Written by Karen Pilkington and the CAM-Cancer Consortium.
Updated August 18, 2015


Is it safe?

Adverse events

Few adverse effects were reported in the clinical trials but participants do undergo screening prior to participation and, in the breast cancer trials, all participants were below 63 years of age.25

Several case reports of adverse psychological effects have been published but these appear to be related specifically to meditation.30 Other single case reports indicate that serious adverse events are possible, particularly with certain practices applied too aggressively. For example, spontaneous pneumothorax was observed in a patient following practice of Kapalabhati pranayama, a common breathing exercise.31 Certain postures such as headstands and the lotus position have also been associated reports of adverse effects in individuals. For example, sciatic nerve damage in a 67 year old woman,32 damage to a knee ligament when attempting an advanced stretch 33, eye-related problems in individuals with existing risk factors, for example a patient with glaucoma practising headstands34 and headstands linked to spinal compression in a patient with myelomalacia, a spinal condition. 47 Adverse events do appear to be rare based on the limited number of case reports in the literature. However, there is a lack of systematic evaluation so that adverse events may be underreported and any risks are difficult to assess. The reported cases indicate that certain practices may be not be advisable in individuals with existing risk factors.

Contraindications and warnings

Caution, including avoidance of specific postures such as inverted postures, has been suggested in pregnancy and in individuals with hypertension, although this appears to be based on likely risk.35,36 It has also been suggested that breathing exercises particularly if vigorous could potentially exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems. Again this is based on theoretical risk and occasional case reports such as those above. Other conditions may require caution or the avoidance of specific practices and the advice of the primary healthcare professional and the yoga instructor prior to undertaking yoga.


None known.

Citation Karen Pilkington, CAM-Cancer Consortium. Yoga [online document]. http://ws.cam-cancer.org/The-Summaries/Mind-body-interventions/Yoga. August 18, 2015.



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