- Cancer Information
- Living well
- Complementary therapies
- Individual therapies
- Relaxation and meditation
Relaxation and meditation
What is it?
Relaxation is a process that uses slow breathing and muscle-loosening exercises to physically and mentally calm the body. Relaxation techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, deep breathing, massage, aromatherapy and yoga.
Meditation is the practice of focusing awareness and attention on the present moment and on the senses of the body. It is an important part of many religions, including Buddhism and Hinduism, but you don’t have to be religious to meditate. There are different types of meditation techniques, including breath work.
Why use it
Relaxation and meditation may help to release muscle tension, reduce anxiety and depression, and help improve quality of life. They may be used to help calm and relax the body and mind.
What to expect
Serene music may be played to create a peaceful environment. The therapist will guide you through exercises to teach you the skills of relaxation and meditation, which you can then do yourself at home. Guided imagery uses sound and vision to encourage your imagination to create pleasant thoughts. After a period of relaxation, you will usually be prompted to stay awake to enjoy your relaxed state of mind. Relaxation and meditation can be done sitting or lying down.
What is the evidence?
Clinical practice guidelines include offering a combination of guided imagery and progressive muscle relaxation to people experiencing pain after cancer treatment. Clinical studies have shown that people being treated for cancer who practise relaxation have lower levels of anxiety, stress, pain and depression. Relaxation techniques have been shown to improve sleep.
Some hospitals and cancer support groups offer relaxation and meditation groups. There are also many self-help podcasts, online videos and smartphone apps that will guide you through the different techniques. You could also listen to our meditation and relaxation podcast below.
Meditation and Relaxation Podcast
Download a PDF booklet on this topic.
Dr David Joske, Clinical Haematologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and PathWest, Chairman and Founder Solaris Cancer Care Foundation, Clinical Professor of Medicine, The University of Western Australia, WA; Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA); Dr Robert Blum, Clinical Director, Cancer Services, Bendigo Health, NSW; Sally Brooks, Senior Pharmacist, Medicines Information, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Suzanne Grant, Senior Research Fellow, NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, and Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Prof Danforn Lim, Adjunct Professor and Advisory Board Member, NICM Health Research Institute, Western Sydney University, and Adjunct Professor, UTS, NSW; Christina Line, Statewide Services Senior Coordinator, Cancer Council WA; Jen McKenzie, Physiotherapist (Lymphoedema) and ESSA Accredited Exercise Physiologist, The McKenzie Clinic, QLD; Simone Noelker, Wellness Centre and Pastoral Care Manager, Ballarat Regional Integrated Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Nirzari Pandit, General Practitioner, RACGP Specific Interests Integrative Medicine Group, NSW; Georgie Pearson, Consumer; Cris Pirone, Counsellor, Cancer Council SA; Dr Elysia Thornton-Benko, Specialist General Practitioner, and UNSW Research Fellow, NSW; Kirsty Trebilcock, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Coping with cancer?
Speak to a health professional or to someone who has been there, or find a support group or forum