Mind-Body / Wellness Programs and Alternative Medicine Guide

Life with Cancer offers a variety of classes to supplement medical treatments and help you ease symptoms, release tension, reduce stress, anxiety, and discomfort, improve energy, gain insight, promote relaxation and enhance your feeling of well-being. Visit our calendar to see which classes are being offered this month.

Programs Include:

  • Expressive Arts: art, movement, music/sound, writing
  • Mind-Body Therapies
  • Meditation and Imagery
  • Reiki for Relaxation
  • Gentle Yoga, Qi gong, tai chi chih
  • Nutrition Classes
  • Fitness Classes
  • Educational Seminars on many complementary modalities
  • Download the Exercise Registration Form and Waiver for all Fitness Classes. Please print, fill out and bring to class.

Note: The following information was reprinted from the American Cancer Society's Guide to Complementary and Alternative Methods. Copyright(c)2000, American Cancer Society. This information may not cover all possible claims, uses, actions, precautions, side effects or interactions. It is not intended as medical advice, and should not be relied upon as a substitute for consultation with your doctor who is familiar with your medical needs.

 


Acupuncture is a technique in which very thin needles of varying lengths are inserted through the skin to treat a variety of conditions. Although there is no evidence that acupuncture is effective as a treatment for cancer, clinical studies have found it to be effective in treating nausea caused by chemotherapy drugs and surgical anesthesia, and in relieving pain following dental surgery. The technique may also assist people who are trying to stop addictive behaviors, such as smoking or alcoholism, and may be useful for treating headaches, helping in rehabilitation from strokes, and treating a number of musculoskeletal conditions.

Aromatherapy is the use of fragrant substances distilled from plants, called essential oils, to alter mood or improve health. These highly concentrated aromatic substances are either inhaled or applied as oils during massage. There are approximately 40 essential oils commonly used in aromatherapy; among the most popular are lavender, rosemary, eucalyptus, chamomile, marjoram, jasmine, peppermint, and geranium. There is no scientific evidence that aromatherapy is effective in preventing or treating cancer, but it can be used to enhance quality of life. Early clinical trials suggest aromatherapy may have some benefit as a complementary treatment in reducing stress, pain and depression.
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Ayurveda is an ancient Indian system of medicine that has an integrated approach to the prevention and treatment of illness, which tries to maintain or reestablish the harmony between the mind, body, and forces of nature. It combines a variety of interventions, such as changes in lifestyle, herbal remedies, exercise, and meditation. Ayurveda is one of several ancient Asian healing systems that have recently gained popularity in the West. While the effectiveness of many aspects of Ayurveda has not been scientifically proven, some preliminary research suggests certain components may offer potential therapeutic value.

Bodywork (Movement Therapy, rolfing, Alexander technique, Feldenkrais method, Trager approach, shiatsu massage). Bodywork refers to a variety of physically oriented techniques. Some forms of bodywork involve hands-on manipulation of joints or soft tissue, realigning the body and correcting posture imbalances. Others focus on increasing a person's awareness of his or her own body through gentle, deliberate movement and breathing exercises. There is no scientific evidence that bodywork is effective in treating cancer, but it can be used to enhance quality of life. Many forms of bodywork have the potential to bring pain relief and stress reduction, although the effectiveness of these techniques has not yet been proven scientifically. Various forms of bodywork are generally promoted to relieve pain, reduce stress, soothe injured muscles, stimulate blood and lymphatic circulation and promote relaxation. Practitioners also claim that through bodywork, their patients become more comfortable with their bodies by learning how to move more freely, gracefully and efficiently.

Breathwork is the general term used to describe a variety of breathing techniques that are implemented in many relaxation exercises and spiritual healing methods. Focused, deep breathing exercises, such as exaggerating the way you naturally inhale and exhale, is said to promote relaxation, awareness and emotional release. Shallow breathing is an indicator of stress, so the goal in breathwork is to take long, deep breaths. These breaths are said to be "cleansing," freeing both the body and mind from toxins that prohibit a healthy state. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim. However, breathwork may help in relaxation and stress reduction.

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Craniosacral therapy involves the gentle massage of bones in the skull (including the face and mouth), vertebral column (spine), and pelvis to ease stress in the body and improve physical movement. Craniosacral therapy is a variation of chiropractic and osteopathic medicine. There is no scientific evidence that craniosacral therapy is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. However, it may help people with cancer feel more relaxed. The gentle, hands-on method is non-invasive and may offer some relief for symptoms of stress, headaches and muscle tension.

Dance therapy is the therapeutic use of movement to improve the mental and physical well-being of a person. It focuses on the connection between the mind and body to promote health and healing. There have been few scientific studies conducted to evaluate the effects of dance therapy on health, prevention and recovery from illness. Clinical reports suggest dance therapy is effective in improving self-esteem and reducing stress. As a form of exercise, dance therapy can be useful.

Humor therapy is the use of humor for the relief of physical and emotional difficulties. It is used as a complementary tool to promote health and cope with illness. Although there is no scientific evidence that laughter can cure cancer or any other disease, it can reduce stress, promote health and enhance the quality of life. Humor has physiological effects that can stimulate the circulatory system, immune system and other systems in the body.

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Hypnosis is a state of restful alertness during which a person can be relatively unaware of, but not completely blind to, his or her surroundings. Hypnosis is one of several relaxation methods that has been approved by an independent panel, convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as a useful complementary therapy for treating chronic pain. The technique may also be effective in reducing fear and anxiety, treating pain during labor and delivery, reducing labor time and controlling bleeding and pain during dental procedures. There is no scientific evidence that hypnosis can influence the development or progression of cancer. However, it can help to improve the quality of life for some people with cancer.

Imagery (guided imagery, visualization) involves mental exercises designed to enable the mind to influence the health and well-being of the body. Imagery involves the use of visualization techniques used as complementary therapies in people with cancer and other diseases. The techniques can help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, manage pain, lower blood pressure, ease some of the side effects of chemotherapy and create feelings of being in control. There is no scientific evidence that imagery can influence the development or progression of cancer.

Labyrinth walking is a form of meditation that involves walking on labyrinths (winding pathways drawn or laid on the ground). These labyrinths have only one path from start to finish and can be found indoors and outdoors. Labyrinth walking should not be used to prevent or treat cancer or other serious diseases. However, it may be helpful as a complementary method to decrease stress and create a state of relaxation.

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Massage involves manipulation, rubbing and kneading of the body's muscle and soft tissue. Some recent studies show massage can decrease stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increase alertness. Many healthcare professionals recognize massage as a useful addition to conventional medical treatment that is non-invasive and may offer some relief for these symptoms.

Massage is recommended by some healthcare professionals as a complementary therapy. They believe massage can help people with serious illnesses, such as cancer, reduce stress, anxiety and pain. It is also known to relax muscles. Many people find that massage brings a temporary feeling of well-being and relaxation. Massage is also used to relieve joint pain and stiffness, increase mobility, rehabilitate injured muscles and reduce pain associated with headaches and backaches. Some researchers have found regular massage can help reduce blood pressure, insomnia, migraine headaches and depression. There is also some evidence that massage can stimulate nerves, improve concentration, increase blood flow and the supply of oxygen to cells, and help circulation of the lymph system

Meditation is a mind-body process that uses concentration or reflection to relax the body and calm the mind in order to create a sense of well-being. Meditation is one of several relaxation methods approved by an independent panel, convened by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), as a useful complementary therapy for treating chronic pain and insomnia. There is no scientific evidence that meditation is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. However, it can help to improve the quality of life for people with cancer.

Music therapy (sound therapy) is a method that consists of the active or passive use of music in order to promote healing and enhance quality of life. There is some evidence that when used along with conventional treatment, music therapy can help to reduce pain and relieve chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting. It may also relieve stress and provide an overall sense of well-being. Some studies have found that music therapy can lower heart rate, blood pressure and breathing rate.

Native American healing combines religion, spirituality, herbal medicine and rituals to treat medical and emotional problems. There is no scientific evidence that Native American healing can cure cancer or any other disease. However, the communal support provided by this approach to healthcare can have some worthwhile physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits.

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Naturopathic medicine (naturopathy) integrates a wide range of complementary approaches such as nutrition, herbal medicine, physical manipulation, exercise, stress reduction and acupuncture with conventional medicine. It is a holistic approach (designed to treat the whole person) that enlists the healing power of the body and nature to fight disease (see Holistic medicine).

There is no scientific evidence that naturopathic medicine can cure cancer or any other disease. Specific methods within naturopathic medicine vary in terms of effectiveness. Some methods have shown some evidence of effectiveness in prevention and symptom management. Examples include the importance of diet in lowering the risk of severe illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, and the usefulness of acupuncture to reduce pain.

Polarity therapy is a system of touch and movement based on the idea that a person's health and well-being are determined by the natural flow of energy through the body. Polarity refers to the positive and negative charges of the body's electromagnetic energy field. Polarity therapy is based on the theory that a smooth flow of energy maintains health, while disruptions in the flow caused by trauma, stress, poor nutrition and other factors lead to energy imbalances, fatigue and illness. There is no scientific evidence that shows polarity therapy is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. However, when conducted by a trained professional, it is sometimes recommended by physicians as a tool for relaxation.

Psychotherapy (therapy, counseling) covers a wide range of approaches designed to help people change their ways of thinking, feeling or behaving. Research has shown that psychotherapy may improve a patient's quality of life. It can help reduce anxiety and depression that sometimes occurs in people with cancer. Psychotherapy has not, however, been demonstrated to increase survival in people with cancer.

The idea of the existence of a mind-body connection has been around for a very long time and has received more support and attention in recent years. Psychotherapists believe that what a person experiences mentally and emotionally affects his or her body. They also believe psychotherapy can help people, including those with cancer, find the inner strength they need to improve their coping skills, thus allowing them to more fully enjoy their lives. Psychotherapy can be used to help people deal with the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. It can also be useful in overcoming depression and anxiety, which many people with cancer experience. Psychotherapy is available in many forms.

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Qigong (chi-kung) is a Chinese system of self-care designed to enhance the natural flow of vital energy called qi (or chi) in the body. The process of working toward a regulated, smooth flow of qi is called "gong." There is no scientific evidence showing that qigong is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. However, it may be useful to enhance quality of life. According to limited scientific literature, qigong may reduce chronic pain for a short period of time and relieve anxiety.

Proponents of qigong believe disease, injury, and stress can disrupt the vital energy or life force of the body (qi). By correcting these disruptions, individuals can lead healthier, less stressful lives (see Electromagnetic Therapy). Qigong is promoted to strengthen the body or to enhance other conventional health care treatments, not to cure existing disease. Practitioners claim it may be helpful in managing pain and reducing anxiety. There is some limited evidence for these claims. Some promoters also claim that qigong can help to prevent cancer by improving the oxygen supply to the body and regulating the autonomic nervous system.

Reflexology (zone therapy) is a treatment that applies hand pressure to specific areas of the feet to heal a variety of problems and balance the flow of vital energy or life force called qi (or chi) throughout the body. There is some evidence that reflexology may be useful for relaxation and for reducing some types of pain. However, most of the claims for reflexology are unproven. There is no scientific evidence that reflexology cures cancer or any other disease.

Reiki is a form of hands-on treatment used to manipulate energy fields within and around the body (believed to influence a person's physical and spiritual health) in order to liberate the body's natural healing powers. Reiki is a Japanese word meaning "universal life energy."

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Reiki is said to promote relaxation, decrease stress and anxiety and increase a person's general sense of well-being. Most practitioners explain that reiki is not used to diagnose or treat specific illnesses, but to correct any and all underlying physical and emotional problems or imbalances. They also claim it is helpful for people with cancer who suffer pain and discomfort caused by the disease or by the side effects of conventional treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation, although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims.

Spirituality and Prayer (religion) is generally described as an awareness of something greater than the individual self and is usually expressed through religion and/or prayer. Studies have found spirituality and religion are very important to the quality of life for some people with cancer. Although research has not shown that spirituality can cure cancer or any other disease, some studies have found intercessory prayer (praying for others) may be an effective addition to conventional medical care.

The psychological benefits of prayer may include reduction of stress and anxiety, promotion of a more positive outlook, and the strengthening of the will to live. Proponents of spirituality claim that prayer can decrease the negative effects of disease, speed recovery and increase the effectiveness of medical treatments. Many people believe the spiritual dimension in healing is important, especially for coping with serious illness. Religious attendance has been associated with improvement of various health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, colitis, uterine and other cancers, and overall health status. However, the scientific evidence is mixed.

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Support Groups present information, provide comfort, teach coping skills, help reduce anxiety and provide a place to share common concerns and emotional support. Preliminary research has shown that many groups can enhance quality of life. There is no scientific evidence, however, that support groups can actually extend the survival time of people with cancer. Support groups are composed of education, behavioral training and group interaction. Behavioral training can involve muscle relaxation or meditation to reduce stress or the effects of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. People with cancer are often encouraged by healthcare professionals to seek support from groups of individuals that have direct or indirect experiences with the same type of cancer.

Tai Chi (t'ai chi, tai chi chuan, tai chi chih) is an ancient Chinese form of martial arts. It is a mind-body, self-healing system that uses movement, meditation and breathing to improve health and well-being. Research has shown tai chi is useful as a form of exercise that may improve posture, balance, muscle mass and tone, flexibility, stamina and strength in older adults. Tai chi is also recognized as a method to reduce stress that can provide the same cardiovascular benefits as moderate exercise, such as lowered heart rate and blood pressure. People who practice the deep breathing and physical movements of tai chi report it makes them feel more relaxed, younger, more agile and helps their circulation. Its slow, graceful movements, accompanied by rhythmic breathing, relax the body as well as the mind. Research has found that tai chi can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. See Qigong and Yoga for other Eastern methods of exercise. There is also evidence that tai chi is particularly suited for older adults, or for others who are not physically strong or healthy.

Healing/Therapeutic Touch (TT, energy field therapy, biofield therapy) is a technique in which the hands are used to direct human energy for healing purposes. There is usually no actual physical contact. The practice of TT is based on the belief that the patient's energy field can be identified and re-balanced by a healer. Harmful energy is believed to cause blockages in the patient's normal energy flow. Proponents claim TT removes blockages and other problems in the patient's energy field that cause illness and pain. There is no evidence to support many of the claims made for TT, or that energy is balanced or transferred by the use of TT. However, it may be useful in reducing anxiety and increasing a sense of well-being in some people.

Yoga (hatha yoga) is a form of non-aerobic exercise that involves a program of precise posture and breathing activities. In ancient Sanskrit, the word yoga means "union." Yoga can be a useful method to help relieve some symptoms associated with chronic diseases such as cancer, arthritis and heart disease, and can lead to increased relaxation and physical fitness. There is no scientific evidence that yoga is effective in treating cancer or any other disease. However, it may enhance quality of life. Yoga is promoted as a system of personal development. It is a way of life based on the Hindu philosophy that combines ethical standards, dietary guidelines, physical exercise, and meditation to create a union of mind, body and spirit. Yoga is said to cultivate prana, which is similar to qi (or chi) in traditional Chinese medicine meaning vital energy or life force. People who practice yoga claim it leads to a state of physical health, relaxation, happiness, peace and tranquility. There is some evidence which shows that yoga can lower stress, increase strength and provide a good form of exercise.

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