Basic rules for boosting the immune system are as old as time: eat well, ingest enough water and nutrients and move. It’s especially worth repeating now as we face the new coronavirus. But there’s something else that you might not have known. Mental and spiritual health are just as important as physical health for good immunity to guard you against disease. Whether you are a believer or not, investing in your spiritual wellbeing is worth trying (and you’ll probably stick to it). It literally costs just a little chunk of your time, and ROI is fantastic. We’ll focus on meditation, but people believe prayer to be equally beneficial.
What Is Meditation and How Does It Work?
Meditation, or more specifically, mindfulness meditation, is a mental training framework whose goal is to cultivate mindful awareness in daily life. This means deliberately trying, focusing and practicing being aware in the present moment – or mindful. If you have an image of a person sitting down, eyes closed, you’re pretty close. The person meditating should focus on their breathing, on here and now, without thinking about yesterday’s issue at work or tomorrow’s menu. Many people who regularly practice meditation agree that it’s not easy, especially in the beginning. However, the key is in practice, as with everything else in life.
In recent years, a school of thought emerged that claims meditation not only calms you down and lets you live in the present, but also improves your health. Studies have investigated the connection between mindfulness meditation and physical health, and more and more research has been confirming that meditation can indeed help with your overall wellbeing, physical health included.
So how does meditation work? What physical exercise does for your body, is what meditation does for your mind. If you want to meditate, choose a quiet place where no one will disturb you, sit comfortably, and gently close your eyes. Concentrate on a single thing, such as your breathing or the warmth of the sun on your face or a mantra. A mantra is a word, group of words or a sound that is repeated continuously to allow the mind to turn inward. A simple mantra to start with is “So Hum”. The mind loves to wander and that is ok. When you notice the mind wandering simply acknowledge the thought, let the thought go and return to your mantra or breath. You can think of meditation as a dance between mantra and thoughts. Eventually you will go to a place where time seems to stand still, and it is in these brief lapses of time or “gaps” that deep healing takes place.
Practicing meditation means practicing relaxation, awareness, and focus. People who meditate regularly enjoy numerous health benefits. Meditation quickly brings your body into a place of well-being by quieting the mind and moving from the external to the internal. For the best results, you should keep a regular schedule – do it at least once a day, in the morning or the evening before going to bed. There are several meditation timer apps available to help you time and track your practice.
How Does Meditation Help Your Immune System?
The immune system is not just a system of glands and white blood cells used to fight disease. As weird as it sounds, it sends your thoughts and moods to your cells. This means that positivity can help you fight disease and get better sooner!
Positive Mental Environment
It’s well known how the immune system works and how its cells attack invading organisms. But it’s not the only thing that helps your body ward off disease. Thoughts from the brain can transmit chemical messages throughout the body. What do we mean by chemical messages? Thoughts, moods, and everything you feel create different hormones to be produced and these hormones can either encourage or discourage a disease state. This means that your thoughts can actually change the immune systems ability to function. Stressful thoughts that release cortisol encourage and support disease states while happy thoughts that release serotonin encourage and support wellness. Meditation can play a crucial part in “editing” these messages, as it creates a positive mental environment in which the immune system can flourish!
Stress – be it coming from a huge stressor that only happens several times in life, such as deaths or big moves across the country, or everyday stress – can lead to an increase in bodily inflammation. When the inflammation is increased, it can be a perfect environment for various diseases and infections. But meditation, when done for a period of time, reduces stress, leading to reduced inflammation.
Studies confirmed that meditation contributes to significantly higher levels of antibodies in those who engage in it regularly, in comparison to a control group who didn’t meditate. Because meditation stimulates communication between the brain and immune system, it increases electrical activity in precisely those areas of the brain that control awareness, anxiety, and positive emotions, and basically control the immune system. Meditate, and you are more likely to respond to a potential illness in such a way that it won’t pose a huge threat!
There are numerous studies that show us that regular meditation can slow down signs of aging. Telomeres and the enzyme telomerase are biomarkers of aging that are directly impacted by stress. Telomerase and telomere length measured before and after in groups engaging in meditation retreats show that just several days of regular meditation can have a huge impact on the body and protect your DNA against cellular damage.
If you’re a novice and don’t know what to do, some of the guided meditations highly available on meditation apps are the right thing for you. Start small: you probably won’t be able to hold it for an hour. Five minutes is okay for a beginner. Find a quiet space, sit down, and observe your thoughts and feelings.
Meditation is not a cure for everything, but it can add a great benefit to your health and your life overall. Of course, for best results, combine it with exercise, mindful diet, and enough sleep. This, too, shall pass. Try remaining healthy until it does.