Tool #2: Diaphragmatic Breathing

Your breath…although you may not always notice it, it is always there, and is an easy tool for grounding you in any moment.

Let’s try this exercise together. Read through the steps so you’ll know what to do!

  1. Close your eyes. Put one hand on your belly button and one hand on your chest.
  2. Take a slow,deep breath in through your nose. Where do you feel the movement of the breath? Your shoulders, your chest, your abdomen? Notice how it feels in your body. Notice the very beginning of the inhalation and the very end.
  3. Next, begin a very slow exhalation through your mouth. Notice the changes as you begin to exhale slowly.
  4. Now, repeat this while focusing on drawing in the breath with your diaphragm, the muscle in your low chest/upper abdomen that helps to expand your lungs as you breathe. Focus on drawing in the breath from the belly. Feel the belly expand, like a balloon. Feel the movement in the abdomen as the diaphragm flattens to bring air in and then feel it curves up to exhale. Does your breath feel deeper and less inhibited this time?
  5. Take 3 slow deep breaths with the belly, relax into it, and then open your eyes.

How do you feel after completing this? I often use this exercise with my patients when they are feeling anxious about a procedure, or they are experiencing pain. Something as simple as pausing, taking 3 deep breaths and reclaiming your focus on the present moment can be surprisingly helpful.

A similar type of breathing, called Okinaga breathing, uses deep breathing with prolonged exhalation. A clinical study testing the effects of an extended session of Okinaga breathing on brain and heart activity showed decreased production of beta waves in the brain, which are the fast wave communication in the brain during the normal waking state of consciousness, and an increase in alpha and theta waves, those associated with restfulness, calm, sleep and deep meditation. It also showed decreased heart rate variability. These findings suggest that deep breathing may induce relaxation similar to sleep and steady the cardiovascular system, thus relieving anxiety. (Komori Mental Illness 2018; 10:7881)

Next time you are feeling stress, anxiety or pain, or before a medical procedure, give this technique a try to calm your mind and body.

Setting Up a Home Meditation Space

As you embark on a home meditation practice, it will be helpful to set up a space in your home. Here are some tips on how to create a space in your home that is conducive to meditation. You will want to create an environment that will support your practice. Every individual is different in terms of their preferences, so it’s important to experiment and see what works for you.

I find it helpful to consider the 5 senses.


Set aside an area in your home where you plan to meditate. When you see it, it reminds you of a sense of peace and silence. This could be a special place you use only for this, or it could be a space you use commonly for other things. In this case, you may want to have a special blanket, scarf or meditation cushion that you can set out for your practice. The nice thing about these items is that they can also travel with you if you plan to meditate away from home. You may want to have the option of sitting or reclining.

You may want to incorporate natural elements, such as flowers, plants, or a small fountain.

Also, consider the lighting of the environment. You may want mostly darkness, candle light, night lights, or bright lights. Experiment and see what works for you.


When you are working through my guided meditations, there will typically be some speaking, and some silent time. Some people like to have background classical music playing, or white noise/nature sounds from a sound machine. Others find this distracting and prefer complete silence. When you are first starting off, try a few sessions of each. If you are using your phone to play the meditations, it’s helpful to place it out of your reach (and on silent…can’t tell you how many times I’ve forgotten this step!) so you aren’t tempted to use it during the meditation.


Make sure you are comfortable. If you are using a blanket or cushion, select one that feels pleasant to you. Wear comfortable, nonrestrictive clothing. Make sure the temperature of the room is desirable.


You may choose to have incense, a scented candle, or essential oil aromatherapy going during your meditation. These are not essential, but may help with relaxation. I find lavender scents to be especially soothing.


Prior to your meditation, you may want to have a warm drink, like hot tea or coffee. My routine is to wake up early in the morning to meditate, and I always sit down with a hot cup of coffee as I begin, and this triggers a sense of calming relaxation.

I hope you find these tips helpful! Although these suggestions may help cultivate relaxation and stillness, it’s important to remember that the only things you need for meditation are your bodymind and breath. Enjoy setting up your own space, as we will begin to dive deeper into meditation practice in the next few weeks.

Tool #1: The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Model

Ok, yes. This tool has a lot of long words. Please read on anyway!!

I’m starting with this because I feel it is essential to understand this way of viewing your mind to be able to harness the power of your mindfulness practice that you will hopefully begin soon, if you haven’t already.

I’m adapting this from the teachings of Dr. Aaron Beck, the founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and Brooke Castillo, founder of The Life Coach School.

I’m a mother of 3 young kids. It’s very frequent that I hear from my daughter Brielle,  “Marshall made me sad.” Kids believe from a young age that their feelings are generated from circumstances outside of their control. Their model for how emotions/feelings are generated looks like this:

C: Circumstance. A neutral fact

F: Feeling the circumstance generated

A: Action the feeling resulted in

R: Results of those actions

But, is this true? Are we just victims of our circumstance?

In reality, we are in complete control of our own feelings. They are not generated by our circumstances. Our feelings are generated by our thoughts about that circumstance. Give this some thought…

C: Circumstance. A neutral fact

T: our thoughts and perceptions about that circumstance

F: Feeling our thoughts generated

A: Action the feeling resulted in

R: Results of those actions

So in this example, Brielle’s model looks like this:

C: Marshall calls Brielle a nerd.

T: That hurts my feelings to be called a name.

F: Sad

A: Cry to Mama

R: She feels sad and believes that Marshall made her feel sad.

Alternatively, she could recognize that she has the power to alter or choose her thoughts about the circumstance, therefore resulting in a completely different outcome for herself.

Alternative model:

C: Marshall calls Brielle a nerd. (This remains the same.)

T: This is so funny! I’m not a nerd. He’s obviously joking.

F: Amused

A: Laugh

R: Brielle is happy, because her mind delivered her there.

Believing that through the power of your mind, you can change your thoughts, feelings, actions and results will bring so much power to you as you navigate cancer treatment and recovery.

Please try this exercise once per day for a week and see how it goes.

  1. Write a thought download for 5 minutes (a stream of consciousness series of writing in a journal without editing your thoughts.) You can just start writing, or write about a specific topic, like receiving a cancer diagnosis, for instance. It’s easy! Just write everything you are thinking.
  2. Read through your thought download and circle all the circumstances (neutral facts) and underline all the thoughts.
  3. Choose one thought and fill in a thought model like the example above with your current thought. (CTFAR)
  4. Notice how your current thought may not be generating the feelings and results you desire.
  5. Now, create an alternative model. The trick is, your alternative thought must be believable to you, AND it must actually generate in you a more neutral or positive feeling than your original thought does.

Using this tool alone, you will be able to help yourself feel more at ease as you navigate cancer treatment. Isn’t it freeing to think that no outside circumstance, nothing that happens to you, can make you feel a certain way. You are in complete control of your own experience.

You might be wondering how this relates to mindfulness! Read on.

Good luck! Post below with questions or examples. I’m happy to help.

Mindfulness and Cancer

Hello, I’m Ellen Cooke, MD, Radiation Oncologist and mindfulness instructor. I’m really grateful that our paths have crossed on this journey to better understand AND apply mindfulness practices into cancer treatment and recovery. Whether you are a patient, caregiver or healthcare professional, I am certain you will find the information provided in this blog to be interesting, useful and accessible.

Perhaps you were just diagnosed with cancer?

Or you’ve been dealing with the effects of the disease and treatments for years?

Or you have witnessed the suffering of countless patients?

You have come to the right place to learn an approach for easing the burden of a cancer diagnosis.

In the coming weeks and months, I will introduce you to a stepwise approach to incorporate mindful practices into your daily life.

You will learn the science behind mindfulness (of which there is a lot of really interesting stuff!).

You will learn specific tools to make coping easier.

I’m certain your life will be transformed, as mine has been, through applying these practices.

So…what is mindfulness?

As we discuss this topic, you will begin to see that there are two facets to this: there is the practice of mindfulness meditation, and then there is the act of being mindful in the moment. As you become versed in meditation practice, it becomes easier to be mindful in each moment.

There are three essential aspects to mindfulness:

  1. Present moment awareness and self-regulation of your attention on the immediate experience
  2. An attitude of openness and acceptance of this moment’s experience
  3. A sense of nonjudgment and gentleness

How is this helpful for cancer?

Mindfulness has been shown in clinical studies to decrease stress, decrease anxiety, allow for better sleep, lessen fatigue, improve quality of life, and improve psychosocial adjustment. It has been shown to improve the experience of clinical procedures. It may possibly improve immune function and reduce pain.

I help patients with cancer and their care providers to harness the power of their minds to improve the experience of cancer treatment and recovery. I look forward to teaching these tools to you!

Click here to begin a FREE 10-day guided mindfulness meditation experience