A mindfulness student recently experienced her body as beautiful during a body scan in class.  You may already have a positive self-image and feel good about your body. You may consider your body to be “the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Or you may have a negative body image, even hating your body. Whether you love your body or hate it, you can benefit from the body scan, a foundational practice from mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).



Your compassionate human desire to take good care of others is critical to the well-being of your family, friends, co-workers and community – and taking good care of yourself is the foundation for your care of everyone else.  However, it is sadly true that we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves. It’s as if we need a new Golden Rule: Do unto yourself as you do unto others. We would never say or do to someone else some of the things we say and do to ourselves.



You and I have two primary modes of mental activity: the doing mode and the being mode. Although we are called human beings, we spend the majority of our time in the doing mode rather than the being mode.  Your “doing” mode is highly prized in our culture for schooling, work and career. It demonstrates your mastery and command of detail, data, thinking, intellect and your goal-oriented ability to get things done. We depend heavily on the doing mode to take care of all our daily affairs at home and work,….


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Cancer survivor” refers to anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer from the time of diagnosis through the rest of their life. Early cancer detection and improved treatments, including surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, biological therapies, bone marrow and stem cell transplants, have led to a growing population of cancer survivors, which now exceeds 12 million, or 1 in 25 Americans.

Cancer and Emotions.

Though we do not have a clear scientific understanding of the exact mechanisms by which psychological stress may affect tumor growth and spread, the National Cancer Institute provides a fact sheet recognizing that, for some people, there seems to be a relationship between attitudes, emotions, the immune system and cancer. Psychological factors, especially repressed emotions and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, seem to impact the growth or spread of cancer in some cancer survivors. Rather than labeling certain emotions as good and others as bad, a better distinction seems to be “welcomed and expressed” versus “denied and repressed.” Journaling about all emotions can be especially therapeutic. It seems prudent, therefore, to recommend emotional expression and stress management as part of a cancer survivor’s personal plan for managing cancer, maintaining health and preventing recurrent cancer and other medical conditions, including new cancers. Even if there is no connection between a given individual’s cancer and stress, the many positive side benefits of stress management can improve overall physical, mental and emotional health.

Mindfulness for Cancer.

Mindfulness is a widely used approach for managing the symptoms of stress-related chronic diseases, including cancer. Mindfulness programs are offered to cancer survivors and their families in major medical centers. Mindfulness-based cancer recovery (MBCR) is an empowering mind-body approach that helps cancer survivors reclaim their lives. MBCR is a cancer-specifc application of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which has been used since 1978 to manage the stress of a wide range of physical, mental and emotional conditions. Mindfulness-based educational programs can help cancer survivors cope with the stress of a cancer diagnosis, navigating the health care system, prolonged procedures and painful treatments. Managing the emotional roller coaster of cancer survivorship can help survivors think clearly and plan with their medical team, family, insurer and employer. Psychological research has clearly demonstrated feelings of empowerment, self-control and self-efficacy are associated with better outcomes and survival than feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. One’s attitude, personal psychology, self-efficacy and sense of social support can literally be the difference between life and death.

Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery.

Psychologists specializing in psycho-oncology developed MBCR by tailoring MBSR to cancer survivors and their families. Like MBSR, MBCR is a therapeutic combination of gentle yoga, body scan, sitting meditation, walking meditation, loving-kindness and other meditative practices. These practices can be used during most stages of cancer treatment as well as during recovery. Research suggests some cancer survivors respond to stress management practices with improved immune function and reduced feelings of anxiety, depression, confusion, fatigue and fears of cancer recurrence. Such psycho-educational programs can help some cancer survivors more effectively manage difficult symptoms and treatment side effects. Some find their internal capacity for healing and strength for the first time and learn to thrive despite the often life-altering impact of cancer.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mood disorders in people with or without cancer. Research has shown mindfulness training, especially in a structured, facilitated group experience, can significantly reduce anxiety and depression. The combination of MBSR and cognitive behavior therapy has led to the development of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), which can help people manage chronic, recurrent, relapsing depression, often with less need for anti-depressant medication. Even a small reduction in medication use can save money and reduce the side effects and interactions that can occur when multiple drugs are taken together. Reducing drug dependency can also increase feelings of self-control, empowerment and hope. Specialized tailoring of MBSR for those with anxiety is also now available.

Mindfulness is clearly emerging as one of the safest and most helpful integrative mind-body approaches for cancer survivors and their loved ones.

Sources and Resources


Dr. John Patterson is past president of the Kentucky Academy of Family Physicians and is board certified in family medicine and integrative holistic medicine. He is on the family practice faculty at the University of Kentucky College of Medicine and the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Saybrook University’s School of Mind Body Medicine (San Francisco) and the Center for Mind Body Medicine (Washington, D.C.). He operates the Mind Body Studio in Lexington, where he offers integrative medicine consultations

more articles by dr john patterson