How Practicing Yoga Helped Me Recover from Cancer

How Practicing Yoga Helped Me Recover from Cancer Claire Petretti Marti

… and how it can help you too

by Claire Petretti Marti

When I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer on January 12, 2010, my life changed forever. At the time, I’d been practicing yoga for fifteen years and teaching for four. As a yoga instructor, I already understood the incredible ben­efits of yoga for the body, mind, and spirit. But navigating through cancer treatment showed me just how much yoga could help me stay resilient.

Cancer attacks your body, sure, but it also attacks your mental well-being. Conventional medicine is aimed at de­stroying the physical aspects of cancer, but it can fail to address the significant effects cancer has on your thoughts and emotions. Yoga, on the other hand, fo­cuses on the entire person. It can make you feel empowered because you are actively doing something for your own health and well-being. Yoga can help you feel more self-confident and allow you to trust your body’s ability to heal and recover from trauma. It can help you find a sense of resilience and inner strength.

Yoga can help you feel more self-confident and allow you to trust your body’s ability to heal and recover from trauma.

Over the course of the year in which I was diagnosed, I endured three surgeries, six rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, and almost two months of daily radia­tion. I balanced out this assault on my body by eating an antioxidant-rich, primarily plant-based diet; exercising daily; receiving acupuncture; and most importantly, practicing yoga. I continued to teach most of my yoga classes, and I even got certified to teach yoga for cancer therapy while undergoing che­motherapy myself.

Yoga can help you feel more self-confident and allow you to trust your body’s ability to heal and recover from trauma.

Claire Petretti Marti

As a cancer survivor, I experienced firsthand the many benefits of yoga. A yoga practice can:

  • Minimize physical and emotional side effects.
  • Boost energy and improve mood.
  • Combat fatigue and stress with relaxation and breathing techniques.
  • Restore flexibility, strength, and range of motion.
  • Enhance lymphatic flow, digestion, and circulation.

How exactly does it work? Gentle range of motion exercises can restore mobility at surgery sites and help with scar tissue buildup. Yoga also helps support bone health. Everyone who undergoes chemotherapy for cancer is at risk for bone loss. Bone loss occurs when your body breaks down more bone than it can build up. Cancer treatments can spur on this process. Weight-bearing exercise like walking and practicing standing yoga poses can help strengthen bones and counteract the effects of cancer treatment on bone health.

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Some people develop neuropathy after surgery, chemotherapy, or radia­tion. Neuropathy is damage to the nervous system, which in turn affects nerve function. This nervous system damage changes the way the body sends signals to muscles, joints, skin, and internal organs. Yoga, self-massage, and mindfulness walking can help miti­gate the effects of nerve damage.

The lymphatic and circulatory sys­tems also suffer damage during cancer treatment. If the lymph nodes have been removed or compromised, lymphedema can result. Exercise can stimulate the lymphatic system by stretching the lym­phatic smooth muscles.

Learning yogic breathing techniques can aid in counteracting nausea, weak­ness, and insomnia. Yoga has also been shown to help with combatting fatigue and depression.

Practicing yoga can go a long way in keeping your attitude positive through challenging cancer treatments and be­yond. Go ahead; try it! You may find that yoga helps you tap into the power within. Powerful! 

Claire Petretti Marti (also pictured above) is an E-RYT 500 yoga teacher who has been practicing, studying, and teaching yoga since 1999. In 2011, Claire released her Yoga for Cancer Recovery DVD to help anyone living with cancer practice yoga safely at home. She’s followed that up with more instructional videos, which are available on or

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, July/August 2017.

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