February 13, 2023

A new yoga program helps cancer survivors get active

Yoga class

A new initiative at UW Health Center for Wellness aims to help cancer survivors get active and improve their overall physical and mental wellbeing.

Yoga 4 Cancer is a new group medical visit program that features modified yoga poses and calming techniques specifically geared to cancer survivors’ physical capabilities and emotional needs. In addition, patients meet with a health coach each visit to reflect on eight areas of self-care: physical activity, surroundings, personal development, nutrition, recharge, family/friends/co-workers, sprit/soul and mind/emotions.

This is part of the Whole Health Model the Center for Wellness follows to support patients’ overall health and quality of life by treating with lifestyle and behavior change.

“We recognize that all areas of self-care are important and connected. By improving one area of health, patients can improve other elements of their lives,” said Alyssa Bobo, RN, a Center for Wellness staff member who coordinates group medical visits.

The Yoga 4 Cancer visits are led Lori Seaborne, a certified yoga instructor who also is a physician assistant in the UW Health Breast Center. She has been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and became a certified instructor in 2016 specifically so she could teach yoga techniques meant to help cancer survivors.

For this type of yoga, Seaborne said the poses are geared toward the strength and range of motion changes that cancer survivors face, and participants use props like yoga blocks to make the moves more accessible to a range of physical abilities.

UW Health hosted its first series of Yoga 4 Cancer group medical visits in October. Amanda Walsh, a breast cancer survivor, was among those patients. One of her favorite aspects was the sense of community among other survivors.

“There were times where we shared different things about our goals, about where we were at emotionally and mentally, and to be able to do that in that space felt supportive and it was really nice,” she said.

Walsh said before she was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2021, she was very active and enjoyed running and yoga for fitness. Her treatment included a double mastectomy and having lymph nodes removed, as well as rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

“I was really nervous about getting back into any physical activity, given my limitations from the surgical areas and also my risk for lymphedema with the surgeries,” Walsh said. “But I really missed (being active), and I really missed yoga in particular, but I just didn’t know where to start with my new body.”

Walsh enjoyed the adaptability of the exercises, so that she could match them to her new range of motion and see where she could make improvements. The relaxation and breathing techniques included with the visit have also been a huge benefit for Walsh, who had started the program about a month after she finished active treatment.

Walsh’s sentiments are the goal of group medical visits at the Center for Wellness, where patients with common health goals can come together in a supportive environment. The wisdom of learning through shared experience is often more valuable to patients rather than learning one on one with a provider during a traditional office visit.

“Patients living with a cancer diagnosis might have a strong support system, but they could still feel lonely given their unique health journey,” Bobo said. “The value of group support and sharing offered within each visit is what patients are needing as a part of their care today. We are proud to offer this as a supportive treatment for patients looking to proactively take charge of their healthcare after a cancer diagnosis.”

To learn more about Yoga 4 Cancer, or any other group medical visits offered by the Center for Wellness, call (608)-440-6600 or visit uwhealth.org/wellness.