There are many ways to meditate, but I have learned there are some basic ways to support and promote healing by connecting with breath and mind. This aids in fighting feelings such as anxiety and depression when going through a cancer diagnosis.
While at a breast cancer event in October, I was asked by an individual who has had a breast cancer recurrence how to meditate. Her goal was to learn ways to calm her body and mind while once again undergoing treatments, including chemotherapy. There are many ways to meditate, but I have learned that there are some basic ways to support and promote healing by connecting with breath and mind. This aids in fighting feelings such as anxiety and depression.
I had just begun yoga teacher training when diagnosed with breast cancer in January of 2015. I have since trained and become certified in yoga4cancer, but what I learned about meditation were things I used and modified to meet my own needs when healing. Having a background as a licensed mental health counselor, I also like to help people tap into personal mantras, which supports positive self-affirmations. The mantas a person develops begin to replace negative and unhealthy self-talk.
My goal with the following sample meditation is to give you a baseline of how to start tapping in to your own body to listen to it, calm your breath to promote blood flow and healing, and to help nurture positive self-talk that you can come back to when feeling overwhelmed or stressed.
Obviously don’t practice while driving. Follow the practice carefully, and move around slowly as your blood pressure can change. You want to avoid any dizziness, which can be further complicated by medications and treatments.
May you enjoy these suggestions for a short type of healing meditation and use it as you need along with other practices you can develop.
Preparation and Expectations
Before you begin to practice, find a time and place where you will be somewhat uninterrupted. Possibly turn the ringer off on your phone and set some soft music in the background. Or, you can keep it quiet. You can experiment with this, but eventually the goal is to be able to tap into your meditative state no matter what the noise level might be. Ideally, you can learn to meditate when getting treatments, feeling pain and stress or just needing to calm down before a scan or other invasive type of test. But it is important to create the setting while you are new to meditation. Maybe you can find a candle or pleasant and calming smell to help set the tone. Think about where you can sit and do so in a manner which helps you to sit as straight yet as comfortable as possible. The goal is to open the airways — slouching does not help with breathing. Also, consider what you are wearing and, if you are planning on movement, put on something comfortable. If you are unable to move, you can practice while sitting. This can be while lying in your hospital bed, sitting in a chair or sitting on the ground. All are options, just meet your body where it is at.
Forming Your Mantras
Pick one or two of your most common fears or stressors. Once this is identified, think of the opposite. For example, the opposite of dying is living and the opposite of pain is comfort or relaxation.
Use “I am” statements to own the thought and practice saying it out loud. So, for the above example the “I am” statement would be, “I am life,” or “I am health.” For pain, “I am relaxed,” or “I am comfortable.” Try not to say things like, “someday I will be healthy.” You want to own your goal, so use a strong “I am” in front of the mantra.
For the first practice, you might want to read the steps and then practice the steps.
Drop into your supportive place having completed the goals outlined in getting prepared. First, don’t try to change your breath, but merely observe it. Take a couple of minutes to just appreciate any sounds around you, notice what you feel against your skin, any smells in the air, any areas of your body which feel more relaxed and supported. Continue to bring yourself into the moment and either keep eyes open or close them. Try to focus on keeping your spine as tall as possible and take a comfortable breath. Notice where the breath goes.
When healing from cancer you may not be able to follow the traditional deep yoga breathing, so it might be better to take slow, relaxed and comfortable breaths. Take a gentle pause after an inhale and an exhale. Check in with your body to straighten your spine and soften areas which are tense. Allow for your spine to straighten as you make yourself more comfortable. Check in with gentle rounds of breath and a gentle pause. Mindfully drop your shoulders away from your ears, soften your eyes or relax your jaw as you try to breath in and out your nose with the gentle rounds of breath.
Once you are in your comfortable place connecting with breath, find a relaxed breath without a purposeful pause between the inhale and exhale. Continue to find ways to relax areas of your body such as the eyes, shoulders and jaw. While in your relaxed state, say your mantra either out loud or in your head. Connect the mantra with a color that would be soothing to you. Picture the color starting in your heart center, and with each gentle inhale, picture the color growing stronger in your body. Connect with your relaxed breathing. Now, imagine yourself washing this color over your body from the top of your head and slowly moving from body part to body part working down every part of your body to your feet. Imagine the color surrounding your body.
You can end here by closing with your gentle rounds of breath, or you can repeat the color exercise with another mantra you have formed, and again wash your body with the color from the top of your head going down to the soles of your feet.
For your last check in with your body, ask yourself what area of your body needs a little extra care, and send your mantra and color to that area of your body as if giving yourself a warm, gentle and healing hug. Come back to your comfortable breath. How long you stay in this state after the color exercise is up to you, but bring yourself back slowly by gently blinking your eyes open.
To close, connect with sounds, sensations and scents around you with eyes open. Say your mantras again and give yourself permission to carry your mantras and colors with you until you come back to the meditation. Move gently and slowly to get up to ensure you are not feeling dizzy, and if so sit down until you are confident in moving. Maybe gently wiggle toes and fingers while your body slowly comes back to full alertness.
Tips for Maintaining a Practice:
Don’t judge yourself. If you want to learn to meditate, keep trying the sample meditation. Also try some apps you can find on your phone, or attend a guided meditation class. Remember, it is better to practice one to two minutes a day than only once a week. If you are in Miami, feel free to look me up for a more personal practice.