How Meditation Can Help Cancer Patients

You’ve likely heard the phrase “mind over matter.” It typically describes when a person is able to control something physical with her/his mind.

Meditation is an extension of mind over matter. Meditation can allow us to change some real physical responses that our bodies have to forces such as stress and pain.

Research conducted by Dr. Richard Davidson at the Center for Healthy Minds at UW-Madison has found meditation can result in measurable changes in the brain. Studies show changes happen in the brains of both experienced and novice meditators.

Here’s an example of meditation’s power to physically change us. A study co-authored by Dr. Davidson found people suffering from conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease may benefit from meditation. These conditions cause inflammation, which can get worse when the person is stressed. Properly practiced meditation can reduce both stress and inflammation.

 

Meditation Is an Individual Choice

There are different types of meditation. You may have heard of mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, movement meditation or spiritual meditation. There are others.

To get the maximum benefits of meditation, you might try different forms and choose the one that best fits for you.

The National Institutes of Health says most forms of meditation tend to have four elements in common. When ready to try meditation, you should plan to:

  • Select a quiet place to meditate. It should have as few distractions as possible.
  • Choose a comfortable, relaxing position for your body. You can sit (you don’t need to sit lotus style), lay down (if you can stay awake!), even walk in a safe place.
  • Focus on something specific. This can be a word, a short phrase, an object or your breathing. Turn your attention away from distracting thoughts. Focus on your current moment.
  • Maintain an open attitude. If there are distractions, let them come and go. You don’t need to judge them as good or bad.

 

What Are the Benefits of Meditation?

  • Cancer recovery — There have been several clinical trials of mindfulness-based interventions in cancer recovery. For this purpose, mindfulness is defined as setting aside time to focus on being in the present moment. While meditating, you also focus on not making judgments about things that have happened in the past, and not planning or worrying about the future.

The trials have shown that mindfulness-based cancer interventions improve both psychological and social outcomes in cancer patients. The outcomes include mood elevation, reduction of stress symptoms and improved quality of life.

When patients participate in cancer support groups, there are additional positive outcomes for patient stress reduction. A positive frame of mind is an important aspect in cancer recovery.

Studies have also found evidence that meditation may help:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.  
  • Diminish ulcerative colitis flare-ups.
  • Ease anxiety, depression and insomnia.
  • Quit smoking. Meditation, when paired with standard behavioral smoking cessation treatment, shows a greater rate of reduction in cigarette use.
  • Pain Control. Mindful meditation is a nonpharmacologic strategy that combines attention, cognitive restructuring, and relaxation. It has gained popularity for its effectiveness for managing acute or chronic pain in adults and adolescents and can be used in individuals with pain due to cancer surgery, cancer treatment or metastatic disease and may reduce the use of narcotics and other pain medicines. 

 

Long-Term Benefits

If you don’t happen to have the issues mentioned above, you may be interested in this:

  • The National Institutes of Health reports that three studies suggest that meditation may slow or even reverse changes that take place in your brain as you age. It can increase the number of folds in the outer layer of your brain. More folds increase your brain’s ability to process information.

    If this sounds good to you, you’ll want to get started with meditation. The people in the studies who had more brain folds had meditated for years. There’s no time like the present to start!

If you’re still not sure about meditation, consider this: It helps the Marines. They’ve studied mindfulness and found after stressful exercises, Marines who were mindfully trained returned to normal heart rate and breathing sooner.

You can learn about other holistic and complementary medicine practices online. A wide range of integrative medicine therapies aim to treat the whole person — mind, body and spirit!

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Aurora Health Care is a not-for-profit health and wellness organization.

Meet the Author

John S. Maul MD, is a oncologist and hematologist at Aurora Health Center in Milwaukee, WI.

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The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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