How Can Meditation Help After a Cancer Diagnosis?

January 5, 2024
women and men practicing yoga

Stock photo posed by models, sourced by Getty Images

Research shows that meditating can boost our physical and mental wellness. But what does it mean to meditate, exactly? And how can a meditation practice support you if you are living with cancer?  

“Meditation is like a mirror that polishes the mind. Before we meditate, that mirror is foggy or smudgy, and it clouds our state of consciousness. But through stillness, we can start to withdraw our senses and turn inward. … We start to feel a greater sense of peace within.”

Healing Light Meditation

Tara Picklo
Certified yoga teacher

The mental and physical health benefits of meditation have been well-studied. Research suggests that, when practiced regularly, meditation can reduce stress and help manage anxiety and depression. It may also help improve sleep, strengthen the immune system, reduce inflammation, and lower the risk of heart disease. These are just a few potential benefits that have been found.1,2

But what if you are living with cancer? 

Research also shows that meditating can be helpful at different points in someone’s cancer experience. One expert panel found strong evidence that mindfulness-based interventions like meditation can help adults with cancer manage anxiety and depression during and after treatment.3 In fact, compared to other integrative therapies, mindfulness-based interventions received the strongest recommendations from the panel for treating symptoms of both anxiety and depression.3

Other studies on mindfulness and cancer reveal similar and other potential benefits. In a review of clinical trial data4, one group of researchers found that mindfulness-based techniques have been shown to help:

  • manage cancer-related pain
  • improve sleep for cancer patients and survivors 
  • relieve fatigue for cancer survivors
  • improve some symptoms of cancer cachexia4

There are a variety of mindfulness-based techniques and interventions. Mindfulness meditation is one common example that is growing in popularity.


Note: Meditation may not be right for everyone, and it doesn't replace treatment. Ask your healthcare team if meditation could be a helpful practice for you, based on your medical condition and treatment plan.


What Is Meditation?

There are many styles and forms of meditation. Meditation that focuses on mindfulness involves concentrating on your breath as you observe the thoughts in your mind, then let them go. Of course, that can be hard to do. Meditation and mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe, a cofounder of Headspace, compares the process to looking out on a busy road.5 The passing cars are like the thoughts and feelings we experience, he explains. While our urge might be to chase after or stop the cars, the goal is to simply watch them pass by.5

Mindfulness meditation is just one type of meditation. Meditating can also include guided visualization, repeated mantras, music, or movement like walking or slow, gentle stretching. It can be practiced alone or in a group setting.

A major goal of meditation is to create a space for stillness, peace, and relaxation. When practiced regularly, meditation can help promote mindfulness in our day-to-day life. This can be especially useful during times of stress. 

We sometimes think of meditation and mindfulness as interchangeable. But they are not the same, exactly. To help clear up the difference, Joshua Schultz, Psy.D., puts it this way: “Mindfulness is a quality; meditation is a practice.”6


What Is Mindfulness?

If meditation is a practice that can help cultivate mindfulness, then what is the quality of mindfulness? 

Think of mindfulness as a state of awareness we can access whenever we need to return to a sense of stillness, peace, and relaxation. When we experience troubling or stressful thoughts, our immediate response is to react to them. Certified yoga teacher and former cancer caregiver Tara Picklo describes these chaotic thoughts as our monkey mind. “It likes to play tricks on us, and it tells us too many things, which can be a little bit confusing,” she explains in our Healing Light Meditation video. 

Mindfulness can help redirect our attention to the present. It’s like pressing an invisible “pause” button before we get carried away by our monkey mind. “As we observe those thoughts and start to let them go, and they pass on by just like clouds in the sky, we start to feel a greater sense of peace within,” Tara notes.

So, in this way, we can train our brain to pause before reacting to stressful thoughts or feelings, even when we are not meditating.

Lotus flower on pond with lily pads

Ease Into Meditation With Gentle Guidance

For anyone who is new to the practice of meditation, it may feel intimidating. Guided meditation videos, podcasts, apps, and in-person group classes are all great ways to get familiar and comfortable with the practice. 

Our free, guided meditation videos offer short introductions to the practice. They can be viewed from the comfort of home and are available anytime:


Metta/Loving Kindness Meditation

Run time: 9 minutes

What you'll need: A yoga mat, blanket, or comfortable chair

What you'll do: This soothing video uses calming instrumental music and positive mantras to bring out a relaxation response from within. Find deeper connection to yourself as you send loving kindness to others who are going through cancer. Certified yoga teacher Tara Picklo will guide you each step of the way. “When we use mantra, which is the repetition of words or phrases, it helps to calm the nervous system and create a greater sense of peace within,” explains Tara.

Watch Metta/Loving Kindness Now


Healing Light Meditation

Run time: 14 minutes

What you'll need: A blanket, pillow, or comfortable chair

What you'll do: In this uplifting video, certified yoga teacher Tara Picklo uses guided visualization and intention to help you call upon healing from within. Peaceful instrumental music and gentle instruction from Tara will help you connect with your breath: “Inhale healing, exhale worry… Inhale healing, exhale fear.” 

Watch Healing Light Meditation Now


Looking for In-Person Classes? 

Use our location finder to see if there is a CSC or Gilda’s Club center near you. Many of our locations offer in-person or virtual wellness, yoga, and meditation classes. All programs are free of charge for anyone impacted by cancer.

Meditation is a practice to bring us in greater communion with ourselves so that we can be in greater community with one another.

Healing Light Meditation

Tara Picklo
Certified yoga teacher



1. American Heart Association. “Meditation to Boost Health and Well-Being.” AHA website. 

2. Mayo Clinic staff. “Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress.” Mayo Clinic website.

3. Carlson LE, Ismaila N, Addington EL, et al. “Integrative Oncology Care of Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in Adults With Cancer: Society for Integrative Oncology-ASCO Guideline.” Journal of Clinical Oncology. Vol 31, Issue 28. 

4. Mehta R, Sharma K, Potters L, Wernicke AG, Parashar B. “Evidence for the Role of Mindfulness in Cancer: Benefits and Techniques.” Cureus. 2019 May 9;11(5):e4629. doi: 10.7759/cureus.4629.

5. Headspace. “Meditation | Changing Perspective.” YouTube.

6. Schultz, Joshua. “5 Differences Between Mindfulness and Meditation.” July 24, 2020. Positive Psychology website.