Meditation’s Impact on Chemobrain

Kirtan Kriya is a meditation that can help us thrive through “interesting times,” bring stability to the mind and calm to the nervous system.

I collaborated with Ashley Henneghan, PhD, MSN, RN, and the UT School of Nursing to test the impact of this meditation on people experiencing “chemobrain” and I’m excited to share this article detailing our research which was recently published in the September 2020 Journal of Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice.

Ashley and I met several years back when I participated in a study she conducted regarding the prevalence and impact of chemobrain on breast cancer survivors. Results from her earlier studiy showed:

  • Perceived cognitive changes following breast cancer treatment are multifactorial and that higher stress levels, loneliness, daytime sleepiness, and poorer sleep quality are linked to worse perceived cognitive functioning. Also, stress, loneliness, and sleep quality may affect cognitive functioning through a shared psychobiological pathway.
  • Interventions targeting stress, loneliness, and sleep quality may improve perceived cognitive functioning in breast cancer survivors.

Ashley is also a yoga and meditation practitioner and we began to discuss the possibility of collaborating to research mantra meditation as an effective intervention for cognitive impairment after chemotherapy (aka chemobrain).

Based on research conducted at UCLA showing that Kirtan Kriya reduced inflammation and improved memory and cognitive function, and from my own experience practicing and teaching it for 20 years, I suggested we study it’s possible impact on people suffering from chemobrain.

Ashley is a leading researcher on quality of life and wellness after cancer and always has several studies happening at once.  Nevertheless, she found a way to get funding from the National Institute of Nursing Research of the National Institutes of Health .  We completed a pilot study on the feasibility of studying the cognitive benefits of Kirtan Kriya on post-chemotherapy breast cancer survivors.

I was delighted to teach the meditation to our participants, explore questions and/or resistances to daily practice, and to check in on them regularly.

Results of our study showed Kirtan Kriya meditation may indeed improve verbal fluency and memory, perceived cognitive functioning, and quality of life for the cancer survivor participants.  The study also showed the feasibility of using online teaching methods (video and audio recordings) to encourage people to begin a daily meditation practice at home which can then be tracked and studied for research purposes.

Chemobrain is a frustrating and often unexpected challenge.  I’m happy to suggest Kirtan Kriya as a powerful tool to address cognitive functioning and quality of life.  You can practice with me anytime through this audio recording I made for the Therapist Uncensored podcast:

Or check out a video practice here:  You can also google Kirtan Kriya for many articles citing previous research and to find different melodies to accompany your practice!

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