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Is Meditating Good for Your Immune System?

Is Meditating Good for Your Immune System?
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Written by: Em Capito, LCSW, MBA, E-RYT of the Health Sciences Advisory Board

Publication date: July 2024


Mindfulness is an ancient Buddhist practice that may benefit your emotional and physical well-being, including your immunity and longevity.

What Is Mindfulness Meditation?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the meditation teachers working to bring mindfulness practices into Western culture, describes mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” 1

Mindfulness can be practiced in many contexts, such as while enjoying a meal, during a nature walk, or during meditation.

Meditation is a concentrated dose of mindfulness. To meditate, one finds stillness, often in a seated position, and observes the mind. Once again, you are simply paying attention to what arises, without judgment.

When incorporated into a regular routine, meditation becomes a process for cultivating mindfulness in daily life through intentional and sustained practice. Research on the impact of consistent meditation practice has demonstrated correlations with a multitude of health benefits, such as a decrease in perceived stress, improved sleep, increased focus, and improved mood.2

Mindfulness Meditation and Immunity

There are many cognitive benefits to mindfulness practices, but researchers are also curious about the potential impact of meditation interventions on important biological health markers such as immune cell count and antibody response. Studies suggest that cultivating mindfulness through meditation may bolster the immune system, providing greater protection from infection.3

In a clinical study published in Psychosomatic Medicine, even a short, eight-week mindfulness meditation program produced demonstrable and positive differences in brain and immune function as compared to the control group. 3

In a systematic review of 20 randomized controlled trials, researchers found potential positive effects of mindfulness meditation on specific markers of inflammation, cell-mediated immunity, and biological aging.4

While further research is needed to clarify the biological processes at work, these findings suggest that mindfulness meditation can help regulate the nervous system, thereby decreasing stress hormone imbalances associated with inflammation, while improving conditions for immune function.

How to Practice Mindfulness Meditation

Research continues to produce insights into the beneficial impact of meditation practices on your health and well-being, and you can try this practice for yourself.

1. Take a seat.

Find a comfortable place to sit where you will not be directly disturbed.

2. Close your eyes or soften your gaze.

Visual stimulation can be distracting for the mind, so many people meditate with their eyes closed. However, if you feel like keeping your eyes open, simply allow your gaze to soften on a focal point, such as the view outside or a candle flame.

3. Bring your attention to your breath.

By focusing first on breath, you can anchor the practice to a sensory experience that is accessible at any time. Additionally, you tend to slow and deepen your breathing naturally once you tune into the experience, which can help relax the mind and body.

Notice the sensation of each inhale and each exhale for five to ten breaths.

4. Observe your mind nonjudgmentally.

The aim of meditation is not to stop thinking. You will continue to have thoughts, no matter how long you sit with the practice. The intention is to observe your thoughts and practice introspection.

Perhaps you could consider yourself as a curious researcher in this practice to help yourself detach from any judgments about the thoughts that arise in your mind. Visualizing your mind like a sky and your thoughts as clouds passing overhead may also help you remain in the position of an observer.

Once you notice a thought, release it by bringing your attention back to your next inhale and exhale. Continue to come back to your breath after each thought until you’ve reached the desired duration of your meditation.

Conclusion

The practice of meditation is both simple and challenging. To sit still and only observe one’s thinking can create agitation when you aren’t accustomed to pausing. With consistent practice, meditation can become a welcome respite and an opportunity to foster insight.

The research on the positive effects of meditation on health is promising, and the more immediate outcome of training the mind and body to be present, such that you can fully appreciate the meaningful moments of your day-to-day life, is perhaps reason enough to adopt this ancient practice into your daily routine.

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Sources: (in English)

1. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are. Hyperion.
2. The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation: A Meta-Analysis Mindfulness
3. Alterations in Brain and Immune Function Produced by Mindfulness Meditation
4. Mindfulness meditation and the immune system: a systematic review of randomized controlled trials


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