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. There are many different types of meditation and most people try different kinds of meditation to see what works best for them.
Many individuals with cancer feel that meditation has been beneficial to them in various ways. Meditation can be done by individuals of any age and many children with cancer have profited from the benefits of meditation.
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.
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 symptoms.
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.
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.