If you’re going through breast cancer-or have survived it-you’re no stranger to stress. But stress takes on a new meaning when it’s paired with cancer. We know that stress attacks the immune system, which scares us into thinking that we may be making our health situation worse with all the worry and anxiety.
I have one question for you: Have you tried meditation? A recent study shows that you should. Researchers at St. Joseph Hospital in Chicago studied over 100 breast-cancer patients for over two years and found that those who regularly practiced transcendental meditation experienced less stress, better emotional and mental well being, and an overall improvement in quality of life.
According to Sanford Nidich, the study’s lead author, research shows that stress and anxiety can be contributing factors in the onset and progression of breast cancer and even mortality. “It is wonderful that physicians now have a range of interventions to use,” said co-author Rhoda Pomerantz, “including transcendental meditation, to benefit their patients with cancer. I believe this approach should be appreciated and used more widely.”
The American Cancer Society (ACS) says that in the last 20 years, meditation has shown in studies to help reduce anxiety, stress, blood pressure, chronic pain, and insomnia. They mention that in a study of 90 cancer patients who did meditation, nearly a third had fewer symptoms of stress, and over two-thirds had fewer mood disturbances.
So what is transcendental meditation? The most researched type of meditation, it’s based on the teachings of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who began helping others learn the technique in the 1950s. “Transcendental Meditation is a simple, natural program for the mind,” said Maharishi, “a spontaneous, effortless march of the mind to its own unbounded essence….It’s not a set of beliefs, a philosophy, a lifestyle, or a religion. It’s an experience, a mental technique one practices every day for fifteen or twenty minutes.”
What exactly does one “practice?” The idea is to create a state of “restful alertness,” where mind and body are in a deep kind of restfulness, but not asleep. This allows body and mind to really relax and escape from the worries and anxieties of everyday living. “The very deep rest gained during 20 minutes of Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation,” says Robert Roth, author of Maharishi Manesh Yogi’s Transcendental Meditation, “allows the body to rejuvenate itself and throw off the accumulated stress and fatigue that has built up over the years.”
According to the Transcendental Meditation Organization, the technique of the practice is very simple. Basically, you find a quiet place where you feel comfortable, sit down, close your eyes, and allow your mind to “settle inward” until you’re experiencing a quiet, peaceful level of consciousness. As you experience this, your body achieves a high level of relaxation, and your mind becomes more alert. Though there are many types of meditation you can try, this particular type has a plethora of studies linking it to health benefits.
“The TM [transcendental meditation] technique is the most widely researched of all meditation techniques,” says the Transcendental Meditation site. “Over 600 research studies have been conducted at over 250 universities and research centers….These studies have been published in more than 100 journals.”
The nice thing about this type of meditation is that it’s very easy to do. Women in the study mentioned at the beginning of this post said that part of their success was the simplicity of the technique. If you want to learn how, check out the TM site for techniques, click here for instructional books from Maharishi himself, here for books from other authors, and here for a quick video on the technique from Deepak Chopra. You can also check your area for classes.
Have you tried transcendental meditation? What was your experience?
Photo courtesy stress-relief via Flickr.com.