Meditation Techniques to Help During Cancer Treatments

Alicia Betz
February 28, 2021

Chemo, radiation, surgery, hormones, medications… the list of cancer treatments goes on, and so does the list of potential side effects. These treatments — that can last for years or even decades — are emotionally and physically draining. Of course, if you’re battling cancer, nobody needs to tell you that and you are probably looking for ways that can improve your quality of life while you undergo treatments. Enter: meditation. 

Benefits of Meditation During Cancer Treatments

Many studies have examined the benefits of mindfulness meditation during cancer treatments, and a review of the literature reveals the following: 

  • Women with breast cancer who practiced mindfulness had decreased depression, decreased symptom burden, and improved mental health.
  • Adults with any type of cancer who practiced mindfulness improved their scores for depression, coherence, and quality of life. 
  • Mindfulness reduced cancer related pain in women with breast cancer. 
  • Mindfulness improved sleep quality among cancer patients in multiple studies. 

Additionally, mindfulness and progressive muscle relaxation reduced fatigue and increased ability to cope in one study. Another study found that mindfulness reduced depression and anxiety in people with recurrent ovarian cancer — a cancer that has been linked to genital talc and baby powder use. 

The American Cancer Society also published a helpful guide for determining the usefulness and legitimacy of meditation and other alternative cancer treatments.

meditation tips for cancer treatments

Meditation for Cancer Patients

Meditation may seem difficult at first; like any other practice, you will get better and it will get easier as your “meditation muscles” become stronger. Finding the right type of meditation for you might take time. Meditation resources for cancer patients are ubiquitous. The following techniques offer approachable ways to begin a meditation practice, especially if the thought of “ohm-ing” in a quiet room doesn’t sound particularly appealing to you.  


Proponents of mindfulness encourage people to focus on the present moment. Here are some ways you can try mindfulness:

  • Close your eyes and focus only on your breathing. If you notice your mind start to wander, gently bring it back to your breath. When you first start, your mind will likely wander a lot. 
  • Throughout your day, attempt to consciously focus on all five senses. Feel the soft blanket against your skin, listen for sounds you may not be consciously perceiving; perhaps a bird is tweeting outside your window, or close your eyes and take in the smells of your surroundings. 

As you practice mindfulness, you’ll begin to train your brain to focus on the here and now rather than your worries about the future or your regrets about the past.

Tai Chi

Dubbed meditation in motion, tai chi combines breathing with slow, controlled movement. Learn some basic tai chi moves to be able to practice on your own. You can also contact your local gym, YMCA, or senior centers to inquire about tai chi classes.


Yoga also combines breath with movement, but the moves are typically more dynamic and physically demanding than those in tai chi. Similarly, yoga classes are likely offered by your local gym or YMCA. You can find many free yoga classes online as well; to get started, we recommend trying classes from:

Yoga can feel intimidating if you don’t think you are flexible enough to do the poses. Take heart, a yoga practice is accessible to anybody regardless of flexibility or physical ability.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

During progressive muscle relaxation, you work through your body, relaxing muscles from head to toe. To practice progressive muscle relaxation: 

  • Lie down in a comfortable and quiet place
  • Tense and squeeze your head and face muscles for 10-15 seconds
  • Release all tension in those muscles; feel them melt and relax for 30 seconds
  • Continue to do this through your entire body, focusing on one muscle group at a time: 
    • Jaw
    • Neck
    • Shoulders
    • Arms
    • Hands and fingers
    • Back
    • Abdomen
    • Hips and buttox
    • Thighs
    • Calves
    • Feet and toes

Consider asking a loved one to read through a progressive muscle relaxation script or try a guided video

muscle relaxation for cancer treatments

Additional Meditation Resources

Even after you understand the benefits of meditation and know what to do, beginning and sticking to the practice can be very difficult. Check out some of these resources to help you meditate during cancer treatments: 

Once you find a type of meditation that works for you, you may begin to see some of the benefits observed in clinical trials, such as decreased symptom burden and increased quality of life.



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