As a pre-teen I watched my mother battle breast cancer for about five years. Consequently, as an adult, I spend a considerable amount of my personal time trying to find a cure for the disease. My family, friends and I started a foundation in my mother's honor devoted to this cause. We suggest we want to find a cure, but ideally, we'd prefer to find a way for fewer people to contract this horrible disease. And, of course, we want those that are sick to get the best, most progressive, effective and least painful treatment options available. We work with universities such as Northwestern University to ensure that the funds we raise are placed in the best and brightest medical hands. Our researchers are steeped in contemporary Western medicine.

But, there are also "non-medical" options that shouldn't be overlooked for breast cancer patients. Tried and true practices that have been honed for thousands of years and have proven medical benefits exist. Countless friends and survivors have been utilizing these techniques with tremendous success.

The battle through breast cancer is overwhelming and it's common to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. Exercise and fitness have been shown to have tremendous health benefit for breast cancer patients, but it's not always an option physically or logistically when you are sick to hit the gym. However, stress, anxiety and fatigue can be decreased with another gentle alternative; meditation. Meditation is extremely effective, completely safe, 100% natural and takes little physical effort. You can also practice in the privacy of your own home.

When you find yourself overcome with emotion, worrying about recurrence, or unable to properly sleep, you may benefit from meditation. The mindfulness of this practice helps to address many emotional aspects that linger after visits to the oncologist or on treatment days.

Meditation may be self-guided, or shared in a group, and involves concentrating on mindful and gentle thinking while focusing on your breath. It works by exercising your brain. It can be done anytime and anywhere, provided you are someplace comfortable where you can relax. It may take some time to clear the mind of random thoughts. Our minds race these days, especially in this electronic age and especially after a diagnosis of cancer. But, with practice, meditation teaches us to acknowledge these thoughts and move on. With practice, the mindfulness of meditation can be integrated into our everyday lives and provides a myriad of mental health benefits including reducing anxiety and depression. Enduring treatment is not only unpleasant, but time-consuming and expensive. Meditation is one method that can be extremely beneficial throughout the healing process. Like many illnesses, breast cancer can be worsened by stress. Meditation can help you reduce stress levels throughout the day.

Here we explore some of the benefits of meditation for those affected by breast cancer.

1. Meditation is a natural boost for wellness.

Meditation can be used in conjunction with your medication. (Of course, always consult with your professional health care provider). There are absolutely no negative side effects to meditation and it's completely safe. It works by simply calming the centers of your brain. Meditation has been used for thousands of years and its benefits don't stop when your session ends.

2. Meditation can be done anywhere and at any time.

Provided you are comfortable and in a location where you can relax, you can meditate. There is no need to go to the hospital or doctor's office for sessions. You can practice in the safety of your own home or with a like-minded group. You can also take the mindfulness you gain from meditation practice and apply it while in the hospital to help you through your stay, tests, doctors' appointments and treatment.

3. Meditation works on your mind-body connection.

Meditation and guided-meditation can provide emotional recovery and relaxation. A reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, fatigue, and fear of recurrence can be greatly reduced through meditation. Meditation can also help with pain and difficulty sleeping. Mindfulness meditation works on calming your thoughts and its effects are immediate.

4. Meditation can help with those nasty hot flashes.

Attacks of intense warmness that may leave you sweaty and uncomfortable can be a side effect of hormone therapy for breast cancer. Meditation may provide help, especially when other methods fail. Specific meditation techniques such as paced respiration directly target the unpleasant symptoms associated with hot flashes. Paced respiration is a slow, controlled rhythmic breathing that is sustained for a specific period of time at the start of a hot flash.

5. Meditation has physical benefits, too.

Researchers in Canada have found evidence to suggest that meditation can alter cellular activity of cancer survivors. Telomeres are proteins at the end of chromosomes that naturally become shorter over time. Research suggests that longer telomeres are associated with the likelihood of surviving several diseases. Stress is known to accelerate the shortening process. Meditation may lessen stress, influence cortisol levels, and therefore help to preserve a cancer survivor's telomere length.

It's worth mentioning that the benefits of meditation extend beyond those fighting illness, which is why it's an amazing practice to cultivate at any stage in your life. I've been practicing and studying meditation intensively for about a year now and see directly how beneficial a daily practice can be in terms of decreasing anxiety and increasing patience. In times of stress and illness these mental benefits are exacerbated, but the benefits extend to regular old work days too.

-Laura Sage

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