Meditation and cancer

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Meditation is a relaxation technique that works with the mind. It uses mental exercises which can help you deeply relax and calm the mind, reduce feelings of fear and anxiety, pain and depression. 


There are many different types and styles of meditation. One commonly practiced type is Transcendental Meditation, which involves repeating a word or phrase (mantra), either silently or aloud. Another is mindfulness meditation, in which a person observes sensations, perceptions, and thoughts without judgment as they arise. There are other types of meditation that focus attention by walking or visualizing. Meditations that focus on words or images and do not strive for a state of thoughtless awareness are sometimes called quasi-meditative.

Can meditation help?

Many studies have shown that regular meditation can reduce chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood cortisol levels that are increased by stress (sometimes called "stress hormones"). It also helps people feel more in control of themselves and their lives. Practitioners also claim meditation improves mood, immune function, and fertility. Supporters further claim meditation increases mental efficiency and alertness, and raises self-awareness, which contributes to relaxation.

Some cancer treatment centers offer meditation or relaxation therapy along with the usual medical care. However, available scientific evidence does not suggest that meditation is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. It is primarily used to improve the quality of life for people with cancer.

What does it involve?

There are different styles and techniques of meditation. Meditation may be done while sitting, but there are also moving forms of meditation, like Tai Chi, Qigong, walking, and the Japanese martial art aikido. Meditation can be self-directed, or guided by doctors, psychiatrists, other mental health professionals, or yoga masters. It can also be guided by masters from different schools of meditation (e.g., Zen meditation, Tibetan meditation, transcendental meditation), as well as those from tai chi and martial arts.

Meditation may be done by choosing a quiet place free from distraction, sitting or resting quietly with eyes closed, noticing breathing and physical sensations, noticing and then letting go of all intruding thoughts. The person may also achieve a relaxed yet alert state by focusing on a pleasant idea or thought, or by repeating a phrase or special sound silently or aloud. The ultimate goal of meditation is to separate oneself mentally from the outside world by suspending the usual stream of consciousness. Some practitioners recommend two 10 to 20 minute sessions a day.

Are there any side effects?

Complications following meditation are rare, however, some people may feel a bit disoriented or anxious after their meditation session. Some people may even experience some negative feelings. People who suffer from particular psychiatric conditions may be more likely to have these negative responses. Cancer patients should talk to their doctors before taking the decision to start any type of meditation that involves movement of any kind. It is also good to talk regularly about your meditation to an experienced meditation practitioner.

Most experts agree that the positive effects of meditation outweigh any negative reactions. Cancer patients cannot rely on this type of treatment alone. Avoiding or delaying conventional medical care for cancer may have serious health consequences.


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