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What can regular meditation sessions do for your immune system?

Meditations were developed by Eastern philosophical rituals, referred to in Hinduism and Buddhism as dhyana, which originates from the Sanskrit word dhyai, which implies to ponder or meditate. In 1971 Dr. Claudio Naranjo, psychiatrist and consciousness pioneer noted that it is challenging to describe because it involves a broad range of different practises across different traditions.

I personally love meditating and since I have quite a busy lifestyle I prefer to listen to mine just before bed because even if I fall asleep I know that my unconscious mind will still be absorbing all of the information. As stated in my previous article, I am ok with this because I understand that our unconscious mind is what controls most of our conscious behavioural patterns and thinking frames. If you believe in aspects of Freudian psychology then you may share the same viewpoint too. I choose to meditate because I believe that the mind is the strongest device that we have, and if tweaked correctly it can product life-altering results. 

There is a lot of information out there on the benefits of meditation that it’s impossible to be sceptical about the benefits. There are a broad variety of ways to meditate and all methods are known to be effective. I know some people who find using mantra methods easiest and I know others who prefer to use visualisation methods. One report by Fadel Zeidan, PhD discovered that benefits from meditation could be evident in as little as four 20-minute sessions. Some other methods recommend less time. For example New York Times best selling author and scientist, Richard Davidson has cited work suggesting the benefits can be obtained with just 8 minutes of practice a day. Then there are also those who meditate for much longer, while on weeklong wellness retreats. 

So far the common themes that I keep finding in studies conducted on the benefits of meditation are that it leads us perspire less, slow our pulse down and produce less tension hormones. We also see an increase in our growth hormone, more happy cells being released such as dopamine and serotonin, a stronger immune system and our bodies continue to benefit from meditation long after our meditation session. 

Recently I have become more interested in this growing body of research on the relationship between mindfulness mediation and personal well being. Frequently we align the benefits of meditation with only our emotional well being, but forget that health affects both the mind and the body.

You might be surprised to know that many researchers are uncovering the significant link between the brain and the immune system. In the Centre for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers have been examining the mind-body relation and the thought that the mind and the immunity are separate. They have found that the mind influences the inflammatory reactions of the body, therefore if our body is able to absorb this reaction fast enough then we might be able to prevent degenerative illness. 

A study by the universities of Coventry and Radboud found that participating in mindful activities such as meditation, tai chi and yoga can actually reverse molecular reactions in our DNA which cause poor health and depression. The lead investigator Ivana Buric said: “Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realise is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business.” She continued on to add, “These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our wellbeing.” She finished off by saying “More needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition. But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities.” The findings from thi studycan be viewed in the journal Frontiers in Immunology. 

The US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health states that “Meditation is a mind and body practice that has a long history of use for increasing calmness and physical relaxation, improving psychological balance, coping with illness and enhancing overall health and well-being.” Additionally in 2017 the American Heart Association provided a scientific announcement that meditation can be a appropriate alternative activity contributing to minimise the risk of cardiovascular diseases, with the caution that meditation needs to be better defined in higher-quality clinical studies of such disorders. There is also a wide range of evidence that suggests that meditation can help those with irritable bowel syndrome and post traumatic stress disorder. 

A 2010 review of the Literature on Spirituality and Performance in Organisations saw an increase in corporate meditation programs. Stress management programmes were utilised by about a fifth of U.S. businesses as of 2016. The goal was to help reduce stress and improve reactions to stress. Since the 1970’s there has been meditation techniques used in clinical psychology and psychiatry to reduce depression, stress and anxiety. One example that comes to mind is American psychologist Patricia Carrington developed a technique in 1970 called Clinically Standardized Meditation. Patricia first developed this technique when working with a group of students at Princeton University who had high levels of anxiety. After her students used her technique for 10 weeks they had shared that their anxiety reduced significantly. In Norway a similar technique to Patricia’s was developed, a sound-based method called Acem Meditation. It has been the subject of several scientific studies, all studies note exceptional benefits. 

There are other Psychologists such as Thomas Joiner however who disagree with modern meditation techniques. Thomas believes that meditation in modern times has been corrupted by self-help celebrities for financial benefit and implies that it promotes dangerous narcissistic and self-obsessed mindsets. 

In conclusion meditation has been practices for many centuries across a wide range of different traditions. This is evident because there are a lot of ancient texts that refer to meditation. For example one of the most influential texts of classical Hindu Yoga is Patanjali’s yoga sutras, a text associated with yoga and Samkhya, which outlines eight limbs leading to Kaivalya. These are ethical discipline, rules, physical postures, breath control, withdrawal from the senses, one-pointedness of mind, meditation and Samadhi. Another example is the Taoist Guanzi essay Neiye titled “Inward training” it is the oldest received writing on the subject of qi cultivation and breath control meditation techniques.

There are classic Jewish texts that expose a wide range of meditative practices, often associated with the cultivation of kavanah or intention. Other early rabbinic texts include instructions for visualising the Divine Presence and breathing with conscious gratitude for each breath. The Musar Movement founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the middle of the 19thcentury, emphasised meditative practices of introspection and visualisation that could help to improve moral character. 

Meditation is also practiced in Christianity when individuals use prayer beads when showing devotion to Jesus and Mary while reciting a mantra. Similarly in Islam too as Salah is a mandatory act of devotion by Muslims five times per day.

Some traditions in which meditation is practised such as Buddhism and Hinduism warn individuals not to ingest intocants while meditating, whereas those such as the Rastafarian groups and the Native American Church consider substances as central to their meditation practices. Psychoactive consumption has become a key theme of the practises of multiple faiths to create altered states of consciousness. Drugs are used as ceremonial tools in many conventional shamanistic rituals. Cannabis is belived in the Rastafari tradition to be a blessing from Jah and a holy plant to be used daily, whereas alcohol is deemed a devaluation of man. Native Americans use peyote, which continues today as part of ceremonial rituals.

Example:  the rosary is done in Christianity an it is used to show devotion to the mysteries of Jesus and Mary. The gentle repetition of its prayers makes it an excellent means to moving into deeper meditation.

Some religions have traditions of using prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thead. Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala. 

In Buddhism meditation is seen as a part of the path toward awakening and nirvana. Buddhist meditation techniques have become popular in the wider world, with many non-buddhists taking them up. There is a common theme among all different forms of meditation and this is breath meditation. In the Theravada tradition there are over 50 methods for developing mindfulness and 40 for developing concentration. While in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualisation meditations.

Taoist meditation has developed techniques including concentration, visualisation, qi cultivation, contemplation and mindfulness meditation in its history.. Taoist meditation practices are central to Chinese martial arts, especially the qi related neijia “internal martial arts”. 

Classic Jewish texts espouse a wide range of meditative practices, often associated with the cultivation of kavanah or intention. Other early rabbinic texts include instructions for visualising the Divine Presence and breathing with conscious gratitude for each breath. The Musar Movement founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the middle of the 19thcentury, emphasised meditative practices of introspection and visualisation that could help to improve mmoral character. 

The Rosary is a devotion for the meditation of the mysteries of Jesus and Mary in Christianity. 

In the West meditation found its mainstream roots through the social revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional religion as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity to provide spiritual and ethical guidance. 

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