Is it possible to optimize your immune system through meditation? Recent studies have looked at this from a scientific standpoint. Scientists are just beginning to understand how the mind and immune system intersect. Early results show there are immune benefits associated with a regular meditation practice.
Let’s first answer the question, “What exactly is meditation?”
The modern definition of meditation is a mental practice for quieting the mind. Meditation helps the mind to focus attention and awareness. Meditation has been practiced for many centuries for religious or spiritual purposes.
Meditation as a complementary or alternative health prescription has been around for years. Recently, meditation has been recommended for anxiety, insomnia, and stress management. You might have heard anecdotes of the use of meditation to help other health conditions. Studies are being devised to look at replicable improvements in health through meditation. When I was in the hospital last October after my stroke and my heart rate was hovering at 150 bpm, I actually used meditation to help to lower my heart rate. I still practice meditation, just to help me relax or when this coronavirus craziness starts to get to me.
A 2016 scientific review of 20 articles looked at meditation and immune functions. The results show a positive relationship with some improved immune functions and meditation.*
Evidence from this review showing that mindful meditation helps your immune system includes:
- Reduction in the markers of inflammation. Inflammatory markers go up when immune function goes down. They’re also associated with auto-immune disease states. Lowering inflammation is a good thing, then.
- Increased number of immune helper cells. These monitors signal to other cells when there is an infection.
- Increased telomerase activity, which prevents premature aging of cells. Telomere stability also aids in the prevention of cancer on a cellular level. Monitoring for tumor cells is another function of the immune system.
What’s the ‘right’ way to meditate?
There is no right or wrong way to meditate. Some people feel intimidated to even start meditating for fear they will not do it correctly. Let’s put those fears to rest right now.
Anyone can learn to meditate. You’re never too old to start. And children as young as 6 or 7 can learn how to meditate. Younger children can learn to become silent for a minute at a time and focus their minds.
There are many different methods taught for meditation. These include mindfulness meditation, transcendental meditation, guided or self-guided meditations and more. There’s no one size fits all.
Look for an app that can help remind you to meditate on a regular basis. One of the fundamentals for an effective meditation practice is to meditate regularly. Meditating once in a while will not get you the results you’re looking for.
Find a time and space where people, pets, or phones will not interrupt you. Turn off all electronic devices. If necessary, put up a do-not-disturb sign. Occupy your pets with a toy or treat so you can spend time without distractions.
Find a comfortable chair or sit on the floor. Close your eyes. Focus on your breathing and slow down your breaths. (I also like to diffuse essential oils while I meditate.) If you’re listening to a guided meditation, follow the guide throughout the recording. If your mind begins to wander, don’t fight it. Acknowledge the thought and let it go. Then return your focus to the guide, your breathing and the meditation.
There is a tendency to think you must not allow other thoughts to enter while you meditate. Or that you’re doing something wrong if your mind wanders. The job of the mind is to think, so it will continue to do that. With time, you will learn to tame your thoughts and refocus them when they do intrude.
Do you have a regular meditation practice? What tips would you advise for someone just beginning to meditate? I would love to see your comments below.
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