Mindfulness meditation and other mind-body introspective practices actively used for more than 2,000 years are now gaining wider acceptance in Western medicine. Expanding evidence supports its benefits for a number of conditions, including stress reduction among cancer patients.
"Mindfulness" involves intentionally bringing awareness to present-moment experience with an attitude of openness and curiosity.
“To be mindful is essentially seeing and experiencing things as they are, using all senses while also being aware of thoughts, emotional tones, and reactions as they arise without judging them as good, bad, right, or wrong,” said Susan Bower-Wu, an associate professor at Emory University’s Woodruff School of Nursing.
Mindfulness is rooted in the Eastern religion and philosophy of Buddhism and is a type of mental training. The goal is to have mindfulness infuse one’s way of being in and relating to the world in everyday life, which is developed and sustained through regular, ongoing meditation practice, Bower-Wu said.
“Sustained and maximum benefits occur with ongoing practice. Research clearly demonstrates a direct relationship between the amount of formal meditation practice and the magnitude of positive effects, as demonstrated by changes in brain structure and function and outcomes associated with sense of well-being," she said.
Mindfulness practices are accessible to anyone regardless of physical condition and are inexpensive to do. Mindfulness based stress reductions (MBSR) and other introductory classes are simply an entry into mindfulness meditation and can be learned, often at no cost or low cost, at many hospitals, universities or at Buddhist meditation centers.
Numerous studies have been done on how mindfulness affects cancer patients. One of the foremost experts, Dr. Linda E. Carlson, co-author of Mindfulness-based cancer recovery: A step-by-step MBSR approach to help you cope with treatment and reclaim your life found patients with mixed cancer diagnoses who participated in mindfulness training had lower mood disturbance and stress symptoms after MBSR and those improvements were maintained at a six month follow-up.