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Last Updated: 5/17/11

CAM Information

Walk This Way: Clinical Center Labyrinth Provides Opportunity for Meditation and Reflection

Meditation labyrinths, also known as prayer labyrinths, have a long history, dating back thousands of years. An individual follows a winding path, leading to the center, and back out again, while meditating, praying, or reflecting. A labyrinth is not the same thing as a maze: There is only one path to follow — to the center and back again — so it is impossible to get lost. Labyrinths are designed to be calming and comforting. One of the most famous labyrinths in the world is at the Chartres cathedral, located outside of Paris. However, NIH patients and visitors do not need to travel all the way to France to experience a labyrinth — there is one located right on the NIH campus.

The Labyrinth, overseen by the Pain and Palliative Care Consult Service (PPCCS), is located in One South East at the Hatfield Clinical Research Center. This 30-foot canvas labyrinth is available for patients, staff, and visitors on the first and third Tuesdays of every month from 9:00am until 3:00pm. The Labyrinth is staffed by volunteers and PPCCS employees, who provide guidance for visitors and answer questions. In addition to the large floor labyrinth, there are tabletop labyrinths available. These smaller labyrinths, in which a finger is traced along the path, are for visitors who have difficulty walking.

Labyrinth at Clinical Center

There are three main phases to walking the labyrinth. The first is “release,” as the journey towards the center begins. Once an individual reaches the center (the “receiving” phase), they can walk back towards the start of the path, simply exit off to the side, or remain in the center for as long as they would like. While in the center, visitors to the NIH Labyrinth have been observed engaging in various behaviors such as Tai Chi movements, praying, and meditating. The final phase is “renewal,” when the visitor reflects on their experience.

Labyrinths come in an array of shapes and patterns, but the one at the Clinical Center is an 11-circuit design, similar to the labyrinth in Chartes Cathedral. It consists of four quadrants and a rosette in the center made up of six petals.

Spiritual healing is a major category of CAM that focuses on deep, often religious beliefs and feelings, including a person’s sense of peace, purpose, connection to others, and beliefs about the meaning of life. According to analysis of the 2007 National Health Interview Survey special subset on complementary and alternative medicine use, conducted by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCIH) and the National Center for Health Statistics, deep breathing exercises and meditation use has increased significantly (13% and 9%, respectively) since 2002*. The ability to provide NIH clinical center patients, staff, and visitors an avenue to practice meditation is a welcome addition to the PPCCS mission. Every person who walks the labyrinth will have a unique experience and the labyrinth represents different things to different people. For example, an NIH visitor may view it as a metaphor for life’s journey while a cancer patient may view it as providing a welcome break from having to think about their illness.

Spotlight on Cancer and CAM in the NCCIH Clinical Digest

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine’s (NCCIH) recently launched publication, the NCCIH Clinical Digest, dedicated their October 2010 issue to cancer and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). The issue highlighted studies that examined different CAM therapies for cancer prevention, treatment, and side effect management. Research summaries are featured along with links to the original studies. Some of these topics include the anti-cancer effects of white tea extract and ginseng; using massage therapy to affect mood and reduce pain; and investigating claims that ginko biloba can reduce cancer risk. The issue also provided material and resources for cancer patients interested in CAM.

To read the NCCIH Clinical Digest Cancer and CAM issue, visit

And the Awards Go To… PDQ Editorial Boards Receive NIH Merit Awards

At the 2010 NCI Director’s Award Ceremony, an annual event that recognizes outstanding contributions by National Cancer Institute (NCI) employees, all of the NCI Physician Data Query (PDQ) Editorial Boards received NIH Merit Awards. The PDQ Editorial Boards were recognized for the award due to their "dedication and exceptional service to NCI in developing and maintaining evidence-based PDQ cancer information summaries for health professionals and the public."

Several members of the PDQ CAM Editorial Board accept the NIH Merit Award
Several members of the PDQ CAM Editorial Board
accept the NIH Merit Award. From left to right are
Robin Baldwin, Dr. John Beutler, Dr. Gordon Cragg,
Dr. Donald Abrams, OCCAM Director Dr. Jeffrey D.
White, and NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus.

Donald Abrams, who is a member of the PDQ Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Editorial Board “was delighted to see that PDQ CAM was receiving this recognition!” He continues, “The award is actually right here on my desk, reminding me how important it is for the PDQ CAM Board to provide health professionals and the public with the most up-to-date information available on cancer complementary therapies. So many of our patients are integrating other modalities with their conventional cancer care- it is great that the NCI provides this important data!”

Robin Baldwin, Manager of the PDQ Supportive and Palliative Care and CAM Editorial Boards, notes that the award “is a meaningful recognition for the hard work put in by all the PDQ Editorial Board members.”

According to the NIH Office of Human Resources Workforce Relations Division (OHR/WRD), the NIH Merit Award is “awarded by Institute and Center Directors and NIH Deputy and Associate Directors to recognize individuals or groups whose superior service and achievement warrant special appreciation.”

An NIH employee can nominate an individual or group for the Merit Award by logging onto the OHR website and going to the NIH Employee Awards page ( As part of the application, the nominator provides an explanation of why they are nominating a specific individual or group. The justification should describe the nominee’s contributions and the significance of their actions. In addition, the nominator should include a citation — this statement (for example, “In recognition of…”) will be engraved on the plaque should the nominee receive the Merit Award.

The Awards Ceremony, which was hosted by Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of NCI, was upbeat and had a number of humorous moments. Abrams commented, “Dr. Varmus did a great job with ‘flow’ and his sense of humor was even better than I remember from having worked in his lab at UCSF in 1981.”

Sign-up for OCCAM’s Listserv

Stay up-to-date on the latest cancer CAM news at NCI with OCCAM’s listserv, OCCAM Announcements. As a listserv subscriber, you will receive a monthly email about upcoming workshops and lectures, new funding opportunities, publications, and other resources. To subscribe, simply visit OCCAM’s Web site:

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