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Meditation is a type of mind-body therapy. Mind-body therapies are based on the connection between the mind and the body and how the health of one affects the health of the other.
Meditation is the practice of concentrating or focusing your attention 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.
Many different types of meditation have been practised in different cultures for thousands of years. The traditional way to meditate is to sit cross-legged on a mat on the floor, but you can meditate while sitting in a chair or lying down. In walking meditation, you walk slowly through a maze or along a special path designed for meditation. Other complementary therapies, such as tai chi and yoga, combine deliberate movement with meditation.
Many people try different types of meditation to see what works best for them. You may find it hard to meditate at first, but most people get better with practice. You can practise meditation once or twice a day for short time periods of 10 or 15 minutes or for longer periods of time.
Some meditative practices have a religious or spiritual component, while others do not. You can focus on love or being thankful, or you can reflect on a poem or a piece of artwork that you find inspiring.
Meditation as a complementary therapy
There is no evidence at this time that meditation can treat cancer itself. People often use meditation as a way to relax and cope with stress and anxiety.
Research studies suggest that regular meditation can help reduce chronic pain, anxiety and problems sleeping. It can also help lower blood pressure and improve mood in people living with cancer.
Side effects and risks of meditation
Talk to your healthcare team if you are thinking about trying meditation. Meditation is thought to be safe for most people. If you have a history of depression or other mental health issues, you may want to speak with your healthcare team and the meditation instructor to make sure that meditation is safe for you.
A few people have become disoriented or anxious when they tried meditation. Some people find it uncomfortable to sit in one position for a long period of time. Other people may not be able to sit on the floor or do meditation practices that include movement. A meditation instructor can help you find a meditation position or technique that works best for you.
Finding a meditation instructor
You can practise meditation on your own or you can join a group that is guided by a meditation instructor. The meditation instructor might be a yoga instructor, counsellor, psychologist, psychiatrist or another healthcare professional. Many community groups and yoga studios offer meditation groups. Your cancer centre may also offer a meditation group or mindfulness-based stress reduction practice.