Meditation involves calming the mind and body in order to relieve anxiety, stress, pain and to focus your body’s resources on healing.
The connection between mind and body has been indisputably proven, but the mechanism by which it works is simply not understood. Equally, harnessing the tremendous benefits is a matter of personal practice and perseverance.
Since the 1950s, over 3000 studies on meditation have been conducted, including studies on visualisation, which showed that sports people could achieve greater improvement in their game or sport through visualisation than control groups who simply practised the sport.
Dr Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard University, has documented that meditation induces a wide range of biochemical and physical changes, which he collectively referred to as the “relaxation response”. These changes include altered respiration, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, response to pain and brain chemistry.
Given that stress actively increases your body’s amount of circulating free radicals, and free radicals are linked to an increase in the rate of cancer, it follows that eliminating stress through meditation should directly impact upon your level of cancer risk if engaged in on a regular basis.
A study conducted by Yale, Harvard, and Massachusetts General Hospital has demonstrated that meditation actively increases the volume of grey matter in certain parts of your brain. Using brain scans and participants with intensive Buddhist “insight meditation” training, alongside a control group who did not meditate, the researchers discovered that the parts of the brain responsible for processing sensory input and attention span had increased thickness.
The researchers concluded that it may be possible to use meditation as a measure to slow the deterioration of brain tissue in later life.
With regard to cancer, in 2006, researchers reviewed the findings of nine different studies on mindfulness meditation and cancer. The findings were that practising mindfulness meditation yielded “consistent benefits”, including an improvement in stress levels, the ability to cope, psychological functioning, pain management, fatigue, sleep patterns, mood and general well-being.
Another controlled study of mindfulness meditation showed that those who meditated had an improved immune response to the influenza vaccine than those who did not meditate. So if mindfulness meditation can measurably improve immune response, surely it can play a part in cancer prevention and cancer treatment.
In light of this, I feel that meditation is a valuable addition to your toolbox. Of course, it does not replace lifestyle changes, improvement in your diet and medical treatment, but it is a very worthy addition.
The only caveat is that meditation may not be suitable for you if you have mental illness. If this applies to you, please consult with your Doctor.
Below are a collection of resources and articles that may be of help: