Breathe, Stretch, Eat

St. Jude combines yoga and nutrition in a program designed to complement cancer therapy.

Breathe, Stretch, Eat

Adho Mukha Svanasana. Tadasana. Virasana. Downward-facing dog. Mountain pose. Hero pose.

The teenagers sit motionless in a dimly lit space. The soft murmur of wind chimes hangs in the air as the group collectively takes in a breath, holds it, slowly lets it out. Namaste.

A practice that dates back centuries, yoga is being intertwined with a focus on nutrition for patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Clinical Nutrition and Rehabilitation Services departments have partnered to create a wellness program that combines yoga with a healthy eating class for young patients.

A complement to treatment

Yoga is not new in the health care field, but it is gaining momentum as a formal program within hospital settings.

“We’re focusing on all of the benefits of yoga, which include balance, coordination, a decrease in pain and improving quality of life,” says Jessica Sparrow of St. Jude Rehabilitation Services. An occupational therapist trained in providing yoga for children, Sparrow adds that having this special combination of yoga and nutrition as a service provided for patients is a true complement to treatment.

“Our ultimate goal is that they take this practice into their everyday lives—like breathing exercises to help with anxiety and pain,” Sparrow says. “We intend to monitor the outcomes and track the progress as evidence-based research to not only improve upon existing knowledge at St. Jude, but also to share with others.”

Adventures in eating

Sparrow works with Danielle Doria, also of Rehabilitation Services, and Karen Smith of Clinical Nutrition to create the program’s outline. After each yoga session, patients get a lesson on healthy eating, which often includes a hands-on demonstration from a St. Jude chef.

“We focus on foods that bring them out of their comfort zone but at the same time are tasty and healthy,” Smith says. “The younger kids are more open-minded about trying new foods. The parents, who are present at the sessions, can see that their children are eating hummus or something they might not have thought they would try. It encourages the families to make good food choices.”

Empowering children

Also a licensed occupational therapist, Doria is enrolled in a special certification for yoga therapy, which will eventually allow her to expand the program to treat more medically complex patients.

“We use yoga to meet the child at his or her level of strength, which is what makes this practice so perfect for the children at St. Jude,” Doria says. “We can alter it to fit their needs, giving them a sense of empowerment, which is important when they’re going through treatment.”

The combination program has been successful, with many of the patients using basic poses at home or even in the hospital’s hallways. “We want to offer healthy options like yoga and good nutrition so they can be healthy survivors,” Smith says.

Just for teens

Recently, the hospital added a class especially for teenaged patients.

Fifteen-year-old Charles Scott, undergoing treatment for the brain tumor pineoblastoma, was thrilled to participate, especially because he had not previously practiced yoga.

“It has helped me to keep from hurting so much,” says Scott, who also practices the poses at home.

“To me, the most rewarding aspect is seeing these kids—who are going through life experiences most people don’t until later in life—gaining physical and emotional strength and changing their eating habits,” Doria observes. “It’s really empowering.”

Vegetable Hummus

St. Jude staff find simple and nutritious recipes to share with patients. Here is one of their favorites, which can be made ahead in less than 10 minutes.


  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cans (15 oz. ea.) chick peas [or garbanzos], rinsed and drained
  • 1 package Knorr® Vegetable recipe mix
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • ¼ tsp. ground cumin


  • Process garlic until finely chopped in food processor. Add remaining ingredients; process until smooth. Chill at least two hours.
  • Stir hummus before serving. If desired, add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional olive oil. Serve with your favorite dippers, such as baby carrots and celery sticks.

Makes 3 ½ cups.

For complete nutrition information, visit

Abridged from Promise, Summer 2013

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St. Jude has created a wellness program that combines yoga with nutrition. After each yoga session, patients and their parents get a lesson on healthy eating, which often includes a hands-on demonstration from a St. Jude chef.

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