Want to feel calmer and more relaxed during your cancer journey? Want to experience less anxiety and depression, sleep better and feel a greater sense of overall well-being?
You’re in luck. Meditation might help with all of those things.
Even better, anyone can do it, said Daisy Rivera, a licensed clinical social worker at City of Hope and a certified Kundalini yoga and meditation teacher.
There are many types of meditation, but they share common elements, Rivera said.
Meditation is any process that brings us into the full presence of ourselves and also calms the mind.”
Be in the moment
Meditation involves focusing your attention – whether on a word, a phrase or on your own breath. A big piece of meditation is being mindful, or fully present, in the moment, Rivera said.
But contrary to what many people think, that doesn’t mean you have to learn to empty your mind. “Often people who start a meditation practice think if their mind isn’t completely blank, they’re doing it wrong,” she said.
The goal isn’t to clear your brain, however. “The thoughts continue to occur. It’s about learning to become more like an observer and to not engage with those thoughts,” she said.
Start a simple meditation practice
You don’t need formal training or a big chunk of time to start meditating, Rivera said. It can be as simple as spending a few minutes focusing on your breath. “Even if you only have time to take 10 deep breaths and make that your practice for the day, there are benefits,” she said.
You might start by sitting quietly with your eyes closed. Notice your breath moving in and out. When a thought pops up – anxiety about starting your next round of chemo, for example – observe that thought without dwelling on it. Let it go to revisit at another time.
In a society where we’re overscheduled and often rewarded for getting things done, it can be hard to get used to giving ourselves the time to just be, said Rivera. But it gets easier. “A person learning the violin doesn’t start with Beethoven,” she pointed out. “We become better with practice.”
Rivera works primarily with older adult patients, but she said anyone can benefit from meditation, regardless of age, health or background. But for people dealing with the unknowns of a cancer diagnosis, meditation can be particularly helpful.
“It’s very empowering,” she said. “Meditation really helps people regain that control that so many feel they’ve lost because of the uncertainty.”
Many of the dying don’t fear death as much as they fear how they will die. “It’s the in-between part people fear the most. If you can give them insight on what to expect, that can ease a lot of their concerns,” says City of Hope palliative care physician Heather Bitar, D.O.
Diagnosed with an aggressive form of leukemia, Jessica Appel knew that her time was running out. Still, her story has a bittersweet ending, thanks to the many City of Hope employees on her care team who did everything they could to allow her to pass away on her own terms.