Mindfulness Meditation

by Susan Bauer-Wu
Oncology ()


Mindfulness meditation and other mindfulness-based practices are gaining popularity due to a burgeoning evidence base supporting its benefits for a broad range of conditions and populations, including cancer patients[ 1] and healthcare professionals. [2,3] While this mind-body approach is rooted in Eastern religion and philosophy, namely Buddhism, which dates back well over 2,000 years, its integration into modern healthcare settings and society is relatively recent. The seminal launch of the mindfulness movement in the West was the establishment of the Stress Reduction Clinic and Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, in 1979. Today tens of thousands of people have been trained in MBSR and related mindfulness-based clinical interventions throughout the world, in every continent except Antarctica. Research in mindfulness meditation, not limited to MBSR, is also mounting. A recent search of the term 'mindfulness meditation' on PubMed.gov yielded more than 450 peer-reviewed journal articles. These studies elucidate mechanisms of how mindfulness meditation may work in the body and provide support for its effects on health and well-being. The most common mindfulness training program in conventional clinical settings is MBSR or other similar programs modified for specific conditions, such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy to prevent depression relapse. [16] The typical MBSR program is delivered weekly in a group format over 8 weeks, covering approximately 20 hours of classroom training (didactic and experiential learning) and a 6-hour retreat (usually between weeks 6 and 7), as well as home meditation practice (recommended formal practice of 45 minutes daily, 6 days per week). [17] The core practices of the MBSR program include body scan (systematic awareness of different body sensations, generally done lying down), mindful movement (gentle Hatha yoga), and sitting meditation (which incorporates aspects of focused attention and open monitoring, described earlier in this article). Didactic content includes perception (and the impact of thoughts on the way one feels), stress physiology, and how to integrate mindfulness practices into everyday life. Mindfulness practices are accessible to anyone regardless of physical condition and are inexpensive to do. MBSR, meditation retreats, and introductory classes range in cost from free of charge (offered at some hospitals and centers) to hundreds of dollars. Once one learns the basic skills, mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere. Some people use meditation cushions and mats, though these are not essential. While mindfulness meditation is generally practiced in a seated position, it can be done lying down, which may be preferred by some cancer patients. It is important to be in a comfortable and stable position with minimal distractions and where one will not likely fall asleep. Also, informal practices, like mindful eating or walking, are options for deepening skills and integrating mindfulness into one's life. Other studies have explored innovative approaches of delivering mindfulness interventions to cancer patients. In a randomized controlled trial, [Monti DA] and colleagues found that Mindfulness Based Art Therapy lowered psychological distress and improved quality of life for women with cancer. [35] Loizzo et al found similar findings along with trends in improvements in biological stress measures (morning salivary Cortisol and resting heart rate), but no change in IL-6, natural killer cells, or Cortisol diurnal rhythm, in early-stage breast and gynecologic cancer survivors who participated in a 20-week meditation-based self-care intervention. [36] A dietary intervention (high vegetable protein and nutrients, low animal fat) combined with MBSR was found to slow prostate specific antigen (PSA) growth in men with prostate cancer. [37] Specifically, the PSA doubling time for the men in the MBSR plus nutrition group was nearly three old longer after the intervention compared to controls; PSA doubling time is an indicator of risk of recurrence and disease progression. Other studies have explored and demonstrated feasibility and promising findings of individual mindfulness training for cancer patients undergoing hematopoietic stem cell transplant.[18,38]

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