The Art & Science of Teaching Yoga to Cancer Patients and Survivors

Jeannie YogaThe ‘Yoga for Cancer Survivors‘ class was developed, in 2005, around my experience in yoga for over twenty years as a yoga student, my teaching of special needs students for over twenty-five years, and where I found myself physically after cancer. I chose two gentle yoga training programs that focus on deep feelings within our bodies called “Meditation-in-Movement” and an adaptive yoga training called “Silver Age Yoga”. In 2010, I  completed my  E-RYT500 training with Atma Yoga, using sound and vibration for healing and psychological stress relief. I continually update my skills with yoga trainings which enhance my ability to serve survivors.  My work in this field of over ten years has allowed me to be grandfathered into the International Alliance of Yoga Therapist (IAYT).

The design of the hour long class: 15 minutes of breath exploration, 20-30 minutes of gentle body openings and asana (supine), and 15 minutes of various meditation practices for the purpose of deep relaxation. In a live class, or now on my monthly “Yoga Phone Classes” for homebound patients, I take time in the beginning of class to ‘check in’ with students. We are an important community for survivors and having time to witness where someone is, is part of the healing process.

yoga teachers Breath work is the best way to rebuild stamina, and needs to done safely and with a research-based model: 15 minutes of breathing is a long practice. We do not do any holding or pushing the breath out forcefully, as cancer recovery leaves most patients in a weakened condition. Asana practice begins with reconnecting with our bodies through slow, careful observation of movement and subtle stretching, as well as range of motion in each joint. It is a most effective way to build confidence in knowing how our bodies and how they move ; to listen deeply. We empower students by teaching anatomy and physiology, reviewing research and using yogic philosophy.

I see my class as a bridge to healing, empowering the healer within each student.  Some students continue to take weekly class and consider it a form of self-care to devote one hour to listening to their bodies. In class, I repeatedly give permission to “follow your own yoga”, even if that means meditating while some of us stretch. My passion is designing safe and effective classes for newly diagnosed patients, patients in active treatment, and patients in long-term treatment.

Jean at the beachAt one time or another, most students fall into a deeply restorative sleep and awaken refreshed from having listened to their needs. Many times, I encourage students to change their poses, wiggle and come back to a ‘yoga face’ and to loosen their jaws.  Being totally connected to ourselves, we have compassion for what our bodies have endured and what our spirits and minds are now challenged to integrate into our life’s story. Some students have cancer that is managed, and while they participate in other forms of exercise, they consider their hour of yoga a time to practice patience and acceptance.

The class is done in the supine position, and so, some cancer survivors are not able to participate due to pressure on their backs. Others cannot get down to the floor, even with the assistance of a chair. One type of yoga is not going to suit every cancer survivor’s need. Of the hundreds of yoga studies I’ve read, using different types of yoga and different combinations of breath, asana and meditation, all students benefit from the practice of yoga. Finding their yoga match is something we teachers can support with information.

yoga for cancer survivorsMy students report that they take the ‘Yoga for Cancer Survivors‘ CD to chemotherapy and listen because they find it soothing to focus their minds on yoga.  Even if they are not actively engaged in doing the stretches, there is benefit in preparing our minds. Helping others survive cancer gives me great purpose in my ‘extra years’ of life, after cancer. To know that my simple contribution might ease some pain and anxiety during treatment is a great gift  to me . Now the YCS cd is being translated into Russian, German, Crotian, and Slovene!

I invite you to take part in a 85 hour, video workshop where I will be giving C.E.U.’s and teaching “The Art & Science of Teaching Yoga to Cancer Patients and Survivors‘, an online yoga teacher training course.  It is ongoing and you can sign up anytime.  The modulels have lots of interaction and feedback from me. It is individualized for you and I want you to be successful in learning how to safely, effectively and competently support survivors. All are welcomed to take Part 1 (25 hours), only approved yoga teachers will be given a certificate at the end of the training in Part III.

Blessings to all of us who travel this footpath together, and bring the healing of yoga.

Namaste and Blessings,


“Healing is a state of mind and heart”