What Is The Immune System?
We may not think about the immune system on a daily basis, or even less often than that. It is just something that works away in the background without much input or thought from us. However, it is not that simple and there are things we can do to influence its effectiveness. The immune system is highly complicated and sensitive to many external influences, both positive and negative. We should all aim to engage in behaviors that boost our immune system, rather than give it a harder time.
Meditation is one such behavior that has been scientifically proven to significantly affect the immune system; people who engage in regular meditation have been found to have more antibodies in their system, and therefore a more effective immune system. People may not necessarily engage in meditation to boost their immune system; they are more likely to participate because they want to train their mind, achieve a level of peace, or use it as a form of stress relief. Whatever the reason, just engaging with meditation will provide many benefits to the immune system.
The immune system is a complex interaction between many different elements, structures, and processes within an organism, protecting it against disease. The immune system consists of different components, including cells, proteins, organs, and tissues. Its primary purpose is to act as the body’s defense mechanism and defend us against germs and microorganisms that can cause illness and disease. In a healthy human, the immune system operates reasonably well, and manages to keep us fit and healthy. However, there are times when it fails to act effectively which can lead to infections and illness; sometimes resulting in death. There are also conditions that inhibit the immune system, such as HIV/AIDS.
The body has three lines of defense for fighting diseases and infections. Firstly, there are the physical barriers designed to protect the body, for example skin, earwax and stomach acid. Secondly is the innate immune system and finally, we have the adaptive (or acquired) immune system. It is these last two lines of defense that this first section will focus on.
According to Immunology Explained, the immune system in vertebrates can be split into these two types: innate and adaptive (or acquired) immunity. Innate immunity is the immune system that we have when we are born and is quick to respond to any early, more general signs of infection. This system contains certain cells called phagocytes that are able to track down and destroy certain infectious germs. The innate immune system attacks infections in a more general way and does not remember any details of previous infections. It is therefore unable to offer lifetime immunity from infections in the way that the adaptive immune system can.
White blood cells are a key part of the innate immune system and they help babies and young children to fight off any general infection, such as a cold or cough. White blood cells, or leukocytes as they are also called, are independent parts of the immune system. They are able to go throughout the body as and when needed and are not tied to any particular tissue or organ. The
Phagocytes are the cells that actually destroy the infections. Once the infection has been found and targeted within the body, the phagocytes then enter the infection and essentially eat it. These highly developed and specialized cells therefore destroy the infection.
Adaptive immunity is the more specific and developed immune system that can respond to specific infections. This system develops as we age and is constantly adapting and changing. The adaptive immune system is highly specialized and can focus on particular pathogens. This is the system that ‘remembers’ infections that have been previously fought off and enables the body to respond immediately next time the infection is present.
It is effective in attacking certain pathogens in the body and uses its ‘memory’ to prevent a repeat of diseases, for example, chickenpox. The adaptive immune system responds to infections by seeking them out within the body, targeting them, and ultimately destroying them. However, sometimes the adaptive immune system is unable to distinguish between molecules, and this is where allergies such as hay fever develop.
The immune system also contains antibodies. These are secreted by cells in the adaptive immune system and are able to identify and neutralize infected cells in the body. The antibody targets specific germs and kills them off, thus avoiding illness. The human body can create millions of different types of antibodies that target individual germs.
Vaccinations use this principle of fighting germs to create a defense against a particular germ. The vaccinations trick the body’s adaptive immunity system into creating an antibody for the particular germ. This enables the body to fight the infection if it is ever present, but without the person getting ill from it.
If a human has a condition where the immune system is severely affected such as HIV/AIDS, the body is attacked by a virus and has very little defense as antibodies are unable to act. Conditions such as this are examples of how the immune system can fail.
Immunodeficiency occurs when one or more parts of the immune system simply are not working. This is frequently seen in older people, where the immune system is less able to respond to infections and pathogens. In developing countries malnutrition is the most common reason for immunodeficiency disorders as they lack important nutrients including proteins.
In contrast to this, autoimmune disorders are where the immune system is over reacting and working too hard. With these disorders, the immune system is unable to tell the difference between pathogens that belong to us and are acceptable to have, and those, which are from an infection. The immune system therefore attacks all of them, regardless of where they are from.
Finally, hypersensitivity is where the immune system responds to threats in a way that damages the body’s own tissues.
What Is Meditation?
According to the Buddhist Centre, meditation is “a means of transforming the mind.” It is an ancient practice that aims to relax the mind and body and create a different state of consciousness and being. Meditation helps us to focus on the parts of life that we can influence, and let go of those that we cannot. Through meditation, we are all able to take responsibility for own on beliefs and actions and address issues such as stress and anxiety in our lives that can cause so many problems.
Meditation helps a person reach a more positive state of mind and a calmness that is only achieved when seeing things in life for how they really are. Once meditation has been mastered, it is possible to reach an intensely calm yet energized and peaceful state of mind.
Meditation is not a religious belief or act; it is an act of ‘being’ rather than believing. Meditation involves relaxing and just being in the present moment. Meditation has a set process, results, and a large amount of research that supports the effectiveness of it as a relaxation technique with many health benefits.
According to Yoga International, during the process of meditation, a person becomes relaxed and focuses their attention inwards. There is no falling asleep or being hypnotized as the stereotype might suggest. Rather, your mind is not focused on any external event or stressor in your life such as work, family, or finances. The aim of meditation is to reach a place of calm and quietness where your mind is not distracted by any external influence.
People who have tried meditation will attest to the difficulty in reaching such a state of peace and happiness. Our mind is easily distracted by many thoughts and worries and it can be hard to not focus on them. Some people experience other forms of delusions, hallucinations, or even dreams. This is not meditation as there is an external influence and some people may never reach their goal on inner peace and calm.
How Meditation Supports Immune System Health
Meditation has been shown to be highly beneficial for a variety of people and in many different ways. It can be hard to find time in our busy lives to stop and take a moment to relax and not be distracted. Just this act of stopping to breathe and rest can make a huge difference to many people. Meditation can improve anyone’s quality of life and
make a difference to health in a number of ways. Meditation can make such a huge difference to everyone’s mental and physical wellbeing and should be incorporated into our lives on a daily basis so the full effects can be obtained.
May Slow Progression of Alzheimer’s
Research has shown meditation can actually reduce the progression of Alzheimer’s disease and enable patients to have a better quality of life, and for longer. Whilst researchers are still not completely clear of the mechanisms of action, there is a strong possibility that it is linked to the patient being stressed and anxious. The act of meditation can help reduce levels of stress and anxiety, and therefore reduce the symptoms and progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the Eco Institute, research has shown that meditation can increase levels of antibodies in the body. As discussed above, antibodies are crucial for fighting infections and reducing levels of illness. Eco Institute cites a study were biotech workers were given meditation training and compared to a control group.
After the training period, those who engaged in meditation had significantly higher levels of antibodies in their system. This study shows that regular meditation has a direct positive effect on the immune system and can actually increase the body’s ability to fight off infections.
Meditation has the effect of reducing stress by focusing on regulating your breathing and clearing the mind of everyday thought processes. Once your mind in the prime meditating state it removes stressful thoughts from the brain and enables you to remove yourself from the daily pressures and demands on your mind and body. A calmer, more positive state is reached, increasing oxygen uptake and blood flow, while allowing feelings of relaxation and well-being to permeate to spread through your thoughts and eventually you achieve an inner peace.
According to The American Institute of Stress, reducing stress can help the body stave off the type immune system disruption that causes major illnesses. Relaxation due to meditation helps to lower the metabolism and blood pressure, thus improving heart rate and brain stimulation.
A study shortly to appear in the Journal of Psychosomatic Medicine, found that participants who meditated for a short time every week were subject to much lower anxiety levels than those who did not. They also had higher levels of antibodies in their blood, suggesting they would be more able to fight off infection. The immune system is therefore far better equipped to help the body deal with daily life, and meditation can help you boost yours.
Stimulates Immune System Parts of The Brain
Research has shown that meditation can directly affect the regions of the brain that are involved in the immune system. Amongst other effects, meditation can increase activity in the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus. These parts of the brain are responsible for emotions including anxiety. Moreover, these parts of the brain can stimulate your immune system by encouraging it to be more active and create more antibodies.
Technology has enabled us to understand how brain function is affected by meditation and how we can benefit from engaging in meditation. MRI scans have shown increased activity in areas of the brain that are responsible for memory, stress, emotions, and anxiety. This shows that meditation can directly affect the physical structure of the brain and create long- term beneficial effects.
A study conducted by the University of Wisconsin has reinforced this link between meditation and brain function. Researchers here found engaging in regular meditation can actually alter the brain’s electrical activity and levels of antibodies in the immune system. Those participants who meditated regularly had much higher levels of antibodies in their system compared to a group who never meditated.
Increases Positive Thoughts
Research has shown the immune system is directly linked to our thought patterns and can actually respond to positive and negative thoughts. However, researchers are not quite sure why this is or how it happens.
Meditation increases the amount of positive thoughts a person has and can help to drive away any unhelpful negative thoughts. Since thoughts are linked to the immune system, increasing positive thoughts will be highly beneficial.
Increasing Happiness To Improve The Immune System
Health and happiness are inexplicitly linked; happier people are overall, much healthier than unhappy people are. Meditation helps to increase happiness, which ultimately improves health, and specifically, benefits the immune system. Meditation improves relaxation, blood flow, and positive thoughts and is a great method for stress relief.
According to a study conducted by the University of California found that meditation not only increases happiness, but also other associated feelings. Older people were recruited to a meditation program and assessed on a variety of measures. The researchers found the older people rated themselves as less lonely and happier. In the study, 40 adults ages 55 to 85 were divided into two groups; one practiced mindfulness based stress reduction.
As part of the study, they attended regular groups and meditated at home each day. The control group did not engage in any kind of meditation. Blood samples from the participants showed a reduction in inflammation markers.
These inflammation markers are indicative of an infection within the body so reduced levels means their immune system is working much more efficiently than before. Loneliness is a major issue on its own and can cause its own health problems. Therefore, engaging in meditation not only addresses loneliness, but also it can actually help to boost the immune system and fight off infections.
How To Get Started With Meditation
Meditation can seem difficult to start with and it may have the appearance that only people familiar with the techniques would ever be able to benefit from it. However, meditation need not be a complicated and elusive technique; it can be accessible to anyone. According to the Art of Living, there are some key tips for anyone who is thinking about starting regular meditation.
1| Pick A Convenient Time
Meditation is a relaxation activity and should be engaged with at an appropriate time of day. There is no point trying to meditate when the phone is ringing, children need attending to, or you are on your way out the door. It is important to pick a time when you are unlikely to be disturbed and can have a small amount of time to focus on just meditating and nothing else.
2| Choose An Appropriate Place
As with picking a time, the place you choose to meditate in can have a huge impact on the quality of the meditation. If you are constantly being distracted by background noises, heat, light or other distractions, your meditation is likely to suffer. Choose a quiet, isolated place where you are unlikely to be disturbed so you can really relax.
3| Find A Comfortable Posture
There is no point meditating if the side effects from a bad posture are more troublesome. Meditation requires a comfortable and relaxing posture, which you can maintain. The most common posture adopted is to sit on the floor, with your back straight and shoulder and head relaxed. This is found to be a sustainable position, which promotes relaxation. Alternatively, it might be better to kneel or sit on a chair; the main point is that it is comfortable and sustainable for you.
4| Keep An Empty Stomach
Having a full stomach is conducive to very few activities and meditation is no different. Many people often meditate before they are about to eat a meal. If you have a full stomach, you are much more likely to drift off while trying to meditate and not actually reach a state of meditation. However, meditation will not work or be effective if you are hungry. If you are hungry it is hard to focus on anything else, and a state of relaxation will be hard to achieve.
5| Warm Up
Just with exercise, a few warm up stretches can make a huge difference to the effectiveness of your meditation. Most people opt for a selection of simple yoga poses as this can help to increase blood circulation in the body and prevent any restlessness or irritability once you actually start meditating. However, any small and simple stretches will be effective and provide a good foundation for your meditation.
6| Deep Breaths
It is important to be aware of your breathing when you are meditating, and this awareness needs to start before the meditation. For effective meditation, breathing needs to be deep and slow as this increases the relaxation and removes stress. After a short while, it can help your mind to reach a state of peace and calmness.
7| End The Meditation Slowly
It is important to not end the meditation too abruptly. Instead, the meditation should have a slow and gradual finish to it. Take a few moments to open your eyes and become aware of your surroundings again. Try not to rush off and start something, instead continue the relaxation and slowly move back to daily life.
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Meditation has been practiced for many years across the world. It is only in recent years that Western medicine is beginning to
understand the impact it can have on many bodily functions. The immune system is one of the main parts of the body to benefit from meditation. It has been shown that meditation benefits the immune system in many different ways, which ultimately makes us happier and healthier people.