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How Yoga Helps Cancer Patients at Fox Chase

Michelle Stortz teaches gentle yoga, a chair-based program for cancer patients. She modifies the movements to accommodate the limitations of each participant in her class.

According to the American Cancer Society, yoga is a form of non-aerobic exercise that involves a program of precise postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. In ancient Sanskrit, the word yoga means “to bring into union,” meaning the union of body and mind. Yoga has proven to be beneficial for many cancer patients as it improves circulation in the body and promotes relaxation. Although yoga cannot treat the disease, it can improve quality of life for cancer patients by helping manage side effects of treatment, including insomnia, pain and fatigue. It can also help with emotional and mental aspects of treatment, such as depression and anxiety.chair yoga

Since 2012, Fox Chase Cancer Center has hosted a chair-based yoga class adapted for cancer patients, taught by Michelle Stortz, a certified yoga therapist who specializes in gentle yoga.

The methodology behind the class at Fox Chase emphasizes the stress-reduction aspects of yoga and is tailored to the needs and abilities of each patient. Gentle movement, breathing techniques, meditation, deep relaxation, and imagery help to guide patients to an energized yet calm state of peaceful awareness. As fatigue is the number one side effect of cancer treatment, this class allows patients to spend approximately 60 to 75 percent of class time in chairs, with some choosing to remain in the chair for the entire class.

Testimonials from Program Participants:

Working with Michelle has been a very uplifting, educational, and wonderful, relaxing experience. I don’t think I would have come this far all these years in my cancer journey without her and her classes. She is very attentive to your individual needs. I have been to many other yoga and meditation classes, but nothing stood up to hers. --N.S

Michelle teaches yoga in a group setting with cancer survivors and others in treatment. Her teaching skills are tops. She gives clear instructions at all times… She is especially tuned in to the needs of each participant. She (and) yoga has helped me to breathe beneficially, and in meditating, to be in better touch with myself. I would recommend Michelle to anyone seeking low impact, relaxed yoga.  --I.L.

Caregivers also feel the stress of cancer treatment, as much of the household and family responsibility fall to them. Joe and Linette S. have enjoyed their yoga time together. “I am fortunate to be able to accompany Joe to all of his appointments,” explained Linette, who has benefited from the class as well. “Yoga is a good extension to the treatment offered at Fox Chase. We’re hoping it will kick-start our road to good health,” she added.

Yoga helps the healing process by reducing stress. Stress can inhibit healing by keeping the body in a state of alarm and crisis readiness. In this stressed state, some of the body’s systems, such as the immune, digestive, and reproductive systems, are suppressed. Conversely, when we relax, the body’s systems return to efficient functioning. Meditation, as a part of most yoga classes, can help the body return to this relaxed state.

When patients know the benefits of yoga, they are inspired to practice more frequently.

For more information or to register for the next class, please call 215-214-3940.  This effort is through the Psychosocial Support Program, Department of Psychiatry, Fox Chase Cancer Center. To learn more about Michelle and her work in Yoga Therapy, go to