Yoga Therapy and Cancer Survivorship: Talking to the Body With Love

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Integrated Health Yoga Therapy faculty member Jnani Chapman, RN was honored in early June at the International Association of Yoga Therapists conference in Austin, TX. Jnani co-hosted one of 4 all-day workshops at SYTAR, IAYT’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research on Yoga Therapy Cancer Survivorship Strategies.

Jnani Chapman - YCat Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness

Jnani Chapman is 'skilled at the sweet-talking compassion that expresses the type of love that we may be lucky to experience in this lifetime.'

Integrated Health Yoga Therapy ( faculty member Jnani Chapman, RN was honored in early June at the International Association of Yoga Therapists conference in Austin, TX. Jnani co-hosted one of 4 all-day workshops at SYTAR,IAYT’s Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research ( Her topic, Yoga Therapy Cancer Survivorship Strategies during and after Cancer Treatment, is part of IAYT’s ongoing advocacy and commitment to the evolution of Yoga therapy in modern medicine.

The SYTAR conference “is dedicated entirely to professional education, research, practice, and policy issues for Yoga therapy.” Jnani and Heather Reed’s workshop overviewed symptoms and side effects people typically experience during cancer treatment and in post treatment recovery and survivorship. They presented specific techniques and approaches from YCat Yoga therapy: Jnani is the founder and director of YCat Yoga therapy certification trainings and Heather is a YCat faculty member. The YCat curriculum adapts Yoga practices to specifically address physical issues like pain, anxiety, fatigue, and nausea and improve mood and coping ability in survivors. This approach includes describing the underlying physiological mechanisms involved in producing the ‘feel-better” benefits of the practices so that the teachers become therapists and health educators in cancer care. The YCat trainings update yoga teachers and health professionals on related past and current Yoga and cancer research.

In addition to being the first executive director of the International Association of Yoga Therapists from 1994-98, Jnani Chapman was a nurse case manager and cardiac rehab and stress management specialist for Dr. Dean Ornish’s Heart Disease Reversal Program (HDRP) research and retreats from 1986-1999. Jnani came to UCSF in 1997 to staff HDRP there and a research study for one year and clinical program for women with breast cancer for five years. Jnani was a founding clinician for the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Medicine from 2001-2009 and she developed the Yoga classes for the UCSF Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Jnani is currently an integrative oncology specialist for St. Mary’s Medical Center (SMMC) in San Francisco, a part of Dignity Health. Jnani is a senior staff member for the Commonweal and Smith Center Cancer Help Programs in Bolinas, CA and WDC. She teachers Yoga for cancer, chronic illness and aging for SMMC and also teaches for Dean Ornish, MD’s early-stage prostate cancer post-research participants and their partners in Sausalito, CA. She is on the faculties of many Yoga Therapy training programs, serves as a national and international consultant, and acts as co-principal investigator on several studies using the YCat curriculum with cancer patients. In addition to other trainings on behalf of Integrated Health Yoga Therapy, Jnani teaches Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness YCat Level 1 TT (!programs/cnnj) as part of IHYT’s 500-hr Yoga Therapist Training Level 2 Electives.

YCat Yoga Therapy in Cancer and Chronic Illness ( is a certification program designed by Jnani Chapman and her staff “to train health professionals and experienced Yoga teachers to work safely with cancer patients at any stage of illness as well as people with stable chronic illness.” The purpose of the program is to promote the adaptation of traditional Yoga practices to meet the physiological and psychological needs of this population and enhance the ability of Yoga professionals to communicate with medical personnel.

Yoga Therapy for those with cancer and chronic illness is a highly personalized process in which traditional practices must be adapted as needed to suit individual circumstances in an ongoing collaborative process. Yoga can be dangerous both physically and emotionally if not administered with care by a Yoga therapist trained to work with people with a variety of cancer and chronic illness diagnoses.

One of the myths Jnani wants to dispel is that of Yoga as intense exercise. Movement and activity is essential to health and wellbeing, but pushing our edges is not. Jnani urges all Yoga practitioners and particularly cancer patients to listen to their bodies and absolutely not push themselves beyond their comfort levels. Furthermore, the Yoga as go-for-the-burn exercise is only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. It is what is visible and trendy but may leave much of the deeper healing aspects of Yoga hidden from the general public. Certainly the Hatha Yoga, the movements and breathing of Yoga, have a great deal to offer cancer patients ~ and so do the many inward practices of Yoga like yoga nidra, guided imagery and meditation. Jnani’s favorite definition of Yoga comes from Yoga therapy forefather TKV Desikachar who says, “Awareness, breath, and movement--that is Yoga!” Many times it is the awareness practices of Yoga or aspects of Yoga philosophy that lead people to Ah ha’s and to positive self care behaviors in cancer survivorship.

Felicia Tomasko wrote in LA Yoga magazine that Jnani Chapman is “skilled at the sweet-talking compassion that expresses the type of love that we may be lucky to experience in this lifetime. [. . .] Feeling this love is part of the healing process and it allows us to experience healing at all levels. To inspire this, Jnani puts her lyrical voice to good use in her work with individuals with cancer or other chronic illnesses when she teaches them to talk to their bodies with a caring and sincere expression of love rather than the shame, betrayal or fear that can often accompany a diagnosis.”

Check out!faculty/cjg9 for more information on Jnani Chapman and other members of IHYT’s expert, passionate, and highly experienced faculty.

About Integrated Health Yoga Therapy
IHYT is a yoga therapy school for a wide range of health professionals whose practices might benefit from the skill-sets and philosophy underlying therapeutic yoga. Yoga therapy is becoming more and more recognized and utilized by the medical-scientific community as a safe and effective complementary therapy and treatment in a wide range of conditions. IHYT offers a carefully selected curriculum of evidence-based educational programs taught by faculty who are leaders in their respective fields, as outlined on our website at

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Karen Claffey
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