Meditation Benefits: Studies show it increases your immunity to viruses, and helps with stress
Meditation has been shown to increase volume in certain brain regions, to reduce anxiety and depression, and even to improve immunity.
I’m a huge yoga person, which often has a meditation component, even if it’s just a short 1–2 minute savasana (the “corpse pose” of complete relaxation lying on your back) at the end. I also do meditate from time to time, although I admit not regularly. I know the benefits, I experience them when I do it, and I have often struggled to make a daily meditation practice part of my life. I just never quite get there.
I’m certainly going to make more of an effort now, even using a timer and reminders with apps such as Calm and Insight Timer, that I’ve learned even more benefits of meditation. I’ve read many articles in the past that show, through demonstrated studies, that meditation actually changes the brain waves to result in some pretty significant, actual physical changes in the body.
But the other day, I had a tele-medicine appointment with my doctor. Like many things in this unprecedented time we find ourselves in today with the COVID-19 pandemic, my doctor moved her appointments online. She and I had a video call follow-up to my recent annual check-up in her office.
One of the things we discussed was the difficulty I have with sleeping and my struggles with anxiety — both issues that have been made even worse with the uncertainty, scariness, and isolation in the current situation and sheltering at home.
Along with talking about various other remedies, my doctor mentioned meditation. “A-ha,” I thought, “That is coming up again. So many times when I look around for things to help with sleep and stress, meditation is there. I need to start making that a regular practice.”
But then my doctor said something I’d never before heard about meditation. It actually boosts your body’s immune system!
What? Turns out, yes, that’s entirely true.
New Clues Into How Meditation May Boost The Immune System
Check out this article at Forbes, by Alice Walton. She writes:
A new study, in the journal Translational Psychiatry, helps suss out the molecular mechanisms behind meditation’s effects on the immune system. And it turns out that the effects are more than from just the relaxation element — there seems to be something intrinsic about meditation itself that can shift gene expression and even boost mood over time.
There were some interesting changes in the 20,000 genes studied. All the groups showed shifts in the expression of genes related to stress, inflammation and wound healing — but the experienced meditators had particular shifts in genes related to fighting viral infection.
Rudolph Tanzi, who holds positions both at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, had this to say:
“Based on our results, the benefit we experience from meditation isn’t strictly psychological; there is a clear and quantifiable change in how our bodies function. Meditation is one of the ways to engage in restorative activities that may provide relief for our immune systems, easing the day-to-day stress of a body constantly trying to protect itself. The prediction is that this would then lead to healthier aging.”
Meditation improves the immune system, research shows
Another article in The Telegraph discussed research showing that meditation improves the immune system, reduces blood pressure and even sharpens the mind. This article is rather old, 2011 — but to me that just shows how long these results have continued to be found. The Telegraph article focuses on a study that was published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science.
Dr. Hazel from the study made the point that mindfulness is not a vague cure-all. Effective mindfulness meditation requires training and practice and it has distinct measurable effects on our subjective experiences, our behavior, and our brain function.
Online meditations and resources
If you would like to try meditation — or maybe you already have a practice and would like some additional resources — I’ve found several really great free online ones.
The Commune website has opened up a Virtual Studio that’s free to everyone, that’s online, that offers daily yoga and meditation videos. There is also a discussion community, which is very helpful and supportive.
I really love Yoga with Adriene, and she has created a specific playlist for right now, called Yoga for Uncertain Times. It’s completely free on YouTube. On her YouTube channel she also has a number of guided meditations. I really like her style — she’s very gentle, compassionate, down to earth and grounded. She’s also all about everyone doing what works for THEM.
Commune also has another great offering, a short course called “Meditations for Life’s Challenges,” with Michael B. Beckwith. The course description is: “Learn to let go of fear and live with purpose.” Hard to beat that! You can sign up to take this course for free from April 6–10.
It will include 5 daily lessons and 5 daily meditations. I signed up!
Here’s a good video of a short guided meditation that I really like: