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Say Yes to Yoga

woman does side bends outside

The ancient Indian practice of yoga combines meditation, breathing, and precise postures and poses to make a connection with thoughts, body, and spirit. People who practice yoga say it leads to a state of physical health, relaxation, happiness, peace, and tranquility.

Some evidence shows that yoga can lower stress, increase strength, and reduce lower back pain, while providing exercise. According to a report from the National Institutes of Health, there is also some evidence that when it's used alongside conventional medical treatment, yoga may help relieve some of the symptoms linked to cancer, asthma, diabetes, drug addiction, high blood pressure, heart disease, and migraine headaches. Yoga cannot cure cancer or other chronic illnesses, nor should it ever be used by itself to treat any medical condition or delay treatment.

A typical yoga session can last between 20 minutes and an hour. It starts with slow, gentle movements along with slow, deep breaths from the abdomen. A session may also include guided relaxation, meditation, and sometimes visualization. It often ends with the chanting of a meaningful word or phrase, called a mantra, to achieve a deeper state of relaxation. Most people need several sessions a week to improve and to see lasting health effects, but many people report feeling better after just one session.

Group yoga classes can be found in most community and private health centers. If you're considering a group class, call ahead to ask about social distancing and other precautions the facility may be taking. Many yoga sessions are offered online and some are free. You don't need special clothes, although there are many types of clothing that do cater to yoga practitioners. Just wear something that’s comfortable and lets you move freely.

Also, while yoga is generally a low-impact activity and safe for healthy people, women who are pregnant and people with certain medical conditions like cancer, high blood pressure, glaucoma, and sciatica may have to modify or skip some poses and should ask their doctor for advice.

Yoga has very few side effects and risk of serious injury. However, certain types of stroke as well as pain from nerve damage are among the rare possible side effects. It’s a good idea to learn yoga from a well-trained instructor, and always wise to talk to your health care provider before starting any new exercise plan.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.