flat on the floor and press your head against your knees. Breathe and hold for 4–8 breaths. Release by bending the knees, keeping the back straight, and inhale as you come back up to standing.

Top tip: Bend your knees while you fold forward. Try to gently straighten the legs to increase the stretch on the back of the legs.

4. Legs up the wall

Yoga for breast cancer patients

Benefits: Takes pressure off the spine and neck, aids circulation and relaxation.

How to practise the pose: Position yourself next to a wall, with your knees close to your chest while lying on your side. Exhale and roll on to your back as you push your legs up the wall. Keep your legs straight and firm as you sink your shoulders and back into the floor. Draw your head and neck away from your shoulders, extending your arms out to the side with your palms facing up. Remain in the pose for 5–10 minutes and relax into the pose as you breathe. To release the pose, bend your knees and roll onto your right side.

Top tip: It might feel awkward getting into the pose at first. Don’t worry about that, and just take your time getting into a comfortable position.

5. Savasana

Yoga for breast cancer patients

Benefits: Helps calm the mind and relieve feelings of stress.

How to practise the pose: For this final pose, lie with your back flat on the floor and your legs out straight. If this is uncomfortable you can bend your legs, placing your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms out to the side and make any adjustments you need to make with your body to feel comfortable. Placing a rolled-up blanket or towel under your knees can help to release your lower back.

Read more  Advanced Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

Top tip: Close your eyes and breathe naturally. Relax your face and jaw and let go of any tension in your back or neck. Stay in this relaxed pose for 5–15 minutes.

Tips for finding a yoga class

Look for one-to-one support

If you’re feeling up to it, you may prefer to find a class where you can have one-to-one support and ask questions.

Browse options

Speak to different studios or teachers before choosing a yoga class. Some may have experience of teaching people who’ve had breast cancer treatment.

Let your teacher know

Tell your teacher about your breast cancer treatment before you begin.

New to yoga?

If you’re new to yoga, choose a hatha or Iyengar class, or one specifically aimed at beginners.

What to remember before you start

Check with your GP

Always check with your GP (local doctor) or hospital team before starting any new activity.

Listen to your body

Stop doing any pose if it’s uncomfortable. Some stretching and pulling is normal if you’ve had surgery, but it should never be painful. 

Practise anywhere

The beauty of yoga is that you can practise it anywhere with very little equipment or space. However, it’s important to get a good-quality yoga mat, especially when you’re starting out, as it helps cushion your joints, give you stability and prevent you from slipping.

Further support

Find out more about complementary therapies and breast cancer.

For more information, support and inspiration to help you move beyond breast cancer, try our BECCA app. 


— Update: 03-01-2023 — found an additional article Yoga for Patients with Early Breast Cancer and its Impact on Quality of Life – a Randomized Controlled Trial from the website for the keyword yoga for breast cancer patients.


Breast cancer is the most common malignancy in women worldwide. It accounts for 14 % of all cancer diagnoses in Europe 1. In the industrialized countries of the northern hemisphere, between one in eight and one in ten women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime 2, 3. Due to the enormous advances in adjuvant and palliative treatment, it has, in many cases, become a controllable chronic disease 4.

Health-related quality of life (QoL) is very important for patients. QoL is defined as self-perceived well-being related to, or affected by the presence of disease or treatment 5. As a multifactorial construct, it includes perceptions, both positive and negative, of many different dimensions such as physical, emotional, social and cognitive functional status. It also includes the negative aspects of symptoms caused by disease and/or its treatment 6. Breast cancer is one of the oncologic diseases in which QoL has been studied most 7. Recent studies have suggested that QoL in the months after diagnosis and breast cancer surgery may be a predictor of psychological well-being later on 8.

Read more  Time to death in breast cancer patients as an indicator of treatment response

Within the population of cancer patients, there is a growing interest in complementary therapies. Compared to other oncologic entities, e.g. gynecological cancer, women with breast cancer frequently make use of complementary therapies 9. The overall rate has been reported to be as high as 75 % 10, 11, 12.

As a mind–body discipline, yoga is claimed to offer physical, mental and spiritual benefits 13. Studies have shown beneficial physical and psychological effects in different cancer patients 13, 14, 15, 16. Studies of yoga programs for breast cancer patients showed improvements in physical well-being, social function, emotional health and functional adaption 17. Yoga programs can reduce distressing symptoms in patients undergoing treatment for breast cancer 18, 19. After hatha yoga, constraints on physical activity were reduced and fitness was found to be improved in breast cancer survivors 20. Yoga has also been shown to be beneficial in reducing chemotherapy-induced side effects compared with other supportive therapies 21. Women with breast cancer showed a cognitive improvement after participating in yoga programs 22, 23. They reported less fatigue when undergoing breast cancer treatment 24, 25, 26.

Studies of yoga programs for breast cancer patients found improvements in emotional outcomes and in quality of life 23, 25, 27, 28. Anxiety and depression was reduced with yoga interventions compared with supportive therapy following surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy 18, 29. Several authors have described an increase in positive affect and a decrease in negative affect in patients with breast cancer who participated in yoga programs 22, 25.

Women who were prescribed a 6-week daily yoga program reported improved confidence in social settings relative to controls who had only a brief supportive therapy 22. Moadel et al. described that participants in a yoga group did not report a significant change in social well-being but the 12-week waiting-list control group noted a significant decrease in support 30.

The aim of our study was to test the hypothesis that newly diagnosed patients with early breast cancer could benefit from yoga in the early postoperative period. This benefit would be expressed primarily by a higher QoL and secondarily by an improvement in physical activity. Furthermore, we hypothesized that QoL is influenced by sociodemographic factors and the type of surgery.


Recommended For You

About the Author: Tung Chi