The practice of meditation has been around for thousands of years, but it has gained a lot of traction in the western world more recently. People have just started to realize the many benefits meditation can have on your lifestyle, from anxiety and stress relief to improved concentration.
The more meditation has been researched, however, the more experts have found that meditation’s benefits extend much farther than the brain. Another way meditation might be able to influence your life is through improving the immune system. But how can this be? Early research suggests that meditation and immunity are linked in more ways than one.
Immunity is not purely physical
It’s important to remember that immunity is not only about antibodies and T cells circulating throughout the body. The immune system is intrinsically linked to the brain and can be influenced by the same things that influence the mind.
We all have an intricate mind-body connection, through which immunity can influence mood and thoughts and vice versa. The brain has powerful control over the health of our cells and bodily systems. In this way, we can almost “think” ourselves to better health!
How immunity and meditation are linked
More and more research is being unveiled each day, examining the potential links between the immune system and the practice of mindfulness meditation. Here are just a few ways experts believe meditation can help bolster the immune response for lifelong health.
- Reduced stress: One of the biggest benefits of meditation is stress relief. Stress can hamper the immune system in many ways, first through the continual presence of the stress hormone cortisol. It can also have negative effects on your sleep, which affects your immune system, as well as leading you to partake in bad habits and eat an unhealthy diet, both of which can have their own immunity-hampering side effects.
- Reduced inflammation: Alongside meditation’s stress relief benefit is its ability to reduce whole-body inflammation. Inflammation is part of the immune response, but chronic inflammation has been linked to a wide range of dangerous diseases and health problems. Meditation may help reduce inflammation day after day, paving the way for a healthier future.
- Influencing gene expression: Recent studies have indicated that meditation may have short- and long-term effects on specific genes associated with disease. Meditation may be able to alter gene expression to improve immunity and reduce your risk for certain diseases typically passed down through genetics. Meditation has also been linked to the maintenance of telomere length—the ends of chromosomes that keep DNA from unraveling. “Frayed” telomeres have been linked to a wide range of potential diseases, and experts believe that intact telomeres may provide enhanced health.
- Increased antibodies: Other studies have shown that daily meditation may increase antibody and T cell levels. Both of these help the immune system fight off infections more easily by targeting and destroying pathogens.
- Activates immune-linked brain regions: The prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and the right hippocampus of the brain all have significant connections to the immune system. Research shows that meditation can activate these sections of the brain, which may influence immune responses.
- Gut-brain axis: Meditation improves the mind, which, in turn, improves the state of the gut microbiome. The majority of your immune cells reside in the gut. Thus, when the gut is healthy, the immune system is more likely to be healthy.
Together, all of these processes and links between the body and the mind can influence the immune system to react faster, build up cell “armies” and attack pathogens more effectively, helping you achieve better health.
Incorporating meditation into your life
As far as we know, there is no “right” amount of time to meditate to experience its many benefits. Doing even a small amount each day is likely to provide a positive outcome. Meditating once a day helps you shed the stress of daily life, take time to refocus your thoughts and focus on your body and mind exclusively.
In many of the studies showcasing the link between meditation and immunity, improvements were seen after the participants dedicated around 30 minutes per day to meditating. Try incorporating between 30 and 60 minutes of meditation into each day for the best results.
There is also no “right” way to meditate. Maybe you prefer to meditate as a break during work, or you use it as a way to wind down just before you go to sleep. It may take time for you to find your ideal time, space and “type” of meditation, so be patient with yourself and work on increasing the length of your meditation sessions gradually.
No matter when, where or how long you meditate, you’re sure to experience some form of relaxation, as well as the many unseen benefits meditation can offer, including a healthier, happier life.