Our Approach: The 7 Essential Elements
Forming the backbone of our retreats are 7 research-based lifestyle practices widely recognised for their health and wellbeing benefits.
The degree to which each retreat focuses on these individual elements depends on the length and purpose of that particular retreat. The explanations provided below are mostly in relation to our cancer retreat programs.
Regular Meditation helps people with cancer bring the body back to its natural state of balance – the ideal condition for the body to make the most of its inherent capacity for healing.
The techniques of meditation are thousands of years old and the type of meditation for cancer healing we teach in our programs is derived from traditional practice. We call it Mindfulness-Based Stillness Meditation (MBSM).
MBSM is a discipline to stay within the here and now and experience stillness. In the words of Jon Kabat-Zinn, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, mindfulness involves “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgementally”.
In our cancer retreats, we will take you through the four steps of MBSM – preparation, relaxation, mindfulness and stillness. We look at stress and its relationship to healing, the nature of the thinking mind, awareness and inner stillness. We will teach you to use imagery for healing and pain management where needed and the use of contemplation for clarity and decision-making.
In this natural state, the body is designed to heal itself, but its equilibrium is often compromised by stress, lifestyle and environmental factors. Many research studies now support the benefits of mindfulness and meditation for healing and preventing imbalances caused by stress, depression and decreased immunity that lead to illness.
The case for regular mediation for cancer healing is further substantiated in current clinical practice. Both Jon Kabat-Zinn and Dr Craig Hassed, a general practitioner and head of the Monash University Department of General Practice in Australia, have successfully introduced mindfulness meditation into patient therapy and it is now one of the most widely accepted complementary therapies by Australian GPs.
Meditation helps to bring the body back into a state of balance, allowing healing to occur. Regular meditation can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, improve sleep and efficiency, reduce stress-producing hormones, and have a positive influence on the endocrine system. By developing peace of mind and by reducing fear and anxiety you can boost your immune system and create the best conditions for the body to heal itself.
Good Nutrition built on an organic plant-based wholefood diet, creates a cancer-unfriendly alkaline environment in the body and supports the body’s natural healing process.
The Gawler Cancer Foundation and similar organisations around the world promote the benefits of a wholefood, plant-based diet to detoxify the body and support its natural healing process. The premise is straightforward – our bodies need food to survive and we convert what we eat into energy and cells. It’s a cliché but we are what we eat. If we put the best food into our bodies, we give ourselves the best chance of our bodies remaining healthy.
Further on the correlation between nutrition and cancer, clinical experience indicates that appropriate nutrition can create a cancer unfriendly environment in the body and support healing.
The World Cancer Research Fund guidelines for cancer patients in regards to diet include being as lean as possible, restricting calories, eating more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains and pulses such as beans, as well as limiting salt consumption, meat and alcohol and avoiding processed meat completely. Many of these recommendations relating to diet and nutrition are consistent with the nutritional recommendations adopted by The Gawler Cancer Foundation.
The World Health Organisation states that at least 50% of cancers are related to diet and lifestyle. It is well documented that poor diet and low physical activity relate directly to the risk of cancer.
During our retreats and programs the key principles of healthy eating are presented for discussion along with information and research on anti-cancer diets, which include foods, oils and supplements, particularly vitamin D. Participants will experience eating a plant-based diet and juicing on a daily basis, while our practical cooking demonstrations will show you how to confidently adopt this diet and style of cooking at home.
Power of the Mind as taught by our foundation is the re-evaluation of core beliefs and values and the practical application of positive thinking can stimulate both the conscious and unconscious mind to assist the body’s healing process.
As far back as 400BC, Socrates said, “You ought not to attempt to cure the body without the soul, for this is the great error of our day in the treatment of the human body, that physicians separate the body from the soul.” We believe that the power of the mind if used wisely can have a positive effect on the body’s immune system.
Current research in the relatively new sub-section of biology called psychoneuroimmunology now supports ancient wisdom in acknowledging that the body and mind are not separate entities. Research shows that the mind is connected through the nervous and endocrine systems to the immune system and the process of thought is not limited to the brain. As Dr Craig Hassed notes in his book, The Essence of Health, every part of our body communicates with every other part and immune cells mirror emotional states.
In our programs, we look at the relation between mindfulness and cancer, and explore the different ways in which the mind can affect the body’s ability to heal itself, especially through its impact on the immune system, drawing upon numerous published works including Candace Pert’s Molecules of Emotion and Bruce Lipton’s The Biology of Belief.
We examine the nature of the conscious and sub-conscious mind and the different ways in which their functions can assist healing. Participants are taught how to harness the power of the conscious mind to focus and set clear goals, to make well-informed choices and to develop a crucial sense of self-empowerment on their path to healing.
But positive thinking alone is not sufficient. Core beliefs and values need review in the light of old patterns of reaction and behaviour, especially around illness. In our programs you will learn how to use imagery to talk to the sub-conscious body-mind and imprint positive new messages to stimulate a healing response.
Emotional Healing involves the process of releasing pains of the past and resolving negative emotions, to free up emotional and physical energy to boost immunity. Opening your heart to positive experiences and emotions supports healing.
Healthy emotions like joy, gratitude, laughter and forgiveness don’t just make us feel good, they stimulate the body’s natural healing processes and strengthen the immune system.
People diagnosed with chronic illness benefit greatly from dealing with negative or perhaps unresolved emotions that can be potentially life changing and destructive. Dr David Spiegel, head of Stanford University Medical School’s Centre for Stress and Health has concluded that while chronic and severe depression is probably associated with an increased chance of getting cancer, there is stronger evidence that depression accelerates the progression of cancer once it has been diagnosed.
Negative emotions affect the prefrontal cortex of the brain that impairs our focus, motivation and ability to make decisions. Releasing and resolving difficult emotions can bring the peace that comes from closure and improve your quality of life, even if you are at an advanced stage of cancer.
In our programs we examine the connection between emotions and our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. We look at the influence of emotions on the immune system. Participants can begin to identify and release blocks that are caused by habitual or negative emotional patterns.
The nature and transforming power of forgiveness is an important focus in these sessions and we examine how to break the blame story and use forgiveness of self and others to transform fear and difficult emotions. Specific meditation techniques will help you to observe your emotions and reduce your level of reactiveness. Individual counselling is available to help you through the transformation process.
Building and maintaining healthy emotions will improve the quality of your life and we encourage everyone to share practical ways to bring more laughter and joy into their lives.
Quest for Meaning and purpose in life can offset the fears and worries for our own mortality and help maintain a positive state of mind.
Serious illness places our mortality right in our faces and as such often prompts a personal search for deeper meaning and purpose. To survive cancer or another chronic illness is a goal in itself but identifying the purpose in your life and your reason for living can have a significant impact on your life experience.
In several of our cancer counselling sessions, participants are invited to reflect on and share their ideas and beliefs on a range of topics that relate to meaning, purpose and spirituality: the causes of illness, the journey to healing and death and dying, where the focus is on exposing and addressing the fear that sits around a diagnosis of cancer. The paralysis and stress this can cause affects your quality of life and compromises healing.
Participants are taken through a process to come to terms with their own mortality. Our aim is to help you enjoy good quality of life regardless of how long that may be for.
A specific session on spirituality and healing invites participants to reflect on the role spirituality plays in their lives and its potential impact on their healing. Our approach is strictly non-denominational and not aligned with any specific religion. However, we fully respect any religious beliefs individual participants may have.
Moderate Exercise can help prevent and improve the survival rates for people with cancer, support pain management, increase vitality and boost immunity and mental health.
The World Cancer Research Fund has declared physical inactivity a risk factor for cancer. Many types of exercise offer a huge range of benefits and there is a consistent relationship between regular physical exercise and a reduction in the risk of death from any cause over a given period, including cancer.
Evidence is becoming clear that there is a connection between exercise and cancer prevention. Regular moderate exercise helps to prevent a whole range of cancers and prolongs survival for cancer patients. Some of the cancers specified include breast, colon, lung, endometrial and prostate cancers.
Apart from preventing and improving survival rates for people with cancer, exercise has other important benefits, such as pain management, increased vitality, improved immunity and mental health
Different studies recommend different ideal lengths of time to exercise per week for maximum benefit. The World Cancer Research Fund recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day. Other organisations suggest exercising at least 4-5 times weekly for 30 minutes to reduce breast, bowel and prostate cancer by 50-60%, including some high intensity activity. The effectiveness of exercise is related to how much you do, so sticking to a regular exercise regime is crucial.
During our retreats and programs, we look at the current research into exercise for cancer patients and encourage people to exercise by introducing a number of options for participants to experience including yoga, qigong and walking.
Effective Support is essential to help people cope with the challenges and uncertainties of serious illness and work through the range of healing options and strategies.
Support from a partner or friend is essential for anyone diagnosed with cancer or MS. Illness brings with it many challenges and uncertainties during its different phases. Appropriate support, which may include cancer counselling, can influence both the severity and outcome of the illness.
From a practical point of view we all recognise that having support can help maintain a positive mental state, reduce stress and adopt better coping practices.
Social isolation on the other hand predisposes us to a whole range of illnesses, including cancer, and is associated with a higher mortality rate. The lack of a relationship and adequate support has been shown to undermine the body’s immune system and therefore our capacity to heal.
During our retreats and programs, participants are invited to look at what supports them at the time of crisis; to consider the effectiveness of their medical and social networks and family support.
At our retreat centre, which is just 1 hr 20 mins from Melbourne, small group counselling sessions are incorporated into the program to provide a safe space to debrief, constructively address difficulties and develop strategies, not only for those with cancer but also for their carers. Therapists are sensitive to needs as they arise and are ready to support where required. Individual cancer counselling is also available during and after some of the programs.
Attending a Gawler Cancer Foundation healing program with a partner or friend is recommended. It gives them the opportunity to take some time for themselves, to address issues that they face in the caring role, and to share in this profound and inspiring experience. One of the benefits of a retreat is that participants are linked in a common, shared experience that models the benefits of effective support. Many choose to develop and sustain this network after leaving a program.
We also encourage healing program participants to consider attending a community support group relevant to their situation.