Although yoga has been practiced in Eastern culture for thousands of years as part of life philosophy, classes in the United States only recently have been offered to people with cancer. The word yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yuj, meaning to bind, join, and yoke. This reflection of the union of the body, mind, and spirit is what differentiates yoga from general exercise programs. Yoga classes in the United States generally consist of asanas (postures), which are designed to exercise every muscle, nerve, and gland in the body. The postures are combined with pranayama, or rhythmic control of the breath. As a complementary therapy, yoga integrates awareness of breath, relaxation, exercise, and social support—elements that are key to enhancing quality of life in patients with cancer. Yoga practice may assist cancer survivors in managing symptoms such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, pain, and fatigue. As with all exercise programs, participants need to be aware of potential risks and their own limitations. The purpose of this article is to familiarize nurses with yoga as a complementary therapy, including current research findings, types of yoga, potential benefits, safety concerns, teacher training, and ways to integrate yoga into cancer care.
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