Someone following my professional Facebook page reached out to me recently asking for any spiritual exercises to help relieve the pain, fear and discomfort associated with having cancer. Meditation, creative visualization and dance movement are the core modalities of my INsideOUT program. While I am not struggling with disease, I have experienced the benefit of these mind-body tools to help relieve stress, let go of judgment, and bring healing in profound ways. I put together this list of exercises and resources to hopefully bring a little more comfort to those dealing with cancer, and for those that want to enliven their self-healing abilities.
Mind-body tools like guided imagery, guided meditation and hypnosis for cancer have been used for decades by oncology patients seeking help for pain, fatigue, anxiety and treatment-related nausea, but it’s only recently that research has demonstrated the full range of what these techniques can do.
Not only do these methods help enormously with the side effects, fears and discomforts surrounding cancer treatment that involves chemotherapy, radiation, bone marrow transplantation, biopsies, medical procedures and surgery, but we’ve learned it can actually boost the body’s natural cancer-fighting abilities, heightening the activity of NK cells, T-cells and other immune mechanisms.
Similarly, yoga, affirmations and mindfulness meditation have also been found effective in helping cancer patients manage stress and support their bodies’ built-in, self-healing abilities. Relaxation techniques and other mind/body practices can help calm your mind and sharpen your ability to focus. These techniques offer creative ways to reduce stress caused by cancer and to maintain inner peace. For example, some people use these techniques to help them relax as they wait for treatments or test results.
Here are some techniques that can help you cope with the challenges of cancer:
At the core of life is breath. Laughing and sighing are the body’s natural ways of getting us to breathe deeply.
That is why we often feel calmer or rejuvenated after these experiences. Anxiety and stress can make us take short, shallow breaths. Shallow breathing, which does not allow enough oxygen to enter our bodies, can make us even more anxious. Try this four-step breathing exercise. It can be done anywhere, anytime:
1. Take in a deep breath from your diaphragm (this is the muscle between your lungs and abdomen).
2. Hold the breath for several seconds—however long is comfortable for you—and then exhale slowly.
3. Repeat steps 1 and 2 two more times.
4. Afterward, relax for a moment and let yourself feel the experience of being calm.
Repetitive prayers are a form of meditation. Two other traditional forms of meditation include one-pointed and two-pointed meditation.
One-pointed meditation focuses on a word or sound called a mantra. Many people create their own mantra from an affirming word, such as “peace,” “love” or “hope.” Once you choose a mantra, find a safe, quiet place and repeat it to yourself during 15- to 20-minute sittings. The goal is to relax the mind, which has a natural tendency to jump from one idea to the next—and from one worry to the next. Do not try to force your mind back to your mantra when you notice it has wandered. Simply guide it back gently, accepting that it may stray again.
Two-pointed meditation is also called mindful or insight meditation. With this technique, you relax your mind by focusing on your breath. As your mind jumps around, practice non-judgmental awareness—simply observe the pattern of your thoughts and gently guide them back to focus on your breath. Non-judgmental awareness allows you to separate yourself from emotions and sensations rather than getting pulled into them. One benefit of this type of meditation is that you can practice it while seated quietly or when doing daily activities.
This stress-reducing technique combines deep breathing and meditation. As you practice deep breathing, imagine a peaceful scene or setting, perhaps from a memory. Once you are relaxed, you can create a “wakeful dream” in which, for example, you envision pain being washed away or your body becoming stronger.
Many people practice guided imagery exercises while listening to recordings of ambient sounds. These are usually music or sounds from nature, such as waterfalls or ocean waves. Sometimes just listening to ambient sounds is enough to relax your mind and briefly transport you emotionally to a place in which you feel safer and more secure. Other mind/body practices are yoga, dance movement and tai chi.
For my free guided meditation, go here.
For free guided imagery audio downloads, including an introduction to guided imagery from the Comprehensive Cancer Center, click here.
*Free recorded guided visualizations that you can download, go to the Sound Mind, Sound Body link. Enter User Name: SandraJ Password: Healing
Recording titles that are relevant: “Break Time”, “Cancer Be Gone”, “Oasis of Comfort”
*Return to Wholeness, a Mind Body approach to healing cancer, DVD by Deepak Chopra.
*Cancer, Discovering your Healing Powers audio download by Louise Hay
*Deep Meditation for Healing audio download by Anita Moorjani
I hope these exercises bring a little more peace and comfort to you.