Breast Cancer and Yoga

Questions were posed to Beth by a local magazine writer here in Jacksonville, FL and all answers are written by Beth Daugherty.

How does yoga benefit breast cancer patients? Yoga is a mind-body practice with benefits to both the mind and body for cancer patients. Physically, it is recommended in most cases for patients to get moving soon after surgery, so yoga can be a part of that movement recommended for many people. Patients are usually in physical therapy during the rehabilitation period to regain strength and range of motion. If their doctor approves, attending gentle yoga also helps build strength and range of motion. Yoga adds to the physical exercise meditation and relaxation which assists in the recovery process. Managing stress is part of the journey of recovery and yoga helps greatly in this area.

How does yoga ease pain? Yoga trains us to be deeply aware of our bodies, to take care of ourselves, and to be mindful about what we need during health and illness.  This is the mind part of the mind – body yoga practice. A calm, relaxed, stress free mind helps patients cope with and manage pain. A calm mind also helps cope with the effects of medical interventions and treatments that continue to pop up on the road to recovery.

What poses are most beneficial for breast cancer patients? Savasana (relaxation pose) is most important, we always say that. Many gentle poses help, but learning to relax and calm the mind during such a stressful time is most helpful.

Are there any poses breast cancer patients should avoid? This is all completely individual and based on the medical interventions and treatments used for each patient.  In general, many breast cancer patients will avoid Cobra pose, even Sphinx can be troublesome right after surgery. But each person is so different the yoga instruction must be tailored to the person. CPF classes are small and people get to know each other very well so teachers can use their best judgment about what to avoid and what to work on.

How do you create yoga classes designed for breast cancer patients? Our CPF instructors, working with the host organization, will tailor classes to the students that come in the door. Typically this means discussion, support, education, instruction of Gentle Yoga poses, guided relaxation and meditation. The community building aspect of CPF classes is part of the healing process. People further along in their treatments will help newcomers and provide a great deal of support.

Are your classes specifically designed for post-operative breast cancer patients or all breast cancer patients? The facility that invites the instructor in to teach usually has a specific need and we attempt to fill that. Some organizations are looking for a class for only breast cancer patients in treatment, others want a class for all cancer patients, and some organizations open classes to all survivors and caregivers. It really depends on the facility, the size of the space, the staff working there, and what their priorities are. The CPF provides the yoga teacher.

Can yoga help prevent breast cancer? I do not think the research community would make that claim.

Did you start the Christina Phipps Foundation? No. The foundation was started by the Phipps family and is headed by Mr. Ben Phipps, located in Tallahassee, FL. The mission of the Christina Phipps Foundation is to provide specialized training for experienced yoga instructors to prepare them to guide cancer patients and survivors through yoga therapy. The Foundation’s training is conducted by physicians and other healthcare and yoga professionals. This specialized training is not available anywhere else and our training will help CPF instructors deal with other limitations, beyond cancer. In fact many CPF yoga teachers go on to pursue further education in Yoga Therapy. A particular focus of the Christina Phipps Foundation has been on breast cancer, but the Foundation’s certified instructors work with all who have range of motion or pain limitations, regardless of their source.

When did the Christina Phipps Foundation begin? 2010

How many yoga teachers has the Christina Phipps Foundation trained? We have trained and certified 62 teachers since 2010 and in November, 2013 when we graduate our latest class we will have 77.  We have had over 30 organizations host CPF classes in the past 3 years. Sometimes the host organization only wants a class a short time, some are longer term. Currently we have 17 classes running (or starting up). More information can be found at

The certification for yoga teachers is provided free of charge and we ask each teacher to volunteer teaching yoga to cancer patients for 26 weeks in one of the ongoing classes or in a new location. As teachers complete their 6 month commitment, we send in newly trained teachers. This year we will train our first team from Georgia and they will begin classes north of Atlanta.

How has the Christina Phipps Foundation honored Christina’s memory? Christina had a passion for teaching yoga to cancer patients all over Jacksonville. By continuing this work in Jacksonville, the beaches, St. Augustine, other areas of Florida and soon into Georgia her memory is alive today.  We honor her not just by training and certifying yoga teachers to do this work, but by these same yoga teachers volunteering their time to work with patients directly. The CPF has also played an instrumental role uniting the yoga community around this cause and we have been supported in our work by many of the local health care providers.

Do you have an advice for recently diagnosed breast cancer patients? Follow your doctor’s instructions when it comes to the medical treatments you require and when you get the ok from your doctors, come to yoga! Our classes are waiting for you.