Mind-body therapies

Mind-body therapies may help you to take greater control of your feelings, symptoms and side effects and improve well-being.

What are mind-body therapies?

Mind-body therapies are based on the belief that what we think and feel can affect our well-being. Some NHS services and support groups offer mind-body therapies.


Simple breathing and relaxation exercises can help reduce anxiety and stress. As well as calming your mind, they may also reduce muscle tension.

Almost everyone can use relaxation techniques. You can learn them as part of a group, or at home using a CD or podcast. Three common relaxation techniques are: 

  • breathing exercises
  • progressive muscle relaxation
  • guided imagery.

Often two or more relaxation techniques are used together.


Meditation can help to relax and calm the mind. During meditation you learn to focus on the present moment. While doing this you become aware of your feelings, thoughts, and the sensations in your body. You are encouraged to observe these calmly and without judgement. This helps to train your mind to remain calm and not to be caught up in thoughts or worries that arise.

There are different types of meditation techniques. Some have a spiritual dimension such as Buddhist meditation.

A psychologist has developed a non-spiritual type of meditation. The aim is to help people manage problems such as anxiety, stress or chronic pain. This is called mindfulness meditation. Types of mindfulness meditation include:

  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
  • Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

Mindfulness classes may be available through your hospital, GP or a cancer support charity.


Many people use hypnotherapy to help them make positive lifestyle changes, such as giving up smoking. It might also be used to encourage positive emotions, such as calmness and relaxation.

Sometimes it is used to reduce side effects of cancer treatment, such as nausea and vomiting or pain. But there isn’t enough reliable evidence for doctors to recommend it as the main treatment for these problems.

A hypnotherapist will work with you to create a helpful state of mind. The therapist will make suggestions, which are believed to have a helpful effect on the way you deal with certain situations. You are always in control and are able to stop any session by simply opening your eyes.

Art therapy

Art therapy is used to help people to express themselves. The art therapist may have training in psychotherapy and will encourage you to communicate your feelings through painting, drawing or sculpting. The aim is to express your feelings rather than produce a work of art. The therapy can be given one-to-one with the therapist or in groups.

Being creative can sometimes help you become more aware of difficult feelings and let go of them. These feelings can then be discussed in counselling or group sessions, if appropriate.

You don’t need to be able to draw or paint to take part. You will be encouraged to be spontaneous and doodle.

Art therapy is not widely available for cancer patients on the NHS. The British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) has details of how to find an art therapist near you.

Music therapy

This therapy uses music to improve quality of life, by helping people communicate. You don’t need to be able to play an instrument or read music. Music therapy can be carried out individually or as a group.

During the session, you work with a range of easy-to-use instruments to help show your feelings. The aim is to help people who may find it difficult to talk about their feelings to express themselves.

Music therapy has also been shown to help relieve symptoms, such as pain.

Music therapy is not widely available for cancer patients on the NHS. The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) has details of how to find a music therapist near you.

Movement therapies


There are different types of yoga. They generally involve different body positions, breathing exercises and some form of meditation.

Some types of yoga use very gentle stretching, movement and meditation. Others may involve more vigorous physical movement and dietary changes.

Yoga is generally safe, but people with some types of cancer may need to adapt some of the positions so they are easier to do. It is important to tell your yoga teacher that you have cancer

Some people who have cancer find that yoga helps them cope with their illness and feel better generally. It may help to reduce sleep problems and fatigue. It may help to reduce sleep problems and fatigue.

Tai chi and qi gong

Tai chi and qi gong (sometimes spelt chi kung) come from Chinese medical traditions.

Both tai chi and qi gong focus on building strength, balance and flexibility through slow, fluid movements. They also use mental imagery and deep breathing.

Together, the physical and mental exercises can help to improve general health and create a feeling of well-being.