Written by Karen Pilkington and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated August 18, 2015


Abstract and key points

  • Yoga is a practice consisting of physical exercises, breathing techniques, and meditation or relaxation.
  • It has small beneficial effects on quality of life and well-being of cancer patients.
  • It is generally safe when practised appropriately.

Yoga is a practice originating in India which usually consists of physical exercises (stretches orasanas), breathing techniques and meditation or relaxation. It is taught in yoga classes, can be practised by the individual or is incorporated into stress management programmes.

Yoga is claimed to have a range of physical, psychological and spiritual benefits.

Evidence from ten systematic reviews of small clinical trials mainly in breast cancer patients suggests yoga has small, short-term beneficial effects on quality of life, perceived stress and well-being. Evidence is conflicting, heterogeneous or non-significant for effects on other outcomes:

  • Anxiety: Positive short-term effects are reported but results are heterogeneous.
  • Depression: Positive short-term effects are reported but results are heterogeneous.
  • Distress: Reports of effects are mixed.
  • Fatigue: Positive effects are reported in more recent trials.
  • Perceived stress: Positive effects are seen on perceived stress in the short-term.
  • Physical health: Effects on physical health are not significant.
  • Quality of life: Positive effects are reported on quality of life.
  • Sleep problems: Effects on sleep are reported as non-significant.
  • Wellbeing: Positive effects are reported on various aspects of wellbeing.

Only a few small trials have involved patients with other types of cancer. Several recent trials suggest some effects on physiological measures related to inflammation and stress but these results are preliminary at best.

Few adverse events are reported in clinical trials and adverse effects appear to be rare, based on the limited number of case reports in the literature. Single case reports of serious adverse events indicate that these are possible, particularly with certain practices applied too aggressively or in people with specific risk factors.


Karen Pilkington, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Yoga [online document]. http://www.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Yoga. August 18, 2015.

Document history

Fully revised and updated in August 2015 by Karen Pilkington.

Summary first published in June 2013, authored by Karen Pilkington.



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