NEW YORK --Dealing with the experience of cancer can sometimes result in heightened anxiety, stress and fear.
Now patients and survivors have turned to the practice of meditation to help them cope and adjust.The cancer patients at Gilda's Club Westchester sit in stillness, focusing their minds and their attention on one thing. In this case, they are focusing all their attention on their breath. They've come through the signature red doors at the Cancer Support Center to learn and practice meditation. Their reasons for coming are personal and similar. "I'm trying to go for a more natural way of becoming more peaceful, more relaxed, less agitated, less worried," said cancer survivor Regina Kirsch. "Especially with cancer , I think it's great to be able to clear your mind, center yourself and kind of clear those worries away," said another cancer survivor Monica Ventorino. Psychologist Merril Harmin has been teaching meditation for 30 years. "We've noticed that an easy way to let go of a thought is to shift from the thinking to the breathing," said Harmin. "We can open up our mind and our body works better. The glands work better. The nerves work better," said Harmin. Research shows that people who meditate heal faster and get sick less quickly and less often. A recent study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital found that 30 minutes a day of meditation changed areas of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. The study was published in the current issue of Psychiatry: Neuroimaging Research. "I just found that I had to do meditation just to stay calm because I was just so anxious all the time. But I still have thoughts of cancer. It will be two years in April that I was diagnosed, so I'm on the mends. I definitely feel I'm on the mends," said cancer survivor Chris Smith. "It's a form of stationary relaxation and I really enjoyed it. You're in piece with your mind," said Eva Culhane. "It really helped me to relax and to sleep better. I had been taking sleeping pills so I was very happy that after 6 weeks of meditation I managed to get off my sleeping pills," Culhane added. Off pills and into a calmer plane with the help of a 2,000 year old therapy.