A cancer diagnosis can impact not just someone’s physical health but also mental health. Right behind the initial diagnosis and the shock, can come anxiety, stress, sleeplessness and depression.
During and after treatment, you may experience fatigue, nausea and pain. Meditation can help with all of these. It is not a substitute for medical treatment, but it is restorative and soothing. There is now also substantial evidence that proves that meditation can bring the mind and body back into balance.
What can meditation do for me?
Meditation helps our inner healing system to cope with the onslaught of doctors, treatments, clinics, information and insomnia. Think of it as another tool in the kit, for strengthening your physical and mental well-being.
It isn’t hard to get started with meditation. You don’t need any exercise gear, and you can do it while you’re waiting at the specialist or having treatment. Two minutes, or two hours – it doesn’t matter. For sleep or energy, every little bit will help your body and mind to become more robust. You can do it on your own, use an app or join a group where you can be guided by a teacher. You can always make up your own meditation practice once you understand the basics.
The science behind the magic
Brain studies have shown that meditation reduces the size of the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for the ‘fight or flight’ response. What this means is that you can manage your anxiety and stress better and you may find that emotions become less erratic and are much more under your control rather than the other way around.
Meditation has also displayed an increase in ‘grey matter’ in the areas of the brain that are responsible for memory, decision-making, regulation of emotions, perspective and compassion.
It’s been established that when meditation is practiced the tissue connecting the left and right brain thickens, allowing for greater coherence between the two sides of the brain.
The stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are also reduced by regular meditation while increasing the so-called ‘bliss’ chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin. It can increase the production of the hormone melatonin too, helping to induce calm and sleep.
Some other good reasons to meditate include;
- Reduces fear and overwhelming feelings
- Increases calm and perspective
- Increases happiness and contentment
- Increases clarity and concentration
- Enlivens creativity and intuition
- Lowers blood pressure
- Improves sleep cycles
- Increases resilience.
Where should I start?
There are many different types of meditation. There are also lots of free apps, videos and podcasts. You can buy a book or find a teacher in your local area, so whatever resonates with you. The only way to find out what suits you is to have a dabble, dip your toes in and find what works for you. Below is a basic mindfulness meditation for you to try.
A simple meditation practice
Meditation doesn’t necessarily come easy to everyone. This simple practice from Mindful.org is a great way to build awareness and create relaxation of your mind and body.
- Sit comfortably. Find a spot that gives you a stable, solid, comfortable seat.
- Notice what your legs are doing. If on a cushion, cross your legs comfortably in front of you. If on a chair, rest the bottoms of your feet on the floor.
- Straighten your upper body – but don’t stiffen. Your spine has natural curvature. Let it be there.
- Notice what your arms are doing. Situate your upper arms parallel to your upper body. Rest the palms of your hands on your legs wherever it feels most natural.
- Soften your gaze. Drop your chin a little and let your gaze fall gently downward. It’s not necessary to close your eyes. You can simply let what appears before your eyes be there without focusing on it.
- Feel your breath. Bring your attention to the physical sensation of breathing: the air moving through your nose or mouth, the rising and falling of your belly, or your chest.
- Notice when your mind wanders from your breath. Inevitably, your attention will leave the breath and wander to other places. Don’t worry. There’s no need to block or eliminate thinking. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return your attention to the breath.
- Be kind about your wandering mind. You may find your mind wandering constantly – that’s normal, too. Instead of wrestling with your thoughts, practice observing them without reacting. Just sit and pay attention. As hard as it is to maintain, that’s all there is. Come back to your breath over and over again, without judgment or expectation.
- When you’re ready, gently lift your gaze (if your eyes are closed, open them). Take a moment and notice any sounds in the environment. Notice how your body feels right now. Notice your thoughts and emotions.
Meditation can be beneficial in dealing with your diagnosis and overwhelming feelings. Below are a few resources to help you get started.
- See more information at the website of Jack Kornfield is one of the oldest and most experienced practitioners of meditation and mindfulness.
- Learn more about Vedic meditation teacher Jo Amor, based in Sydney, Australia.
- Jonathan Foust is a meditation teacher with humour and compassion. His podcasts and talks are well-loved.
- Free guided meditations for a range of life-challenges, from pain management to sleep.
- Take an online meditation session with Tara Brach has online meditations and talks for all.
We would love to know any resources you found helpful which we can share to help others. Please get in contact.
Please note that content on the iCANmovement website is intended for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice. Please seek professional advice or speak to your medical team if you have any questions about the issues raised in these articles.