Every cancer journey comes with its own unique experience, but no matter what stage or level of health, meditation and breathwork can help support you and your needs. While the trials and tribulations of cancer can weigh heavy on the head and the heart, there is always room for elevated relief and restoration. More and more scientific research is coming out to showcase how meditation and breathwork can help cancer patients with a number of physical and emotional challenges. Read below about how meditation and breathwork can help.
1.) Emotional Balance
Our natural, cyclical emotional range can be thrown off or intensified by stress (see our sister company's blog on chronic stress), anxiety, depression, or even emotional numbness that may accompany the news of a cancer diagnosis or the ups and downs of the treatment process. According to the American Cancer Society, meditation can be used to help balance emotions, promote better sleep, and lift your mood. Meditation and breathwork help you come to a steadier state that will allow for the alleviation of emotional distress. Practicing will help you feel more centered and grounded, even in the midst of an emotional rollercoaster ride.
Utilizing mindfulness can be extremely helpful when working to regulate and balance emotions.
There are many types of meditation that can help you on your journey. One very popular meditation that has been widely studied and promoted is mindfulness meditation. When you practice mindfulness meditation or a mindfulness technique, you focus your awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations without judgment. Utilizing mindfulness can be extremely helpful when working to regulate and balance emotions. According to the US National Library of Medicine most of the evidence of the benefit of mindfulness in cancer is to reduce toxicity and stress. Mindfulness is being used increasingly in various aspects of cancer management; benefits of mindfulness practices are being observed to manage symptoms from cancer progression, to combat adverse effects of treatment, and to serve as a cost-effective alternative to conventional management strategies. Breathwork is often included in these mindfulness meditation practices to help patients better connect to their body and relax into the present moment by calming the nervous system.
2.) Pain Relief
Physical pain and discomfort from treatment or cancer itself is a top concern for patients. According to cancer.net gentle breathing exercises, meditation, and visualization can decrease pain and help cope with pain. Visualization is another type of meditation that involves mentally imagining and focusing on something specific that will aid a certain goal, such as pain relief. Many people visualize nature settings or other visualizations to evoke feelings of comfort and relief. When paired with breathwork, the effectiveness of visualization increases. For example, you can imagine or visualize breathing heat, coolness, light, or feelings of relaxation into the painful areas of your body to help soothe yourself. Visualization is a powerful tool that can facilitate changes in your relationship with pain, therefore decreasing it.
Visualization is another type of meditation that involves mentally imagining and focusing on something specific that will aid a certain goal, such as pain relief.
There is also increasing evidence that regular mindfulness practice reduces a person's pain experience. For example, in 2015, Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D., and his colleagues conducted a study to investigate the effectiveness of mindfulness practice in pain management. Brain images of participants who received mindfulness as treatment had less activation in the parts of their brains that manage pain messages. According to the Mayo Clinic Health System, a daily mindfulness practice can be helpful for people living with chronic pain because sometimes there are negative or worrisome thoughts about the pain being experienced. These thoughts are normal, but can affect mood and actually increase pain. Being able to focus on relaxing the body, noticing the breath and bodily sensations as being there just as they are, can help manage pain, as well as reduce depression and anxiety symptoms that may also increase feelings of pain. Conscious breathing (breathwork) can also lead to increased circulation, oxygenation of the blood, and stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system which helps the body relax and perform more optimally. Breathwork and meditation are conscious mental practices that can allow for physical changes in the body.
3.) Mindset Shift
Cancer diagnosis, treatment, and even survivorship can have large impacts on our mindset due to associated physical and emotional challenges. When we incorporate meditation and breathwork into our daily lives we can work on shifting our mindset to help prepare for these challenges. For example cancer.org highlights how some cancer patients can use these practices to help them relax as they wait for treatments or test results. Many integrative cancer centers are incorporating more meditation and breathwork practices to help patients through their journey. For example, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has a free library of guided meditations to help patients.
Consistent meditation can actually create, change and strengthen neural pathways in the brain, helping us retrain our brains to improve our attention span and focus on thoughts and feelings that we want to focus on.
Meditation doesn’t just help you relax in the moment, but can actually help you change your mindset long-term. Consistent meditation can actually create, change and strengthen neural pathways in the brain, helping us retrain our brains to improve our attention span and focus on thoughts and feelings that we want to focus on. We can actually work on making our brains less receptive to lingering negative thoughts and self-talk, allowing ourselves to become more aware of them and move through them with more ease. We can change our internal state of mind by training our attention to focus on more positive thoughts and feelings, while decreasing the time in which we ruminate on the negative. While this may sound easier said than done, just know that you have the power to speak more kindly to yourself and to your body. You have the power to encourage yourself and flood your brain with more calming and encouraging thoughts even in the most challenging of times.
While a teacher, app, or class can help you learn how to start and maintain your practice, you have the ability to practice meditation and breathwork anytime on your own, whenever you want without any equipment or instruction. However, know that there is an abundance of professionally created classes, courses, guided meditations, music, and mindfulness activities available to help you build your own toolkit. If you are looking for a way to support yourself or someone else on this journey, I encourage you to start incorporating meditation and breathwork into your routine today.
For additional support, we invite you to explore the following blogs from the Pellegrino library:
Written By Michelle Eggink NTP
Meditation & Mindfulness Teacher, Nutritional Therapy Practitioner, Breathwork Facilitator