Meditation for Cancer Survivors

Livestrong at the YMCA

With winter at our doorsteps and the stress of the holidays, seasonal depression is here. Many cancer survivors are looking for a solution to the mental health issues that are prevalent during this time of year. Meditation is a practice that focuses on increasing mindfulness and decreasing symptoms like anxiety and depression. With many cancer diagnoses bringing uncertainty, meditation can be a useful tool for managing treatment’s ups and downs.

The goal of most (but not all) types of meditation is to develop tools to manage discomfort. Cancer survivors practice meditation for a variety of reasons, including symptom management, relaxation, and spirituality. Decreasing stress can have major impacts on immune response and overall health, which is important when going through treatment or recovery. Below are a few types of meditation that can be helpful to cancer survivors, caregivers, and loved ones.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, is a formal 8-week program currently practiced by many hospital systems across the US. With origins at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centers, MBSR is designed specifically for people living with chronic diseases like cancer [Psychology Today]. The goal of MBSR is to consciously halt the body’s reaction to stress and to become more aware of how you hold onto and react to stress. By becoming more aware of stress in the body, individuals can learn how to prevent stress from escalating. Some of the observed benefits of MBSR are a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. To find and register for an MBSR program near you, consult your care team.

Visualization Meditation

Visualization meditation is commonly associated with mental health therapy and other types of meditation. Both guided and unguided visualization can be beneficial across the continuum of care. In guided visualization, an in-person or virtual guide walks you through meditation. In unguided visualization, you develop the visualization yourself. One goal of visualization meditation is to visualize a positive outcome instead of a negative outcome. Another way to approach visualization is by focusing on an image or scene. Visualization meditation can be valuable to cancer survivors because it can help overcome anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. It can also increase peek-performance, boost confidence, and decrease stress in some patients. To get started with visualization meditation, look for in-person (trained) meditation guides, meditation apps, and other offerings through online platforms like Spotify or Podcasts. Make sure to verify your guide’s credentials, whether it be a pre-recorded virtual meditation or an in-person meditation guide.

Here are some popular meditation apps:




Movement Meditation

Movement meditation pairs visualization with breathing techniques and physical movement, making it a great option for active people or those looking to incorporate more physical activity into their daily routines. There are many different types of movement meditation, but three common types are Tai Chi, Walking Meditation, and Yoga. Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that combines gentle, self-paced movements with focused breathing. Some benefits of Tai Chi include increased mindfulness, strength and coordination, energy, and reduced stress. Walking Meditation is the practice of mindfulness and awareness with walking and breathing. Some benefits include increased body-awareness, mood, and mindfulness, and decreased stress. Yoga combines the exercise of movement and stretching, with visualization, repeating mantras, and breathing. Some benefits of yoga include increased strength, coordination, and mood, and decreased stress and anxiety. To get started with movement meditation, look for specialized local programs. Some local medical practices, health centers, and gyms offer movement meditation programs specifically for people with chronic illnesses or cancer. You can also find virtual guides to practice movement meditation at home.

Here are some user-friendly online tools:

The Tai Chi Foundation’s online Tai Chi classes for all levels:

Yoga with Adriene’s free online yoga classes:

The University of California’s guide to start walking meditation:

Tai Chi

Body Scanning Meditation

Scanning meditation focuses on different sensations in the body and works to release negative emotions and tension. This type of meditation is good for people looking to feel more grounded and in touch with the sensations in their body. In a scanning meditation, you practice becoming grounded, then scan down your body to focus on different sensations that arise. Scanning meditation helps to increase body-awareness and establish a connection between the mind and body. It also helps increase the ability to resolve conflict, and explore pleasant and unpleasant feelings [, Headspace]. To begin a scanning meditation practice, most people start with a guide (virtual, in-person, mental healthcare practitioner, etc.) then transition to a solo practice. Over time, some people can “self-initiate” or incorporate the body-scanning techniques into other meditation routines.

Stanford Medical School has a good guide to body scanning meditation here:

Chakra Meditation

Chakra meditations are designed to help a person focus and balance energy centers in the body. The practice of Chakra meditation is rooted in several ancient traditions and religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism. The term “Chakra” refers to the energy centers in the body, and chakra meditation focuses on balancing our body’s seven main Chakras (although the number varies by religion or practice) [Encyclopedia Britannica]. Chakras are believed to be associated with different feelings and colors. The practice incorporates visualization, repeating mantras, and breathing exercises. Some of the benefits include an increase in mindfulness, body awareness, and a sense of feeling grounded. Chakra meditation may be a good fit for cancer survivors who are looking to find balance. To get started practicing chakra meditation, look for qualified, virtual guided meditations or local, in-person chakra meditation classes.


Many different religions practice some form of prayer, which is widely agreed upon to be an effective form of meditation [Mayo Clinic]. Prayer can increase spirituality, emotional relief, and offer a sense of calm. Many people choose to incorporate prayer into various forms of meditation or to incorporate elements of meditation into their prayer. Prayer is a good option for those looking to become more involved in their religion or for people that already incorporate prayer into their daily routines.

Cancer, both during treatment and after treatment, can impact mental health. Meditation offers a potential strategy to help combat negative symptoms like anxiety or depression and help achieve a sense of calm and balance. Meditation can be used as a tool, alongside mental health care, to provide emotional relief. Before starting any type of meditation, make sure that your guide is qualified and experienced. Whether your guide is with you in person or virtually, make sure they understand your physical circumstances and are qualified to be helping you. Many local mental healthcare practitioners can help determine the right meditation practice for you and point you in the right direction. Overall, explore your options–everyone is different. If one type of meditation is not working for you, then do not hesitate to try different types!

Amber Schriever

Amber was a Fall, 2020 Mission Intern at the Livestrong Foundation. She is a Junior at The University of Texas at Austin.

Meditation for Cancer Survivors was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.