Your immune system is one of the most critical, and most fascinating, aspects of the mind-body connection. For a long time, the ability of immune cells to attack invading disease organisms was considered purely physical, even though the mechanism was not completely understood.
Then, in the 1980s it was discovered that the immune system is highly intelligent; it became known as “a floating brain” because of the ability of immune cells to participate in the chemical messages sent by the brain throughout the body. This means that your thoughts, moods, sensations, and expectations are transmitted to your immune cells. When you meditate, these messages change in important ways.
Consider these research findings that offer very good news for anyone who meditates.
- Since your immune system responds to both negative and positive thoughts, meditation creates a positive mental environment for the immune system to flourish. This study showed a reduction of pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults.
- A UCLA study shows that HIV positive patients who practice mindful meditation slow down the reduction of their CD-4 cell count. These are the immune cells that are associated with keeping the virus from propagating.
- Meditation boosts antibodies. A recent study confirmed that, after being given weekly meditation training for 8 weeks, 48 biotech workers had significantly higher levels of antibodies than the control group (coworkers who didn’t meditate) as well as higher levels than before the study.
- Meditation stimulates immune system brain-function regions. Mindfulness meditation has shown increases in electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex, the right anterior insula, and right hippocampus, all parts that control positive emotions, awareness, and anxiety. These are also the areas of the brain that act as a command center for your immune system. When stimulated, they make the immune system function more effectively.
These findings bring into focus a clear message: Your response to potential illness, as managed by the immune system, improves with meditation. This is in keeping with another strong message. Being susceptible to chronic disorders like type-2 diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure, conditions that are not the result of invading microbes, is also reduced through meditation. The entire mind-body system is brought into a natural state of balance, the key to what I’ve called the higher health.
Medical science proceeds through findings that provide reliable data, and we actively support such research at the Chopra Center. But your lifestyle isn’t a scientific experiment, of course, so what kind of program can you adopt that focuses specifically on preventing illness, especially in winter?
- Keep up regular meditation morning and evening.
- Reduce and avoid stress, since the immune system is easily compromised when stress hormones surge.
- Seriously address low-level chronic stresses that may be present at home or work. You are not helping your immune status by putting up with constant “minor” stress.
- Get adequate sleep, which is directly connected to brain function and hormone levels.
- Wash your hands several times a day, and always after direct contact with someone else’s skin. Doctors who make sure to wash their hands after seeing every patient reduce hospital-borne infections by more than 50 percent.
Enhance these basic steps by following seasonal Ayurvedic recommendations, too. The ancient wisdom of Ayurveda is especially appropriate when looking at how foods, herbs, massage, and other applications lead to perfect balance. Yet, at the very core is meditation—the most important and powerful way to strengthen every aspect of the mind-body connection.