In a raging pandemic, everyone’s focus is on how to improve their immune system. Before we get all excited, we need to understand that our immune system, like all other wonderful human physiological systems, is incredibly intricate and complex. Those who try to sell magical cures and pills for improving immunity need to be very careful.
At Sahaja, our primary goal is to use meditation as a catalyst for improving our overall health and well-being and not for it to be a cure or medical solution by itself. Stress impacts immunity negatively, and there is a lot of scientific evidence to show that meditation boosts immunity. Combined with a host of other benefits, meditation is best used for eliminating several negative impacts on our health, thereby aiding our body to express its full power and potential.
How Stress impacts immunity
Studies in psychoneuroimmunology have revealed the mechanisms through which Stress compromises the immune system, shedding light on the complex relationships between DNA, stress hormones, and the immune system. Psychoneuroimmunology is the study of the interactions between the brain, body, emotions, and the immune system; that is, the mind’s effect on our ability to ward off illness.
When the body’s stress response is triggered, its emergency resources are immediately mobilized for action. For example, secretion of the stress hormone cortisol ramps up to help the body support its fight-or-flight response. But while our hormones are preparing for battle, energy-consuming components of the immune system (e.g., white blood cell production), must temporarily shut down. In shutting down some of the body’s critical defenses, Stress makes us more vulnerable to disease; for example, Stress decreases secretion of antimicrobial peptides, the body’s natural broad-spectrum antibiotics that kill bacteria.
In compromising the immune system, Stress also diminishes our ability to heal properly and recover from illness.
Acute, short-term Stress revs up the immune system, an adaptive response that prepares our bodies for injury or infection. But chronic, prolonged Stress inflicts too much wear and tear on the immune system, and the system breaks down. It’s cortisol’s job to help regulate inflammation, the body’s natural response to injury or infection. But chronic Stress triggers chronically elevated cortisone levels, which damage the immune system, cell by cell.
How meditation boosts immunity
To start with, studies have shown meditation to boost antibody production.
Meditation also reduces oxidative Stress, a destructive process in which free radicals or reactive oxygen molecules react with the components of cells (e.g., proteins or fats and nucleic acids such as DNA), ultimately damaging those cells. Oxidative Stress leads to chronic inflammation and the immune system loses its ability to detoxify these reactive molecules or easily repair the resulting damage. The reality is that much of what we eat, drink, or breathe may contain cytotoxic oxidants and free radicals, but we count on our immune systems to combat them.
Two 2013 clinical studies found that Sahaja meditation had a significant effect on oxidative Stress, endothelial function, serum cortisol, perceived stress levels and heart rate variability (HRV). HRV and endothelial function improved, and blood cortisol levels significantly decreased, which decreased oxidative Stress and perceived stress levels in long-term Sahaja meditators, compared to the non-meditating control population (Rai et al, 2013).
Meditation stops immune cell death.
A study published by UCLA researchers in Brain, Behavior and Immunity found that meditation can stop the decline of CD4 T-cells in HIV-positive patients suffering from Stress, slowing the progression of the disease (Creswell et al, 2009).
Meditation may provide psychoneuroimmunologic protection throughout the life span.
A review of Indo-Tibetan meditative and yogic practices suggests that these practices may have a profound impact on the body’s protective and regulatory systems. Specifically, the study highlighted the impact of their anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and antioxidant effects, as well as their impact in enhancing the production of endogenous (natural) substances that possess general regenerative properties and enhance longevity.
Meditation acts as a stress-buffer.
In increasing our awareness of present moment experience, meditation increases positive thoughts and feelings, gives us a sense of control (and a decreased need to control), increases acceptance of our emotional experience, and enhances our ability to accurately appraise stressful situations.
One 2014 study of long-term Sahaja practitioners found that the practice of Sahaja meditation exerts top-down emotional regulation and allows flexible appraisal and control of our own emotional states, particularly negative emotional states (Reva et al, 2014). The emotional stability of Sahaja meditators was found to be more than a general flattening of the emotional responses to external events; rather, it results from the ability to prevent intense, full-scale, potentially harmful, physiological reactions in response to strong adverse conditions. Through the practice of Sahaja meditation, the process of appraising an event’s motivational significance undergoes a change that allows us to control emerging emotions. Over time, this change can gradually become automatic.
There are many other ways in which meditation works on improving our immunity, and even as scientific studies continue to provide more and more data in confirming this, there’s one key strategy that stands out for meditators – becoming a regular and consistent meditator. In other words, incorporating meditation into our lifestyle permanently so our body can reap its benefits continuously.
Making meditation a lifestyle
While there’s no doubt about the benefits of meditation, that doesn’t mean that it is easy to incorporate into one’s lifestyle. Exercise pretty much falls into the same category. Everyone knows that exercise is good for our health, but the challenge is to make it a permanent part of our lives and do it consistently, week after week. Whether exercise or meditation, mere knowledge of the strategies is no good until we can execute them consistently.
- Schedule your meditation sessions each week on your calendar. You can look up all our online group sessions on our meditation calendar and pick at least two each week that suits your schedule.
- Begin to incorporate daily meditation sessions at home over and above these, to make meditation a habit. The best-proven strategy is to do your meditation the first thing in the morning. Pair it with brushing your teeth and make the two as a single activity, rather than two separate things you have to do.
- As the benefits from meditation begin to flow in, it will propel you towards spending more time and effort into it – that would be the time to add in a second session of meditation in your daily routine – likely, just before you go to bed. Sahaja meditation is simple, you can even sit on your bed for 10 minutes, close your eyes, raise your energy and sit in meditation before you go to sleep.
As your life gets into an upward spiral of improvement through regular meditation, you can sit back, watch and enjoy the benefits over a lifetime. If you put in the work, you can expect your immunity to improve over time.