Meditation and The Breath of Life

by Angie GiallourakisCaregiver, President of Steven G AYA Cancer Research FundSeptember 8, 2020View more posts from Angie Giallourakis

Picture yourself sitting or lying down in a most comfortable position. You are relaxed. Eyes open or closed, it doesn’t matter. Breathing naturally. Aware of the surrounding sounds and smells. Perhaps someone in another room is watching TV or listening to music. Someone might be washing dishes. Whatever is happening is okay – just as it is.  This is your time to tune out stress and tune into yourself. Once settled in, you practice deep breathing: Inhaling slowly. Hold. Exhaling with ease and gratitude…

Meditation has been practiced by a variety religions and cultures since 3000 – 5000 BCE. The purpose of meditation is to create a personal and/or unique experience where the participant relaxes. Meditation is an opportunity to “turn off” external and/or internal stimuli, develop an ability to focus on some alternative thought, object, or sensation, and, create a sense of peace or calm while resting in a comfortable position (Benson, 1975). There are many advantages to meditation. As cancer survivors or caregivers, meditation provides an opportunity to become self-aware. Being self-aware can create a sense of greater understanding and appreciation of life – where you have been, where you are currently, and where you are going. With a greater awareness of one’s feelings and thoughts the individual may be able to articulate inner experiences, be less judgmental of self and others, attain a higher sense of emotional flexibility, an improved memory, mood and sleep, and stay healthier (Wei & Groves, 2017). Meditation will not cure cancer, but it can help in dealing with its emotional and/or physical aspects.

So, what’s the best way to meditate? Well, it just depends on you and your environment. For example, can you create a space that is just for meditating? If so, great. But what if you don’t have a special space. No problem, you can go into a bedroom, close the door, lay on the floor or bed, or just sit on a pillow. Perhaps you might want to light a candle, and/or play some music. Whatever works best for you and your environment. Just make sure the people sharing your home know what you are up to in order to avoid interruptions.

Once in my special space I usually lay on my back, listen to quiet music and breath. Sometimes I stretch – which helps me relax. A great way to release tension, while lying down, is to gently bring your knees to chest (place your arms around legs if possible) and rock side to side in order to stretch out the lower back before extending the legs. In addition, consider adding an essential oil, like lavender, to a diffuser to release its scent. Aromatherapy can be a great enhancer to the relaxation and meditation process.

Using a prerecorded guided meditation is a useful tool for newcomers to meditation practice.  There are many free meditation mobile apps to try before committing to a specific program. You may find certain voices more appealing than others. Meditation teachers vary in style, so be patient as you conduct your research.  There are a tremendous amount of meditation websites and teachers. One reliable place to begin is The Harvard School of Medicine’s website https://www.health.harvard.edu/alternative-and-complementary-medicine/two-mindfulness-meditation-exercises-to-try.

An important aspect of meditation is breath sensing. Taking time to focus on the breath greatly assists in the relaxation process. As you inhale, count to 3 or 4, and then exhale to the count of 5 or 6. Exhaling should take a second or two longer than Inhaling. As you practice deep breathing consider using a prayer or a mantra (“I breath in. I breath out.” or “I am thankful to God. That I am fine.”).  The act of breathing is also referred to as prana, which means respiration, spirit, vitality, strength, energy, and power. Lorin Roche (2014) writes “the rhythm of the breath happens twenty-two thousand times a day.” So, if we take time for ourselves to breath and meditate for just few moments, imagine the transformation that can be experienced. Note that deep breathing is but one type of breath exercise and is an excellent tool to have in one’s stress-defense toolbox.

I consider the practice of meditation, prayer, and breath work a personal gift to myself as well as a way to express gratitude. It is a grounding indulgence that keeps me focused on the precious nature of life and family and the amazing earth we share.

References

Benson, H. (1975) The Relaxation Response. William Morrow and Company, Inc.

Roches, L. (2014) The Radiance Sutras. Sounds Trues, Inc.

Wei, M & Groves, J. E. (2017) The Harvard Medical School Guide to Yoga. Da Capo Press.


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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