As much as it helps us stay calm and aware, meditation isn’t just about relaxation and focus. The ancient practice of mindfulness has a wide range of physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits, in addition to being a key to accessing your deeper internal wisdom and connecting with your Higher Self. The positive effects of meditation are extensive: it can strengthen your intuition and decision making, lower anxiety by training your brain to avoid negative thought patterns, improve the quality of your sleep, and maintain the crucial balance between your heart, mind, and actions.
But can meditation and mindfulness actually keep you from getting sick? Does it make you more resistant to the common cold, the flu, and even to COVID-19?
While we don’t necessarily understand how meditation helps boost the immune system, scientific evidence overwhelmingly demonstrates that regular meditation can greatly assist your body in fighting off dangerous infections.
Of course, meditation won’t cure disease on its own, and the best strategy for beating illnesses like COVID-19 is to prevent getting it in the first place by getting vaccinated. But if you do become sick with coronavirus or the flu, meditation can greatly strengthen your immune system’s response in four key ways:
1. Increased B Cell Antibody Production (Humoral Immunity) and T Cell Protection
The most obvious benefits meditation has on your immune system can be seen at a cellular level. Your body produces a wide variety of cells that keep your immune system on track and fight off infection, and meditation has been seen to have an impact on some of the most important ones.
In a study conducted by Richard Davidson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison, subjects were injected with a flu vaccine. Half of the subjects then received meditation and mindfulness training over the next eight weeks. At the end of the study, the meditation showed higher levels of antibodies that could respond to the illness. While COVID-19 is far more deadly than the flu, both are from a similar family of viruses, suggesting that meditation could be helpful in fighting coronavirus.
In another study conducted at UCLA, doctors had 50 HIV-positive men meditate daily for 30-45 minutes. When comparing them to a control group who did no meditation, the more training sessions attended correlated with a higher count CD-4 cells, a cell that manages the communication of the immune system by sending signals to other cells telling them to attack infections. Meditation has also been shown to increase T-Cells in patients with HIV or breast cancer, and the production of the protective interleukin-10 in colitis patients.
2. Improved Sleep Quality
Most of us have firsthand experience with how severe lack of sleep can make us drag physically and psychologically. Poor sleep quality can even affect us spiritually by not giving us the chance to replenish our psychic energy, making it more difficult to connect with our Higher Selves. We all know how challenging it can be to focus and stay productive while running on little sleep, but not getting 7-8 hours of rest can also lower your body’s ability to fight off infection.
Consistent meditation is one of the best ways to help you sleep better, and sufficient rest is essential to keeping your immune system working at full function. Research suggests that severe loss of sleep can have the same effect on the body as prolonged stress by forcing your immune system to work overtime. Researchers in the Netherlands and the UK compared the white blood cell counts of 15 healthy young men under optimal and sleep-deprived conditions. When sleep-deprived, the subjects showed a lower number of white blood cells called granulocytes, and the authors also cited earlier studies that showed a lack of sleep increased the chances of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
3. Reduced Inflammation
Inflammation is a word generally associated with joint pain and arthritis, but it’s actually your body's natural response that helps you heal wounds and fight infections — which makes it a good thing. Of course, too much inflammation can cause heart, brain, cellular and tissue damage by forcing your body and immune system to work overtime, hindering the body’s ability to mount a proper response to illnesses like the flu or coronavirus. Chronic inflammation is a root cause of a host of other health problems as well, including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and Alzheimer’s.
A study from Carnegie Mellon University observed 35 stressed-out adult job seekers, and had half of them complete a three-day mindfulness meditation retreat while the other half completed a relaxation retreat component without meditation. Brain scans and blood samples before and after the program showed increased brain activity between the parts of the brain responsible for internal reflection and decision making, along with lower levels of Interleukin-6, an indicator of inflammation. Meditation has also been shown to reduce inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis patients, further demonstrating that inflammation levels, and therefore your immune response, can be greatly benefited by meditation.
Related: How Spending Just 15 Minutes a Day in Nature Can Connect You to Your Higher Self
4. Lower Stress Levels
Staying calm and mindful in difficult times is no easy task, but it is during stressful and challenging times that it’s the most important to commit to a regular meditation practice. When we’re stressed, our body’s natural “fight or flight” response begins to kick in. We’ve all experienced the chemical effects of this: our heart starts racing, our palms begin to sweat, and it’s difficult for us to think about anything other than the source of our stress. This can be a beneficial reaction when confronted with physical danger, but when we’re regularly stressed out by everyday life, it can have seriously negative effects.
When we experience intense stress, our bodies automatically focus our energy on things that will help us avoid short-term danger. Things that have a longer-term impact on health, like digestion and the immune system, are suppressed. While short-term suppression of the immune system is not dangerous, prolonged suppression from chronic stress leaves the body vulnerable to illness and infection. Stress releases cortisol into the blood, which over the long term can cause unnecessary inflammation, and even reduces the number of lymphocytes — white blood cells that fight off viruses like colds, the flu, and coronavirus — in your body.
The reduction of stress levels is the most highly valued and universally acknowledged benefits of meditation. Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, claims that meditation is an obvious treatment for those suffering from anxiety: “People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power. They can’t distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit.”
Meditation gives us the tools to reframe how we react to life events. “You might think ‘I’m late, I might lose my job if I don’t get there on time, and it will be a disaster,” says Dr. Hoge. “Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, ‘Oh, there’s that thought again. I’ve been here before. But it’s just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.” A study by Dr. Hoge in the JAMA Internal Medicine review found that meditation helped reduce symptoms of anxiety in people suffering from stress, poor sleep, and irritability.
How to Start Meditating
The positive impact of meditation on the immune system is well documented, but how do you start? There are countless forms of meditation that range from breath control exercises and muscle relaxation to internal reflection and observation. The exact form of meditation that works best for you will depend on your own mind, but guided meditations are always a great jumping-off point for those looking to dip their toes. To help you get started, here’s a guided meditation from our free introductory course, Awakening Intuition with Meditation and Self-Reflection.
Want access to two more full-length meditations, plus exercises designed to help you achieve clarity, enhance your decision-making, and develop your intuition? Enroll in our free introductory course, Awakening Intuition to access hidden depths of wisdom and begin unlocking the mysteries of the Higher Self.