In a study (abstract published online in May 2010, Journal of Clinical Oncology; to be presented on June 5th, at the American Society of Clinical Oncology 2010 annual meeting, in Chicago) investigators, from the University of Rochester Medical Center, report the results of a randomized controlled trial of a short course of yoga compared to a control (usual care- no yoga) for patients who have completed treatment for cancer. The study was designed to analyze the potential effects of yoga on cancer treatment-related fatigue and on sleep quality, both of which are frequent problems in patients during and after treatment for cancer. Medications used to treat fatigue and sleeping difficulties often are associated with untoward side effects, therefore an non-pharmacologic therapy is quite appealing.
In this study, 410 patients (all of whom had completed cancer treatment, between 2-24 months prior to enrolling in this study) were randomly assigned to either a yoga group (2-classes per-week, 75-minute classes, for 4-weeks) or a control group (usual care- no yoga.) The patients assigned to the yoga program, YOCAS (Yoga for Cancer Survivors) were taught a breathing technique (pranayama), meditation, visualization, and 18 different poses (asanas) where the body is seated, standing or lying down. The YOCAS program was a blend of 2 gentle, low-intensity types of yoga (Hatha and restorative yoga.)
The authors reported that the patients in the yoga group had a significant improvement in both their fatigue levels and sleep. They also found that the patients in the yoga group decreased the amount of medications they took to help them sleep.
This excellent study demonstrates that a short-course of yoga can be an effective, non-pharmacologic therapeutic option for patients who suffer from post-treatment fatigue and sleeping difficulties. I have not personally tried yoga, but almost everyone I know who practices yoga tells me that it has changed (improved) their life. This study has given me even more reason to try it myself and recommend low-intensity yoga forms to my patients.