Life's stresses take their toll on your immune system. Over time, stress can lead to chronic and debilitating diseases. Your busy lifestyle can make it difficult to take time for yourself for stress-relieving vacations and getaways. But you can boost your immune system without leaving town, or your home or office, with as little as half an hour a day spent in meditation. Practiced for thousands of years, meditation takes many forms, including breath-focused meditation, guided imagery and movement-focused meditation.
According to "Stress Weakens the Immune System," published by the American Psychological Association, long-term or chronic stress can ravage the immune system. Under stress, fight-or-flight chemicals -- such as the adrenal hormones epinephrine, norepinephrine and cortisol -- enter the bloodstream where they attack invading germs, viruses or bacteria. During periods of acute stress, when there is immediate danger, the body's outpouring of defense hormones enhances the immune system, but unrelenting stress depresses the immune system, leading to chronic illness.
Meditation manages thought processes by providing a nonthreatening, nonstressful focus. Because thoughts are triggers to the release of stress chemicals, an activity that clears distressing thoughts reduces the release of stress hormones and allows the body to seek homeostasis, or a healthy level of stress chemicals. Psychiatry Research reports the results of research on a form of meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction, or MBSR. According to this report, after eight weeks, practitioners who spent 30 minutes a day in MBSR meditation had an increase in gray matter, which yielded many benefits, including emotion regulation.
Various forms of seated meditation reduce stress and boost the immune system. In the East, Buddhism is a popular form of meditation. Sitting positions, such as the Lotus, Half Lotus or Burmese positions, involve sitting on a cushion on the floor with your legs bent at the knee and your feet tucked close to your body, depending upon the chosen position. In certain forms of seated meditation, the practitioner either recites a mantra -- a word, or views a candle flame. The purpose of the word or candle is to assist the meditation practitioner with focus. In the West, mindfulness training, popularized by Jon Kabat-Zinn of Massachusetts General Hospital, recommends focus on breathing. In mindfulness training, the practitioner sits quietly and breathes, giving all attention to the breathing process. Buddhist meditation teachers generally recommend 20-minute morning and evening sessions. Kabat trains practitioners to meditate for 30 minutes daily.
Yoga uses gentle movements and positions to exercise the body. But the practice of yoga requires focus as the practitioner assumes positions and poses. Breathing techniques are also incorporated into yoga exercise, contributing to the focused-attention aspect of this type of exercise. Tai Chi uses gentle, deliberate movements in a form of martial arts that requires focused attention on body movements and breathing. Active meditation techniques are effective for individuals who have difficulty maintaining focus while sitting still or who desire to exercise the body while meditating.
- Sharecare: Why Does Meditation Work?
- Brain, Behavior and Immunity: Mindfulness Meditation Training Effects on CD4+ T Lymphocytes in HIV-1 Infected Adults: A Small Randomized Controlled Trial
- Mindfulness for Beginners: Reclaiming the Present Moment -- and Your Life; Jon Kabat-Zinn
- American Psychological Association: Stress Weakens the Immune System
- MayoClinic.com: Meditation: A Simple, Fast Way to Reduce Stress
- Psychological Bulletin: Psychological Stress and the Human Immune System: A Meta-Analytic Study of 30 Years of Inquiry
- Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center: Zen Meditation
For Judy Kilpatrick, gardening is the best mental health therapy of all. Combining her interests in both of these fields, Kilpatrick is a professional flower grower and a practicing, licensed mental health therapist. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kilpatrick writes for national and regional publications.