We already know meditation can enhance our physical and mental wellbeing. Even though recently we initiated to talk about mindfulness meditation in western medicine, it has been prevailing for a long time in history.
Origin of Meditation
The origin of mindfulness meditation is from Eastern religious traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism and they used these meditation methods basically to achieve a state of mind that is used to experience higher awareness or consciousness.
Fortunately, western medicine has successfully proved a lot of health benefits from mindfulness meditation and one of them is the alteration of Cancer Survivor’s Cells.
This study has been conducted by Alberta Health Services, Tom Baker Cancer Centre and the University of Calgary, Department of Oncology with 88 distressed breast cancer survivors with a diagnosis of stage I to III cancer (using the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) TNM staging system) who had completed treatment at least 3 months prior to being participated.
The participants who had completed their treatments for at least three months were involved for the duration of the study. The average age was 55 and most participants had ended treatment two years prior. To be eligible, they also had to be experiencing significant levels of emotional distress.
In this study, they focused on the fact of practising mindfulness meditation or being involved in a support group that has a positive physical impact at the cellular level in breast cancer survivors. Therefore, they have divided the participants into two groups which are mindfulness-based cancer recovery (MBCR) group and supportive-expressive group therapy (SET).
In the Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery group, participants attended eight weekly, 90-minute group sessions that provided instruction on mindfulness meditation and gentle Hatha yoga, with the goal of cultivating non-judgmental awareness of the present moment. Participants were also asked to practice meditation and yoga at home for 45 minutes daily.
In the Supportive Expressive Therapy group, participants met for 90 minutes weekly for 12 weeks and were encouraged to talk openly about their concerns and their feelings. The objectives were to build mutual support and to guide women in expressing a wide range of both difficult and positive emotions, rather than suppressing or repressing them.
The participants randomly placed in the control group attended one, six-hour stress management seminar. All study participants had their blood analysed and telomere length measured before and after the interventions. As a result, scientists have seen that the telomeres (the protein caps at the end of our chromosomes that determine how quickly a cell ages) stayed the same length in cancer survivors who meditated or took part in support groups over a three-month period.
This was the first time scientists were able to prove the impact of mindfulness meditation on cancer.
There was another study to review if mindfulness addressed one of the following aspects of cancer management: cancer prevention, cancer-related stress, cancer-related pain, cancer-related fatigue, cancer-related cachexia, cancer-related sleep disorders, immune response and mindfulness, caregivers of cancer patients, radiation therapy, and cost-effectiveness. And as conclusion, they have seen the benefit of mindfulness in cancer is to reduce toxicity and stress.
According to the Melbourne Integrated Oncology Group, there was a study of mood disturbance in women with breast cancer and found significant improvements in depression scores and coping capacity, as well as the physiological reduction in post-traumatic growth and improvement in the immune response.
A study looking at inflammatory markers in breast cancer survivors found that MBSR improved recovery.
Another study of breast cancer survivors showed a significant improvement of sleep parameters including sleep time and bouts of waking.
Multiple other studies are showing consistent improvement of psychological functioning, reduction of stress, enhanced coping and overall improved well-being because of mindfulness.
Many patients subjectively report that mindfulness helps with letting go and accepting and dealing with uncertainty and fear. It is a skill that many people benefit from for the rest of their lives.
How To Start Mindfulness Meditation
Melbourne Integrated Oncology Group has explained the guidelines of Mindfulness Meditation. As per them, The aim is to bring awareness in the present moment
- Take a seat wherever is comfortable for you and close your eyes.
- First, take notice what your legs are doing. You can tense and squeeze your muscles and toes and notice how this feels.
- Straighten your upper body to your natural curvature. Your head and shoulders can rest up comfortably on top of your vertebrae.
- Drop your hands in your lap. Move your fingers around, squeeze into your hand then relax them. Notice the rise and fall of your belly or chest, and the air moving through your nose, mouth and belly and how relaxed they feel.
- Take a few deep breaths deep into your diaphragm to relax your abdomen.
- Be still for a few moments, however long you feel you need to. Bring your attention to your breath and/or the sensations in your body. Breathing out for a longer period than breathing in (e.g. breathing in for 4 seconds and breathing out for 6) helps to really activate the parasympathetic nervous system and bring upon a sense of relaxation.
- When you are ready gently open your eyes. Take a moment to notice how your body feels and also how you would like to feel during the remainder of the day.
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