Meditation teacher shares insights about how mindfulness can help people with cancer, their family and caregivers

Mindfulness can help people with cancer, their family, and caregivers, according to a meditation teacher.

Emily Herzlin, a meditation teacher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centers (MSKCC) Integrative Medicine Service, shared her insights on how mindfulness can be beneficial for cancer patients and people in their immediate surroundings.

Herzlin, who develops and teaches courses such as stress-reduction and mindfulness workshops, said that meditation works depending on the person. She told an incident wherein one of her class participants suffered from a lot of physical pain. They performed the practice called a body, in which they gradually move their attention throughout the body and pay attention to sensations. At first, the participant was questioning her as to why he had to focus on the pain in his body as he was trying to avoid it. After a week, the student observed that trying to avoid the pain was tiring and that the pain was not as bad as he thought. Moreover, he was able to describe the pain to his doctor more precisely.

“The body is always in the present moment, so to be able to come back and check in with what’s here and now is a great opportunity for self-care,” Herzlin said in the MSKCC article.

She also said that a lot of people have a fear of cancer recurrence. She explained that whenever you notice that you are having thoughts during meditation, it can be helpful as you can come back to the present moment. Even if it will not eliminate all the negative thoughts, this will help prevent you from getting caught up in what you are thinking.

“There’s a big difference between noticing what you’re thinking and getting caught up in what you’re thinking,” Herzlin said.

A common misconception of meditation is that you always have to shut off your mind. Herzlin debunked this and said: “Mindfulness is about being with whatever’s happening right now, so if what’s happening is you’re thinking, that’s fine. Just notice that you’re thinking. You don’t have to shut it off.”

She also noticed that she often hears from people, particularly patients and caregivers, that they do not have enough time to practice meditation. She encouraged that this is an opportunity to look at how they spend their time and that they should do the best they can, even for only five minutes. Meditation practice also does not take effect overnight, so she advises people to practice on their own at home and to find the practice that they lean toward.

“Meditation teaches us that we are much more resilient than we think we are in the face of challenging emotions, thoughts, and sensations. If we’re with it, it’s a lot less scary the next time it comes up,” she encouraged.

Five reasons to meditate

Mindfulness, as defined by, is the ability to be fully present, aware of your situation and what you are doing, and not overtaken be by what is happening around you. Here are five reasons why you should practice mindfulness.

  1. Know your pain better – Mindfulness can help you understand and improve your relationship with mental and physical pain.
  2. Relate better – Mindfulness can help you connect better with your friends, family, or lover. It will also help you give them your full attention.
  3. Reduce stress – Mindfulness can help in lowering stress, thus preventing other illnesses or an illness to become worse.
  4. Focus better – Meditation can help improve your ability to focus.
  5. Prevent overthinking – Mindfulness can help reduce brain chatter or the chattering voices in the head.

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