Mind-body practices play an extremely important role in complementary and alternative medicine. One of the most basic forms of tapping into the mind-body connection is meditation, which dates back to ancient spiritual traditions.
How Does Meditation Work?
Different forms of meditation have developed since the practice of meditating first began. Typically meditation is performed while seated; however, there are also some moving forms of meditation like tai chi and qigong.
One of the most well-known forms of this mind-body therapy is Transcendental Meditation, which incorporates the repetition of a mantra, which is a word or phrase that is continually repeated. Also popular is mindful meditation, during which the participant is asked to observed specific sensations, perceptions, and thoughts without judging them.
Meditation can be performed through self-direction, or as a guided experience. The guide can be a Master practitioner from a particular school of meditation, like a yoga master; or it can be a medical practitioner, like a mental health professional, who has additional training in leading a meditation session.
The American Cancer Society offers this description of how meditation is typically performed:
“Meditation may be done by choosing a quiet place free from distraction, sitting or resting quietly with eyes closed, noticing one’s breathing and physical sensations, and 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 chanting 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 sessions of fifteen to twenty minutes a day.”
On March 21, 2011, Dr. Jay Adlersburg, Channel 7 Eyewitness News’ health and science reporter, created this report about meditation and cancer patients.
What Specific Benefit do Cancer Patients Receive From Meditating?
The most significant benefit is stress reduction. This is especially important for patients undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. When patients begin treatment, there is a tendency to become agitated because of the fear of the unknown. This elevation in stress level can increase the severity of treatment side effects, like nausea and fatigue. Through the practice of meditation, the patient can learn to control stress levels, which allows them to receive treatment with a relaxed mind and body. This not only lessens the severity of side effects, but it can also increase the likelihood that the patient will not experience any side effects at all.
Research Shows the Positive Effects Meditation Has on the Brain and the Immune System
In a study titled "Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation", published in the July-August 2003 edition of Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers found that mindfulness meditation produced significant increased activity in the left-side of the brain and an increase in the ability of the immune system to make use of antibodies in the flu vaccine. The 25 participants who received training in this meditation technique showed these beneficial effects after only eight weeks.