Mindfulness meditation is a simple, effective technique for relieving stress and focusing on the present, whether you’re a current cancer patient, a longtime survivor, or even “a fidgety news man.”
This was the message delivered by Dan Harris, correspondent and co-anchor for ABC’s “Nightline” and “Good Morning America Weekend,” during the keynote speech at the 13th annual Lenny Lecture sponsored by Dana-Farber’s Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies, Adult Survivorship Program, and Perini Family Survivors’ Center. His talk centered on the powerful story of how he used 5-10 minutes of daily meditation to reduce the anxiety he felt in his high pressure job – anxiety he said led to drug use and an on-air breakdown.
“You don’t have to sit in a funny position or join a group to meditate,” said Harris, author of the book 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Really Works – A True Story. “There are three steps – sitting comfortably, focusing your attention on the feeling of your breath going in and out, and bringing your attention back to your breath when your mind wanders. Getting lost and coming back is the whole point. Noticing and coming back is like a bicep curl for your brain.”
Meditation is one of several integrative therapies offered to adult and pediatric patients at Dana-Farber’s Zakim Center. Learning to let go of negative or fearful thoughts through meditation can help patients reach a more peaceful state of mind and feel more physically relaxed during cancer treatment.
“When it was founded 15 years ago, the Zakim Center was one of the first programs of its kind at a cancer center,” Jennifer Ligibel, MD, director of the Zakim Center and breast oncologist in the Susan F. Smith Center for Women’s Cancers, told Lecture attendees. “Lenny Zakim, as head of the New England Region of the Anti-Defamation League, was known for bringing people together. Lenny was also a patient at Dana-Farber, and during the years he battled multiple myeloma, he found strength in integrative therapies and the sense of control they gave him in his cancer journey.”
Harris noted that research has shown the practice to lower stress hormones and blood pressure, boost the immune system, and mitigate anxiety and depression. Sports teams such as the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League are adopting meditation techniques, he said, as is the U.S. Military in an effort to decrease instances of post-traumatic stress disorder.
“I believe meditation is the next public health revolution,” said Harris. “We will soon think of mental exercise the same way we think of physical exercise.”
Watch Harris’ full talk below:
The evening also served as a homecoming of sorts for Harris. He is the son of Dana-Farber Chief of Radiation Oncology Jay Harris, MD, and Massachusetts General Hospital Pathologist Nancy Lee Harris, MD, both of whom are professors at Harvard Medical School.