Meditation is a type of mind-body therapy based on the connection between the mind and the body and how the health of one affects the health of the other.
Meditation is a state of deep concentration when you focus your mind on one image, sound or idea, such as a positive thought in order to increase mental awareness and calm your mind and body. The aim is to be aware of thoughts that normally occupy your mind or to experience the sensations that flow through your body and mind.
One of the most important parts of meditation is conscious breathing, or being aware of the way that you breathe. Taking regular, slow, deep and quiet breaths helps to calm your body and mind. It’s believed that this type of breathing will help lower blood pressure and help reduce stress and anxiety.
A History of the Medical Use of Meditation
Meditation is both an ancient spiritual practice and a contemporary mind-body technique for relaxing the body and calming the mind. Most meditative techniques have come to the West from Asian religious practices, particularly India, China, and Japan, but similar techniques can be found in many cultures around the world. Until recently, the primary purpose of meditation has been religious, although its health benefits have long been recognised in cultures where these methods originated.
Meditation comes from the latin root “meditatum,”which means “to ponder” and the first time the term “meditato” was used to refer to a step-by-step process goes back to the 12th century monk Guigo II.
Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu scriptures and it was around the 6th to 5th centuries that we begin to see other forms of meditation developed in Confucian, Taoist China, and Buddhist India.
The structured practice of meditation that is more familiar to the modern method of meditation is believed to go back 5,000 years, as it slowly developed in India
The initial development of meditation by Hindus was to understand and get closer to the true nature of Brahman (“God”); the development by Siddhartha Guatama, “the Buddha”, began when he reached enlightenment by meditating under the a Bodhi Tree around 500 BC.
The major break between Hindu and Buddhist meditation occurred when Buddhist followers no longer believed that meditation should be used to reach a closer understanding with a higher being, which is what Hindu meditation was for, but as a means of realising one’s interrelatedness with all things.
As Japanese Buddhism started to grow during the 8th century, the Japanese monk Dosho was taught Zen during a visit to China and he opened his first meditation hall upon his return to Japan. He wrote the instructions for sitting meditation, “Zazen” and created a community of monks who primarily focused on that form of meditation.
Christianity, Islam, and Judaism had their own forms of meditation. Jewish meditation included meditative approaches to prayer and study, such as Kabbalsitic practices; Islamic meditation included the repetition of God’s 99 names as well as breathing controls; and Eastern Christian meditation included the repetition of certain physical postures and repetition of prayers.
In 1927, the book “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was published, which attracted significant attention from Westerners and excited interest about the practice. This was followed by the Vipassana movement, or insight meditation, which began in Burma in the 1950s. “The Dharma Bums” was published in 1958, attracting even more attention to meditation.
Meditation began to spread to Western society thousands of years later after it was adopted in the East. It gained popularity in the mid-20th century and it was in the 1960s and 1970s that professors and researchers began to test the effects of meditation and learn about its benefits.
Dr. Herbert Benson is credited as being a pioneer in establishing the benefits and effectiveness of meditation through his research at Harvard University in the 1970s. His publication of articles on the health benefits of meditation led to a breakthrough, as his studies showed that meditation acts as an antidote to stress. His book “The Relaxation Response” topped the best-seller lists in the mid-1970s and is still considered a popular book today.
In 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was founded in the United States, which used meditative techniques in the treatment plans for patients with chronic diseases.
Since this time, meditation has become increasingly more common, and plays a central role in many religious traditions and rituals, in addition to helping individuals to manage stress and improve overall well-being.
Meditation – Then and Now
Published on Aug 24, 2010
Meditation – Then and Now: Find answers to all questions like What is meditation? Where did it come from? What can it do for you?
Meditation as a Complementary Therapy
There is no evidence at this time that meditation can treat cancer itself, but it may help people with cancer by relieving anxiety and stress. People often use meditation as a way to relax and cope with stress and anxiety.
As with other complementary therapies, one of the main reasons people with cancer use meditation is to help them to feel better. Meditation can reduce anxiety and stress and help control problems such as
- Difficulty sleeping
- Feeling sick
- High blood pressure
It can take time to feel the benefits of meditation and at first you may feel that you are getting more stressed as you see how busy your mind is. But if you keep trying to meditate for even a short time each day you will find that it gets easier and gradually you will feel calmer and less stressed. Regular practice is the key thing.
Many people try different types of meditation to see what works best for them. You may find it hard to meditate at first, but most people get better with practice. You can practise meditation once or twice a day for short time periods of 10 or 15 minutes or for longer periods of time.
There are many different types of meditation. Most involve being still and quiet, but some involve movement, such as tai chi, chi gong or walking meditation.
The different types can be divided into groups:
Mindfulness means being aware and present in each moment. Mindfulness meditation practice can be done while sitting. You keep gently bringing your attention and awareness back to the present moment whenever you notice that you are daydreaming or distracted. One way of doing this is to bring awareness to the sensation of breathing, using this as an anchor for the mind to come back to.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
Mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) is an 8 week programme which teaches mindfulness meditation to help you cope better and be more at ease in your life.
Many hospitals and clinics offer this type of meditation. It was developed in America by a man called Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- Sitting meditation (breath awareness, focused attention)
- Body scanning (awareness of sensations in the body)
- Mindful movement
- Walking meditation
- Insight meditation
- Looking at how our thoughts and emotions affect us, which can help us to respond more effectively to situations
A related type of MBSR is mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT).
In focused meditation you use an object, such as a flower or candle flame, to bring your attention back to. This can help the mind to focus better, which is an important part of meditation.
In visualisation you create specific images in your mind. You focus your imagination to create pictures or images for a specific reason, such as to relieve symptoms of cancer or help yourself relax. There is detailed information about visualisation in this section.
Guided Imagery or Guided Visualisation
A teacher, CD or sound file directs your attention in a specific way. A voice guides your imagination with the aim of relaxing you. This may involve creating an image of a scene in your mind, such as walking through a forest or on a beach, or lying in the cool grass by a beautiful lake. You don’t have to be able to create a visual image (to “see” anything). Just thinking about the images is enough.
This method involves repeating a specific word or phrase (mantra) given to you by the transcendental meditation teacher. It aims to increase your energy and lower your stress level. It also helps to develop concentration and focus your mind.
In prayerful meditation, the aim is to develop your spirituality. The meaning of the meditation will vary according to your religion or views. In some traditions the aim is to open you up to God or a higher power. In others the aim is to develop positive qualities such as compassion and wisdom.
Meditation and Movement
Some traditions combine meditation with movement to harmonise body and mind. These include tai chi, Qi Gong, walking meditation and yoga.
Research and clinical trials conducted over the past 20 years have
studied meditation as a way of reducing stress in both the mind and
body. Most of the recent research has focused on mindfulness based
stress reduction. The trials have shown that meditation can help to
reduce anxiety, depression, tiredness, stress, chronic pain and sleep
problems. It can also help to lower blood pressure and reduce menopausal
Some scientific evidence shows that meditation can help to relieve particular symptoms and improve quality of life for people with cancer.
Research has shown that meditation can
- Improve one’s mood
- Improve one’s ability to concentrate
- Reduce severe depression and anxiety
- Boost one’s immune system
There is, however, no evidence to suggest that meditation can help to prevent, treat or cure your cancer or any other disease.
A controlled study published in 2000 looked at 90 cancer patients who did mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) meditation for 7 weeks. They found that people who meditated had 31% lower stress symptoms and 67% less mood disturbance than people who did not meditate.
In June 2005 a review looked at the research evidence about using meditation in cancer care.
The reviewers found that when practiced alongside cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, mindfulness meditation may help people with cancer to feel more positive and optimistic.
It may also help to reduce some side effects and symptoms such as anxiety and nausea.
A study in the Netherlands in 2008 found that cancer patients who practiced MBSR were very satisfied with the training. They said that it gave them a better quality of life, more joy in life, less tension, and fewer physical symptoms. A year after the training they also reported less depression, anger and mood disturbance.
In 2009 an American study looked at mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) for women with early stage breast cancer. It found that the women who practiced MBSR had lower levels of depression, less anxiety and less fear of the cancer coming back. They also had higher energy levels and better physical wellbeing than women who did not practice MBSR.
A study in Canada in 2010 looked at 21 people who had cancer and their partners. It found that for both patients and their partners MBSR could improve mindfulness and reduce stress and mood disturbance.
A UK study in 2012 assessed how well mindfulness based stress reduction worked in women with early stage breast cancer. 229 women took part and they had had surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy for breast cancer. Half the women had an 8 week MBSR program and the other half had standard care.
The researchers found that the women who had MBSR felt better emotionally and physically and had fewer hormone related symptoms than women who had standard care. They said that this study gives evidence that MBSR can help to reduce the long term emotional and physical effects of treatments, including hormone treatments. They recommend MBSR as a support for women having breast cancer treatment.
How is Meditation Administered?
When meditating, you might also do deep-breathing or relaxation exercises.
You can practise meditation on your own or you can join a group that is guided by a meditation instructor.
The meditation instructor might be a yoga instructor, counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist or
another healthcare professional.
Many community groups and yoga studios offer meditation groups. Your cancer centre may also offer a meditation group or mindfulness-based stress reduction practice.
Meditation is about clearing the mind of everything else—all the extraneous distractions, obsessions, doubts, and trifling matters that keep us from focusing.
It’s something we need to do every morning when we wake up and every night before we go to bed (at least, I find my days more powerful and intentional when I do it morning and night).
You live the day of a champion by beginning as one and ending as one.
The key to meditation is in the breath—to focus on your breathing and be aware of your breath. You want to unplug and simply breathe. Breathe in joy; breathe out stress. In joy; out stress.
Allow yourself to feel connected to the world, to the universe, and, most important, to yourself. Anything that gets you disconnected from business, career, stress, and the rat race is great for you.
15-Second Centering Breath Process
- Breathe in through the nose if you can for a count of one, two, three, four, and five, expanding the belly.
- Then hold it for a count of one and two.
- Then breathe out through the mouth for a count of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and eight, releasing the air in the belly. Be prepared; this is a big breath. It’s not something you’re doing all day. This is just to reboot your breathing. But the key is the exhale. It’s a little bit longer than the inhale, and that’s where you get the relaxation response.
Side Effects or Risks
Meditation is generally safe. You can meditate on your own for a few
minutes once or twice a day or you can take a class with an instructor.
Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about trying meditation. Meditation is thought to be safe for most people.
If you have a history of depression or other mental health issues, you may want to speak with your healthcare team and the meditation instructor to make sure that meditation is safe for you.
A few people have become disoriented or anxious when they tried meditation. Some people find it uncomfortable to sit in one position for a long period of time.
Other people may not be able to sit on the floor or do meditation practices that include movement.
A meditation instructor can help you find a meditation position or technique that works best for you
Please note that the Little Fighters Cancer Trust shares information regarding various types of cancer treatments on this blog merely for informational use. LFCT does not endorse or promote any specific cancer treatments – we believe that the public should be informed but that the option is theirs to take as to what treatments are to be used.
Always consult your medical practitioner prior to taking any other medication, natural or otherwise.