A cancer diagnosis changes a person’s life. It entails stress, pain, and anxiety. Meditation is the ancient practice of achieving a thoughtless alertness. Research has shown that meditation can help reduce anxiety and stress. The classic definition of meditation is the deliberate self-regulation of attention through which the stream of consciousness is temporarily suspended.1 The goal is to achieve a thoughtless awareness of one’s person and/or surroundings.1 Many types of meditation are practiced throughout the world. Some types are practiced in a sitting position (transcendental, mindfulness), and some types incorporate movement (aikido, qigong, tai chi). Patients, especially those with chronic conditions such as arthritis or heart disease, are advised to check with their health care team before beginning any type of activity that involves the joints or movement.
Aikido is a noncombative Japanese martial art that teaches students to restore harmony in conflictive issues through the study of the martial way (Budo).2 The martial art requires students to squarely face life situations in a proactive, constructive manner.2,3 Aikido utilizes various wristlocks, arm pins, or unbalancing throws to subdue and neutralize attackers without serious injury; the practice is in tandem with learning the art of falling, which trains the body and mind to receive such techniques in a safe manner.4 Aikido is not a sport and has no competitive tournaments. The martial art involves cooperative training used to better oneself without the intention of harm or fear of injury.4
The Aikido Resolution Foundation sponsors a program called “Cut the Cancer” through schools affiliated with the Aikido Association of America. The program teaches cancer patients the physical and philosophical tenets of Budo to help them in their fight against cancer. Fumio Toyoda Shihan, founder, Aikido Association of America, explains the benefits of studying the martial arts, “Why study the martial arts? A true martial artist does not train to only defeat others. He trains also to defeat the enemies inside himself, the enemies we all have. He trains to forge his life into something beautiful, something helpful to the world. He wishes not to draw a sword, but to put it away—once and for all.”2 Cancer patients should have approval to exercise from their health care providers, and caregiver participation is encouraged.
Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being in the present moment.5 Mindfulness meditation can be learned on your own with practice; however, classes are available if you are having difficulty developing your practice or if you feel more comfortable with formal instruction.
You should find a quiet space to meditate.5 You do not need an entire room or a completely empty area. You can arrange an altar or have candle or incense burning; just make sure there are no distractions such as the television or a computer. Place comfortable seating in the space that will allow you to sit with your feet supported, your back comfortably straight (not rigid), and your hips higher than your knees.5
You should allow your gaze to fall at a point a few feet in front of you, but do not focus on a particular object. The release comes in not trying to get away from it, but by accepting what it is. Mindfulness is the practice of being able to be with all of your experiences. As you experience the moment, thoughts will come into your mind; they should be allowed to flow freely. But if the thoughts become a central focus, you should gently bring your mind back to the moment. An acknowledgment that the thought occurred may help you let go of it. Recommended practice is to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, and you can build your practice to sitting for up to 45 minutes to 1 hour.5
Qigong (chee-gong) is an ancient Chinese health practice that is more than 5,000 years old.6 Qigong combines slow graceful movements with mental concentration and breathing to balance personal energy. Referred to as Chinese yoga, the exercises can be modified to be done sitting, lying down, standing, or moving. A set of exercises (form) can consist of repetitive movements that take up to 8 minutes to complete or a sequential routine that can take up to 40 minutes to complete.6
Qigong exercises produce three intentful corrections: body posture, breathing, and mental state or awareness.6 Initially, the adjustment of posture, breathing, and awareness is done only during exercise times. As you continue to practice qigong, you will make these adjustments throughout the day as the practice becomes a natural part of your life.6