Women with breast cancer can combat high stress levels by practising mindful yoga and expressing themselves creatively through art, experts say.

The Jefferson-Myrna Brind Centre of Integrative Medicine combined creative art therapy with a Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme for women with breast cancer and showed changes in brain activity associated with lower stress and anxiety after the eight-week programme.

The women practised mindful yoga, awareness of breathing, awareness of emotion, walking, eating and listening, paired with expressive art tasks to provide opportunities for self-expression, facilitate coping strategies, improve self-regulation, and provide a way for participants to express emotional information in a personally meaningful manner.

“Our goal was to observe possible mechanisms for the observed psychosocial effects of MBAT by evaluating the cerebral blood flow (CBF) changes associated with an MBAT intervention in comparison with a control of equal time and attention,” Daniel Monti, lead author on the study said.

“This type of expressive art and meditation program has never before been studied for physiological impact and the correlation of that impact to improvements in stress and anxiety,” Monti said in a statement.

Eighteen patients were randomly assigned to the MBAT programme or an education programme control group. All had received the diagnosis of breast cancer between six months and three years prior to enrolment and were not in active treatment.

Patient response to the MBAT program was measured using a 90-item symptom checklist, completed by each patient before and after the eight-week programme.

In addition, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used pre and post-program to evaluate cerebral blood flow, corresponding to changes in the brain’s activity.

Scans were performed at rest, during a “neutral task” (control), meditation task, stressor task and at rest again — designed to evaluate the general as well as specific effects.

Participants in the MBAT group demonstrated significant effects on cerebral blood flow compared with the control group.

The MBAT group showed increases in the emotional centres of the brain including the left insula, which helps us to perceive our emotions, the amygdale, which helps us experience stress, the hippocampus that regulates stress responses, and the caudate nucleus that is part of our brain’s reward system.

The study will be published in the journal Stress and Health.

Keywords: Meditationyogacancer