JUST BREATHE: THE BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS MEDITATION IN CANCER CARE
Want to feel calmer and more relaxed during your cancer journey? Want to experience less anxiety and depression, sleep better and feel a greater sense of overall well-being?
You’re in luck. Meditation might help with all of those things.
Even better, anyone can do it, said Daisy Rivera, a licensed clinical social worker at City of Hope and a certified Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.
There are many types of meditation, but they share common elements, Rivera said.
Meditation is any process that brings us into the full presence of ourselves and also calms the mind.”
BE IN THE MOMENT
Meditation involves focusing your attention – whether on a word, a phrase or on your own breath. A big piece of meditation is being mindful, or fully present, in the moment, Rivera said.
But contrary to what many people think, that doesn’t mean you have to learn to empty your mind. “Often people who start a meditation practice think if their mind isn’t completely blank, they’re doing it wrong,” she said.
The goal isn’t to clear your brain, however. “The thoughts continue to occur. It’s about learning to become more like an observer and to not engage with those thoughts,” she said.
START A SIMPLE MEDITATION PRACTICE
You don’t need formal training or a big chunk of time to start meditating, Rivera said. It can be as simple as spending a few minutes focusing on your breath. “Even if you only have time to take 10 deep breaths and make that your practice for the day, there are benefits,” she said.
You might start by sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Notice your breath moving in and out. When a thought pops up – anxiety about starting your next round of chemo, for example – observe that thought without dwelling on it. Let it go to revisit at another time.
In a society where we’re overscheduled and often rewarded for getting things done, it can be hard to get used to giving ourselves the time to just be, said Rivera. But it gets easier. “A person learning the violin doesn’t start with Beethoven,” she pointed out. “We become better with practice.”
Rivera works primarily with older adult patients, but she said anyone can benefit from meditation, regardless of age, health or background. But for people dealing with the unknowns of a cancer diagnosis, meditation can be particularly helpful.
“It’s very empowering,” she said. “Meditation really helps people regain that control that so many feel they’ve lost because of the uncertainty.”
“Give yourself an opportunity to just be with you,” Rivera said.
MEDITATION: FREE YOUR MIND, AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW
You can ease your chronic pain, lower high blood pressure and anxiety and even drop levels of stress hormones through a simple step, and it doesn’t even cost anything. All you have to do is think – or maybe stop thinking so hard.
The key is meditation.
There are lots of forms of meditation: tai chi and qi gong are meditative, and some people relax by repeating words or phrases, called mantras. Although some forms started as part of Eastern religions, meditation is not a religion itself – and many people use it just to boost their well-being.
Particularly popular among cancer patients is mindfulness meditation. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, research shows that doing this regularly can improve quality of life. In one study of cancer patients who practiced mindfulness meditation for seven weeks, nearly a third had fewer stress symptoms and nearly two thirds experienced fewer mood disturbances than patients who didn’t meditate.