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Mindfulness Meditation’s Triumph as a Cancer Treatment

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Meditation can help you battle cancer

Cancer Research’s UK home page recently reported:  “One in two people born after 1960 in the UK will be diagnosed with some form of cancer during their lifetime”.

I was born in 1959 and at the ripe old age of 55 I have managed to be the positive side of this statistic, thankfully.

Let us look deeper into the causes of cancer and how we can avoid what seems like the inevitable. My Guru always used to say, Disease is two words – Dis and Ease.  This indicates that health problems have a mental origin.

We need to dig a little deeper into understanding the context of dis-ease!  It’s widely researched and published today that stress has a harmful effect on us.  Our modern world is a very stressful place and it is very easy to get swept away by social and cultural pressures.

The origin of stress is fear

The origin of stress is fear.  Our system has a wonderful ability to preserve itself, guided in principal by our autonomic nervous system.  Our five senses connect exterior data about our environment to our conscious mind, and our autonomic nervous system responds accordingly.  If we experience cold, then our internal heater goes on, blood is withdrawn from our skin and we burn more fuel to create warmth.  It´s so wonderfully efficient that it has guaranteed our survival over millions of years.

We can see this fear in the gazelle´s eyes and body movements as it runs for its life with a cheater in chase.  All creatures and forms of life have this inbuilt self-reservation mechanism, and as an example, we can even see this in a rose bush displaying it´s protective thorns.

Our ego is responsible for much of the stress we experience as it is forever trying to preserve itself and our sense of identity.  It wrongly assumes the authority of our higher self in the same process of trying to preserve itself. Instead of becoming the vehicle through which our higher self expresses itself, it becomes the slave to the impressions and memories, both positive and negative of the mind that dominate our thoughts and behaviour.  (As you will read later, our thoughts have a direct effect on our well-being).

Our thoughts become conditioned by those impressions and we lose clarity, and thereby, the true reality and realisation of our higher self.  A conditioned and patterned mind can no longer act, but only reacts to the information passed to it, not only internally by our thinking process, but also from the exterior stimuli from our environment.

Albeit, we could not survive without the ego, it needs clarification so the light of the higher self can shine through without impediment. Hence, it will become the aforementioned vehicle in expressing our higher or divine self.

One of the attributes of manifestation is preservation

If we want to take this to an even further level of analysis, one of the attributes of manifestation is preservation.  It is nature´s nature to manifest and we have deliberately avoided using the word “create” here as this implies will.  Manifestation is a natural, inherent process as the flower emanates fragrance, it is its nature to do so – it manifests the fragrance without any will.

Therefore, the autonomic nervous system is indeed our engine of preservation moving us from sympathetic states to parasympathetic states with perfected automaticity.

So, we misinterpret many natural things and laws around us and this creates us stress as we grapple to preserve ourselves or something to which we have become attached or conditioned.

Being in a constant state of fear causes stress and this burns up the mind and body’s resource very quickly as our autonomic system responds to the threat. Stress hormones are secreted into the bloodstream, and as we know, they are not that easy to metabolise quickly.

Constant mental agitation caused by fear and consequently, stress is indeed the precursor to illness, and in my understanding this is how disease takes hold of us.  Free radicals in our system dominate and create imbalances at our cellular level.

So, it is our mind or mental self that makes us ill?  Yes, of course, if we have a bad diet then this does not help, but what causes us to have a bad diet is also from the mind level, be it greed or ignorance.

Meditation make us more mindful

Meditation makes us more mindful and this can help us have greater mental control and use those energies in a constructive way, drawing on the finer, positive energies as opposed to the grosser energies of negativity.

The benefits of meditation to our day to day lives are numerous. Not only are more and more people seeing the spiritual benefits of the practice, meditation is being used in a secular, non-spiritual manner, and is rapidly being adopted by a growing number of medical institutions around the world. It has been successfully utilised to treat cognitive, psychological and emotional illnesses and disorders, such as:

  • Depression, including major depressive disorder (MDD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Obsessive compulsive disorders (OCD)
  • Addiction issues

Those who suffer chronic physical illnesses benefit, too. The power of the mind in treating physical ailments has long been noted, and recent studies have made exciting discoveries of the physical benefits that meditation can provide. Managing and treating cancer requires a coordination between physical treatments (such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and surgery) and therapy solutions, including group therapy support, one-on-one counselling, and, specifically, mindful meditation-based therapies.

Mindful Meditation and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

The MBSR was felt to fill a health service gap, possibly allowing the patients to learn to navigate and stay afloat in what may seem to be the large and small waves of their transformed lives” –Matsousek and Dobkin, 2010

Psychologists, when talking about life stressors, typically discuss problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies. The former is useful in dealing with a tangible, solvable problem, and involves managing behavior, including breaking approaches down into smaller tasks, seeking more information, or evaluating pros and cons of approaches in dealing with the stressor.

However, cancer is an uncontrollable problem, at least in the sense that it can’t be immediately solved by our behavior. The existential issues, fear of uncertainty and feelings of helplessness that cancer brings up are best treated with an emotion-focused strategy. This is where mindful meditation comes into its element.

Dealing with stress – which can potentially cause and aggravate existing physical problems – is extremely important in tackling cancer, and developing a healthy perspective is essential in both coming to terms with the illness and potentially overcoming it. It is clear, then, that meditation-based practices are highly effective in both stress and mood management, but also in cultivating profound, valuable traits and perspectives, that can benefit quality of life immeasurably.

Mindful Meditation and Physical Benefits

Experimental studies suggest that psychological factors such as stress can affect the ability of a tumor to grow and spread. Studies in both mice and humans have found that the stress hormone, norepinephrine, may promote angiogenesis and metastasis, the spread and growth of cells, specifically cancer cells. In this case, while mindful meditation techniques might not directly impact cancer on a physical level, it does manage stress (up to a 35% reduction) which, in turn, limits potential stress-induced cancer growth.

Another study conducted by a research team from the University of Calgary and Alberta found that mindful meditation and gentle Hatha yoga practices actually impacted participants down to the cellular level. Participants underwent group sessions of mindful meditation and Hatha yoga both during weekly sessions and at home over a period of 8 weeks.

This finding adds to the literature supporting the potential for stress-reducing interventions to impact important disease-regulating processes and ultimately disease outcome” –Elissa Epel, UCSF School of Medicine

The study concluded that telomere length (protective structures at the end of gene chromosomes) lengthened after stress-reducing activities, namely mindful meditation and yoga. Lengthened telomeres are directly linked with longevity and improved disease resistance.

While most research in this area is in its infancy, early discoveries appear promising for cancer patients. The psychological benefits of meditation practices – including mindfulness, yoga, and even tai chi – are well documented. We are entering an era where technology can acknowledge and discover the serious, vital positive impacts to one’s well-being – especially when dealing with a serious illness such as cancer – that meditation and mediation-based practices can bring.

Meditation is an ideal practice in acceptance and observance of life’s surprises – be they positive or negative. This balanced, open perspective almost seems tailor-made for cancer patients, who are posed with serious existential questions, and an inability to directly remedy their condition.

It’s about time that a wide-spread, secularised form of meditation, such as the system taught by us in FISU Meditation, is accepted as standard practice for stress and emotion management in both Western homes and Western medical institutions.

………. Rajesh Ananda

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