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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mind therapies

This section gives information about some of the most popular and widely available therapies used by people with cancer in the UK. These therapies are available in many cancer treatment centres and are now often seen as part of conventional support for many patients. The therapies may be able to help people feel better and reduce symptoms or emotional distress caused by cancer. Some therapies may be able to reduce side effects caused by cancer treatment.


Simple breathing and relaxation exercises are very useful in reducing anxiety and stress and reducing the harmful effects of stress on the body. Almost everyone can learn the techniques.

They can quickly reduce anxiety and muscle tension and also affect the part of the nervous system that controls blood pressure and the digestive system. Many people with cancer, and their relatives, can be helped to relax and experience a sense of calmness using these simple methods. Relaxation may sometimes be used together with meditation and visualisation.

You can learn relaxation techniques at home using a CD or cassette, or you may be able to join a group. Self-help exercises need motivation and constant practice to give benefit, and it may be easier to stay motivated by attending group classes.

Lying flat may be uncomfortable for people who are breathless or in pain, but many relaxation exercises can be done sitting up or using pillows for support.

Some hospitals and support groups offer relaxation sessions. You can ask if they are provided at your hospital. Cancerbackup can give you details of support groups in your area.

Relaxation exercises

Two simple exercises are described below.

Exercise 1

Find a quiet room where you will be undisturbed for about 10-15 minutes. Undo any tight clothing and take off your shoes, then lie down on the bed or floor. Spend a few moments settling yourself down.Close your eyes, spread your feet 12-18 inches apart and check that your head, neck and spine are in a straight line.

Now focus your attention on your breathing. Do not try to change your breathing for the moment. Become aware of how quickly or slowly you are breathing. Notice whether there are any gaps or pauses between your breathing in and breathing out.


Now put one hand on your upper chest and one hand on your abdomen (tummy) just below your rib-cage. Relax your shoulders and hands. As you breathe in, feel your abdomen expand. As you breathe out, allow your abdomen to flatten. There should be little or no movement in your chest. Allow yourself a little time to get into a regular rhythm.


It may help to imagine that as you are breathing in, you draw half a circle with your breath and as you breathe out, you complete the second half of the circle.


Allow your breath to become smooth, easy and regular.


Now consciously slow down your breathing out and allow your breathing in to follow smoothly and easily.


If any distractions, thoughts or worries come into your mind, allow them to come, then allow them to go and bring your attention back to your breathing.


When you are ready to end this exercise, take a few deeper breaths in. Move your fingers and toes gently.

Exercise 2

Find a quiet room where you will be disturbed for 10-15 minutes. Take off your shoes amd loosen any tight clothing. You can do this exercise sitting, but it is better to lie down on a bed or carpet if you can. The exercise involves tensing and relaxing muscle groups in the body. If some of your muscles are uncomfortable or painful due to your cancer or treatments you have had, you may need to exclude these muscles from the exercise.

Close your eyes gently. Make sure your head, neck and spine are in a straight line. Start by raising your eyebrows and tensing the muscles of your forehead. Hold the tension for a count of five, then relax the muscles and become aware of any difference you feel in the muscles. Repeat once more.

Now squeeze you eyes shut,as tight as you can. Count to five, then release. Notice any difference. Repeat once more.

Open your mouth wide, stretching the muscles of your face. Count to five. Release. Repeat once more.

Tighten the muscles of your jaw, clenching your teeth. Count to five, release and repeat once more. Become aware of all your face and any difference you feel.

Raise your shoulders to your ears, tensing the muscles of your shoulders and neck. Release and relax the muscles. Notice any difference and repeat once more.

Raise your left hand and arm off the floor/bed. Make a fist and increase the tension in your hand, forearm and upper arm. Count to five and let go, allowing the hand to fall back on the floor/bed. Notice any difference between your left and right hand and repeat once more. Repeat the same with the right hand and arm.

Now contract the muscles of the chest. Notice the effect it has on your breathing. Relax. Flatten and tighten the muscles of your stomach. Count to five. Relax and breathe out.

Lift your left foot and leg off the floor by about six inches. Push your foot away from you,tensing the muscles of the foot, leg and thigh. Count to five. Let go and allow the leg to drop down on the floor/bed. Repeat once more on the left side. Then do the exercise twice on the right side.

When you are ready to finish, gently wiggle your fingers and toes - take a few deeper breaths in. Open your eyes gently.

Visualisation (mental imagery)

This is a technique that involves creating images in your mind while you are in a state of relaxation or meditation. For example:

  • you might imagine that you are lying in a field full of beautiful flowers
  • that you are healthy and strong
  • that your healthy cells are knights fighting the cancer cells
  • or that the suns rays are shining on you, warming you and giving you strength.

The theory is that by imagining a peaceful scene you will encourage yourself to feel more relaxed, and by imagining yourself as healthy you can influence the health of your body. A simple exercise to show how imagination can produce physical changes is to picture a lemon being cut in front of you. Most people who do this will notice that they start to produce more saliva.

Therapists who use creative visualisation in the treatment of cancer have suggested that you can stimulate the immune system to affect the growth of the cancer. Various research studies are being carried out to look at whether visualisation can improve outcomes for people with cancer. Some studies have shown that visualisation or guided imagery can reduce the symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment for some people.

Many people report that visualising themselves as stronger helps them to feel better, and they regard it as a form of extended relaxation. Some studies have shown that gentle mental imagery can produce significant improvements in the mood of people having treatment for breast cancer.

Some hospitals and support groups offer guided imagery or visualisation. You can ask if they are provided at your hospital or can contact Cancerbackup for details of support groups in your area.

Hypnotherapy (hypnosis)

Hypnosis is another method which some people find helpful in dealing with the symptoms of cancer. It can be especially helpful in reducing some of the side effects associated with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting.

In this treatment, the hypnotherapist leads the person into a deeply relaxed state, during which the person is still conscious of their surroundings. The hypnotherapist can then use suggestion to benefit the person in different ways, such as feeling better or gaining some control over symptoms.

You can find out more about hypnotherapy and how to contact a registered therapist from The British Society of Experimental and Clinical Hypnosis or the Central Register of Advanced Hypnotherapists.

Art therapy

This therapy is used to help people to express themselves through working with art materials. The art therapist is usually a psychotherapist and encourages the person to communicate feelings such as fear or anger through painting, drawing or sculpting. The aim is to express feelings rather than produce a work of art. The therapy can be given one-to-one with the therapist or in groups. Through creativity, we can sometimes become aware of and release pent-up feelings. The feelings or emotions can then be discussed, if appropriate, in counselling or group sessions.

You do not need to be able to paint well and you will be encouraged to be spontaneous and doodle. Sometimes the therapist may be more directive and ask you to ‘paint your cancer' or try to capture your relationship with your family. These exercises can help you understand yourself more fully. Art therapy can also be fun and a creative approach to dealing with unhappy and distressing experiences.

You can get more information about art therapy and finding a trained therapist from the British Association of Art Therapists.


Healers believe that healing energy exists all around us, and that they act as a channel through which healing energy flows into the patient. Healing can provide an important and very valuable support for the person with cancer and his or her family. It may be referred to as spiritual or faith healing if it is used in the context of a religious or spiritual approach to heal the person.

Contact healing may also be known as the laying on of hands in the Christian church.

In therapeutic touch the healer works just above the surface of the body; they believe this affects an energy field that surrounds each person. Some nurses practice therapeutic touch.

You can get more information about healing and finding a healer from the Confederation of Healing Organisations or the National Federation of Spiritual Healers.


Reiki (pronounced ray-key) is a Japanese word meaning Universal Life Energy, an energy which is all around us. It is the name given to a system of natural healing which evolved in Japan from the experience and dedication of Dr Mikao Usui. Dr Usui was inspired to develop this healing system from ancient teachings after many years of study, research and meditation. He spent the rest of his life practising and teaching Reiki. Today Reiki is taught and practiced by Reiki Masters who have trained in the tradition passed down from master to student.

A Reiki treatment The recipient simply lies on a couch and relaxes. If they are unable to lie down the treatment can be given in a sitting position, the main thing is for the recipient to be as comfortable as possible. There is no need to remove any clothing. The practitioner gently places their hands non-intrusively in a sequence of positions which cover the whole body. The whole person is treated, rather than specific symptoms. A full treatment usually takes 1-1½ hours with each position held for several minutes.

Reiki treatment is offered in some hospitals and patient support groups.

You can get information about healing and finding a healer from The Reiki Association.


Meditation is a way of working with the mind. It uses mental exercises which can help to deeply relax and calm the mind, helping to reduce feelings of fear, pain, anxiety and depression.

Regular meditation practice can help people feel more in control of themselves and their lives. Many studies have shown that regular meditation reduces the pulse rate, lowers blood pressure and reduces the level of stress chemicals in the body.

People who have particular psychiatric conditions such as psychosis may find that some types of meditation make their psychiatric illness worse. It is best to talk to a meditation instructor from an established meditation organisation (and your psychological support team, if necessary) before trying meditation. It is also helpful to practice in a group until you are familiar with the meditation technique. It is also good to talk regularly about your meditation to an experienced meditation practitioner.

Learning to meditate

There are many different types and styles of meditation. One type of meditation practice is described below:

You need to set aside some time - 10-20 minutes early in the morning or before you go to sleep at night. Find a quiet place in your home where you will not be disturbed. It is helpful to keep the same place for meditation as this reinforces the benefits of meditating. It also gives that place in your home a special significance.

The next step is to find a suitable chair or meditation cushion. Meditation is best practised sitting up. Of course you can meditate lying down on your bed, but you are more likely to fall asleep. Meditation is not sleeping - it aims to help you to be alert and awake. However, you can use some types of meditation to help you to go to sleep.

Choose a chair that is comfortable and has a straight back. You may like to support your back with a cushion or pillow. Keep your head, neck and spine erect. If your feet do not reach the floor comfortably, put a small cushion underneath them. If you prefer to sit on the floor, cross your legs in front of you in the most comfortable position and place a small cushion under your bottom.

Put your hands on your thighs. Be aware of your breathing. Spend a few minutes focusing your attention on your breath. Just breathe naturally - you do not need to try to control your breathing. Turn your attention to your forehead. Relax the muscles of your forehead. Relax the muscles of your eyes. Relax the muscles of your face. Check that your jaw is not too tightly closed and that your tongue is lying easily in your mouth. Relax your shoulders.

Relax your hands and fingers. Relax your chest and abdomen. Relax your thighs, knees, ankles and feet.

Bring your attention back to your breathing. Let the breath become smooth and even.


Now as you breathe in, the the word 'so' on your breath, silently, without moving your lips. As you breathe out, place the word 'hum' on your out breath, silently, without moving your lips. Continue to breathe smoothly and evenly, repeating the sounds 'so' and 'hum' as you breathe in and out. If any thoughts, worries or distractions come into your mind, allow them to come and then go, bringing your attention back to you breathing and the sounds 'so' and 'hum'. Continue for another 5-10 minutes, repeating the sounds internally in time with your breathing.

When you are about to stop, gently move your fingers and toes. Take a few deeper breaths in and out.

Some hospitals and support groups offer meditation sessions. You can ask if they are provided at your hospital or can contact Cancerbackup for details of support groups in your area.

Via: http://www.cancerbackup.org.u

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