Can meditation support your immune system, especially in light of the effects of COVID-19?

As someone that suffered with anxiety for most of my life, I am personally so grateful for my yoga practice, which includes various contemplative practices such as meditation.  (Click here for a great image that reflects the many different types of contemplative practices.)  What I found through the ongoing use of these tools is a consistent way to navigate stress to maintain my body, mind, and soul health.  Stress is still present – and I no longer have any expectations of living a stress-free life – yet it no longer accumulates into an expression of anxiety.

Meditation is a very personal experience.  It is the personal nature of the practice that can make it difficult to try and especially hard to maintain.  There are also many different forms of meditation, so it definitely is not one-size-fits-all.  Yet the intention behind meditation – to slow down the mind and help us detach from our thoughts – creates space.  It is this space that can be scary.  When we encounter stress, one of the most common tools humans go to in order to deal with the freeze/fight/flight response is distraction.  We might distract ourselves by watching shows, eating, drinking, shopping, or one of the many other forms of impulsive behaviors that bring feelings of guilt and remorse along with them.

And yet more and more research is demonstrating the benefits of meditation, including how it can support our immune system functioning, which is vital right now in light of the pandemic.  Meditation, whatever form of it that works best for you, helps to regulate the normal, natural human stress response, reducing the inevitable inflammation effects of that response.  If we can find a form of meditation that we enjoy, then this tool can become the sharpest one in our toolkit and the one we consistently turn to when we feel anxiety building.

One of the more creative methods of meditations I utilize is journaling.  This expressive writing tool has also been shown to reduce anxiety and depression.  Relax Like A Boss, a website dedicated to wellbeing and stress, put together an ultimate guide to meditation journals.  If you might consider this form of meditation, you can link to the guide here for tips on how to get started.

Contemplative practices do not have to be done for long periods of time, unless that works for you.  Another one of my favorites is conscious deep breathing, and I do this several times a day for just a few minutes.  It acts like a reset button for my nervous system.  You might count how long you inhale and how long you exhale or you can include visualizations, such as colored light.  You might add affirmations, such as inhaling peace and exhaling stress, if that helps give the thoughts in the mind the necessary mini vacation.  Simply keep in mind that you cannot do it wrong!

I think what is most exciting is how research is looking at the body-mind connection more and more and not approaching the body and mind separately when working towards health.  One recent review of the research literature focused on the interconnected physiological processes in the body that supports the continued inclusion – and expansion – of meditation in the treatment of diverse medical conditions.  What they looked at more closely is the impact of stress on the gut microbiota and how meditation supports the health of our gut, leading to a healthier mind through the regulation of neurotransmitters.  The research team recommended the integration of meditation into conventional health care and wellness models.  If you would like to read more about this review, click the button below:

5 Intention-setting Ideas for Supporting the Immune System Through this Holiday Season and Beyond!

“Compassion, bringing inner strength, is good for our health.” – The Dalai Lama

While we may do our best to eat well, get enough sleep, and continue our exercise routine through the holidays, sometimes that is just not enough to avoid catching a cold or flu, especially because we find ourselves spending more time with others at this time of year.  And there is no worse time to find these germs breaking through our defenses then over the next 6 weeks!

So, as we make plans to gather with friends and family around the dining room table this holiday season, it is my hope that you might relax a little more knowing that there are some tried-and-true ways to bring more comfort to the body, support the immune system and shorten the length of time that the body needs to suffer from the symptoms of the common cold.  Below are several intention-setting ideas to consider should you find yourself “under the weather” this holiday season:

  1. ZINC!  Research has shown that taking zinc gluconate during a head cold shortens the duration of the symptoms.  Over-the-counter products, such as Cold-EEZE or Zicam, contain zinc gluconate and the research suggests that the zinc ions block the cold virus from replicating.  What this means is that we may not be able to stop the germs from breaking through our natural defenses, but we can stop them from replicating any more once inside of our bodies, thus giving our immune system a better opportunity to win the war faster.  Therefore, as soon as you feel that scratchy throat or heaviness in your head, start taking zinc and don’t stop until your nose can smell the cookies in the oven and visions of sugar plums dance in your head once again.
  2. Essential Oils.  Look for an essential oil blend that contains oils such as cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, rosemary, and wild orange which have been shown to have immune-boosting properties.  Simply add a few drops to some coconut oil or almond oil and rub it into your skin around the throat, chest and even the soles of your feet.  Adding these essential oils to a room diffuser can work to kill any germs that might be lingering in your home.
  3. Warm Up.  Research is finding that when our body temperature is warmer, viruses replicate slower and die off quicker.  Therefore, when you start to feel the first signs of a cold, create environments for yourself to raise your body heat, such as taking a hot bath or shower or sitting in a hot tub or steam room.  You can add the above mentioned essential oils to your bath or sprinkle a few drops on the floor of your shower.  Or wrap yourself up in your favorite comforter and snuggle up by your fireplace (or space heater) with a good book or movie!
  4. Indulge Your Sweet Tooth with Honey.  Raw organic honey contains enzymes and antimicrobials that not only fight germs, but soothe scratchy throats and coughs.  Studies have even demonstrated an improvement in sleep quality in children who took honey with upper respiratory tract infections, so try eating a teaspoon or two of honey before bed.  Throughout the day, you can simply boil some water, add honey and maybe some freshly grated ginger root to sip on to comfort body, mind and spirit.
  5. Stimulate blood and lymph circulation.  Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, offers a practice that can be done on a daily basis to stimulate circulation and cleanse the lymph system – dry brush lymph massage.  The lymph system helps rid the body of toxins, waste, and other unwanted materials by transporting lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells throughout the body.   Doing this practice when a virus has invaded our body is important to promote detoxification, supporting the elimination of the toxins as quickly as possible.  Try a natural-bristle brush that you might use to wash your back in the shower and start at the feet.  Using short, brisk strokes work up the body towards the heart, focusing on areas where lymph nodes are most concentrated, such as inner thighs/groin area and arm pits.