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Integrative Oncology-Spotlight on Yoga

Lawrence D. Rosen, MD


Yoga: from the Sanskrit Yuj, meaning to yoke, join or unite.


One of the most popular and researched mind-body therapies, yoga has become such a fitness phenomenon that it is easy to lose sight of its power as a healing art.  Based on the growing evidence base for yoga’s safety and efficacy in promoting health for children and adults with cancer, an increasing number of hospitals are integrating this traditional practice with state-of-the-art conventional therapies to create optimal healing environments.


Hackensack University Medical Center is leading the way in integrative cancer care through its partnership with groups like Kula for Karma.   Kula, which literally means “community,” is a 501c3 non-profit that offers therapeutic yoga and other stress management support services – free of charge - to populations challenged by difficult circumstances, including cancer.  The John Theurer Cancer Center at HUMC, one of the country’s most advanced oncology facilities, touts their “Free Yoga Program” on their web site:


Patients at The John Theurer Cancer Center are being prescribed free yoga classes by oncologists to complement radiation and chemotherapy treatment. The goal is to empower cancer patients to manage pain that may cause anxiety and depression.


At the John Theurer Cancer Center, we pay upmost attention to efficacy and impact while keeping abreast of the growing body of research that examines - and supports - the use of yoga and meditation for treatment purposes. Yoga helps us provide integrated, “whole person” approaches to recovery and healing.


This commitment to integrative, holistic care is remarkable and helps make HUMC a true pioneer in adult – and pediatric – oncology.


Through Kula for Karma, yoga teachers like nurse Karen Overgaard of the Whole Child Center donate their time to work with children at the Tomorrows Children’s Institute at HUMC, a leading pediatric oncology center.  A recent publication, “Peaceful play yoga: serenity and balance for children with cancer and their parents” (Thygeson MV, et al: J Pediatr Oncol Nurs. 2010 Sep-Oct;27(5):276-84)

from the Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota in Minneapolis, described the impact of a single yoga session on the well-being of sixteen children hospitalized with cancer and their parents.  Both parents and adolescents in the study reported significant decreases in anxiety scores after the intervention.  The authors concluded that “yoga is a feasible intervention for this population and is beneficial to adolescents and parents.” 


A clinical research review by Tiffany Field from the University of Miami Touch Research Institute (Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2011 Feb;17(1):1-8) noted consistent positive effects of yoga on anxiety, pain and fatigue in cancer patients.  Areas needing more research include studies of yoga on immune cell function and cancer outcomes – does yoga affect survival rates?  Theoretically, mind-body practices like yoga that improve stress-coping positively affect immune function and may therefore offer protection against cancer-promoting environmental factors.   The greatest question may in fact be this – can the practice of yoga actually prevent cancer?  Time will tell, but for now, it is clear that yoga offers cancer patients both young and old (and all in-between) a wonderful way to exercise minds and bodies in the quest for optimal health.

About Dr. Lawrence Rosen

Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, New Jersey Medical School; Chair, AAP Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine;  Medical Advisor, The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™.  

Dr. Lawrence D. Rosen is a board-certified general pediatrician committed to family-centered, holistic child health care. He is the founder of one of the country's first green, integrative primary care practices -- Whole Child Center ( -- in Oradell, NJ. He serves as Medical Advisor to The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center™.

Dr. Rosen is a nationally recognized expert in Pediatric Integrative Medicine. He is a founding member and Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Complementary and Integrative Medicine. He is appointed as clinical assistant professor in Pediatrics at UMDNJ/New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Rosen is a graduate of New York Medical College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He completed his residency and chief residency in pediatrics at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York.