Cancer Resource Centre explores the benefits of yoga, Reiki, meditation for patients

From left, Toni Gwiazda of Dyer, Mary Strubel of Munster and Melissa Formas of Crete participate in therapeutic yoga at the Cancer Resource Centre in Munster. 

Tony V. Martin, The Times

While it certainly goes without saying that the greatest agonies wrought by cancer are of the physical variety, the psychological toll of dealing with the disease and its treatments — not to mention the fear and uncertainty they inspire — is just as heavy a burden for patients to bear. 

Believing that a sound mind is crucial to the restoration of a sound body, the caregivers at the Cancer Resource Centre in Munster place as much emphasis on attending to the mental and emotional needs of cancer patients as they do their physical ones.

To that end, the center offers sessions in yoga, meditation and Reiki, disciplines and activities that may not have a direct hand in fighting off the physical ravages of cancer but which can be as strong as any medicine or high-tech treatment for mental and emotional healing power.

“When the Centre first opened, we were looking to offer different mind-body healing therapies,” explained Mary Shields, administrator of the Community Cancer Research Foundation, which supports the Cancer Resource Centre. “Yoga was one of these therapies, as it is well known to help not only physically in a number of different ailments but also emotionally in helping with relaxation and stress reduction.

"As it turned out, Andy Wichlinski was already teaching yoga at Community Hospital Fitness Pointe and became the Centre’s first yoga instructor; 14 years later, Andy still conducts classes at the Centre."

Wichlinski is one of several practitioners working with the Centre for more than a decade. In addition to yoga, the Centre also offers meditation and Reiki, and Pamela Kozy has guided hundreds of patients in these disciplines over the last 14 years as well.

“It has been such an honor and a privilege to work with the patients at the Cancer Resource Centre,” said Kozy, director of Heart in Hand natural health center in Highland. “It’s an amazing place that provides support, encouragement and healing therapies that provide relaxation and calm to these patients’ lives.”

Kozy says these techniques have become increasingly popular as cancer patients and their families have come to better understand how important the mental aspect of cancer care is to the healing process. Meditation, for example, can restore a much-needed sense of peace for patients staring down a grueling schedule of treatments and procedures.

“Meditation increases awareness of the present moment, which helps to reduce stress and promote a calm and relaxed state of mind,” Kozy said. “Teaching someone how to be in the moment, to relax, to calm their mind and body — whether for 5 minutes or 30 minutes — is a wonderful way to take a break from everyday life and find a quiet space to just sit and breathe, calm the mind and de-stress the body.”

Those goals of mental soundness and relaxation are also at the heart of Reiki, an ancient Japanese art of touch therapy designed to recharge, realign and rebalance a patient’s energy field. Though not as well known as yoga and meditation, Reiki has proven to be a great way for patients to manage pain and promote healing, Kozy says.

“Patients are more relaxed, and have reported decreased pain and an increase in circulation,” she explained. “Patients can learn to do Reiki on themselves, which can serve as a self-help tool that promotes balance, relaxation and overall well-being.”

No matter what type of relaxation therapy a patient chooses — yoga, meditation, Reiki or some other discipline — the key is to get into a better state of mind. While none of these practices will cure a patient’s cancer, Kozy and others believe that they can complement traditional medical treatments to help create an environment that promotes better healing and wellness.

“Doctors, nurses and caregivers have found that these techniques give patients an increased physical and emotional ability to cope," she said.