There’s a reason that the National Institutes of Health convened a panel to study the benefits of meditation on cancer patients. Their conclusion: Just do it.
Cancer patients live with extraordinary stress which can cause biological and psychological damage. When our amazing bodies perceive a threat, they instantly respond by flooding cortisol (the stress hormone) throughout our muscles and organs, positioning us to fight or escape out of danger. It begins by causing our hearts to pump massive amounts of blood to major muscle groups to give us a temporary physical boost. When the crisis has passed, the body normally counter-balances these biological episodes with a relaxation response – cooling down the systems back to normal.
Under chronic stress, the body’s cooling down function doesn’t work so well. The problem with cancer is that, these prolonged levels of cortisol can result in impaired cognition, hyperglycemia, decreased bone density and muscle mass, higher blood pressure, lowered immunity, reduced inflammatory responses and increased abdominal fat.
Meditation is a mind-body connection that helps create the optimum state of relaxation while improving immune function, mental alertness, self awareness and inner peace. In a recent health report by Harvard Medical School, it is cited as one of the keys to achieving happiness, regardless of external factors because it consistently calms the mind and reduces stress, which further reduces pain and anxiety, improves sleep and lowers blood pressure.
Some people recoil at the thought of sitting in a yoga posture chanting as incense wafts in the dark corners of the room. Good news: You don’t need to do that to meditate. Some forms of meditation involve movement, such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, or walking a Labyrinth. Some people prefer a guided meditation, either live or recorded, in which spoken words or music guide the listener into deep relaxation. You can begin by sitting in a quiet space, focusing on your breath as it flows in and out, letting go of thoughts or judgments. With practice, you will find it easier and easier to “drop in” and settle the mind.