Within Buddhism and eastern cultures, meditation originated as a way to make the mind and body a single entity in order to find deep, personal insights and transformational enlightenment and wisdom.
And since its oldest documentation from approximately 5,000 to 3,500 BCE, meditation has grown to have different meanings to different religions and cultures. Beyond enlightenment, some have viewed meditation as a way to connect with God, while others have used meditation for self-contemplation.
Today in western cultures, meditation practice is less about spirituality and more about reaping the health benefits it can have on the mind and body. As the country grapples with the coronavirus (COVID-19), mindfulness meditation may be a natural solution to give your immune system a much-needed boost.
The Science Behind Meditation and Immune Health
Countless studies have looked at the benefits of meditation, relying on participants’ anecdotes and personal opinions after taking part in meditation practice. The challenge with these conclusions is factors like confirmation bias and people not truly knowing if meditation is making them healthier. After all, you may feel better, but that doesn’t necessarily mean your body is in a healthier position to fight off illnesses.
Can meditation actually improve immune health, especially for people who already have compromised immune systems? Several research studies put that question to the test.
In a 2016 study, researchers conducted a systemic review of previous research on meditation and immune health dating back to 1966. After analyzing 20 different studies, the researchers found evidence to suggest that practicing mindfulness meditation can:
- Increase immune cell counts, which aid in protecting the body against illnesses and diseases
- Increase immune cell activity, which is used as an indicator of good immune health
- Have some positive effects on antibodies secreted by immune cells to fight off viruses and bacteria, but more research is needed to say with certainty whether or not meditation strengthens antibodies or not
In another study that examined meditation and immune health, researchers recruited 50 HIV-positive men to participate in an 8-week meditation course. The researchers examined the participants’ immune cell counts throughout the 8 weeks and found that the more meditation sessions the men participated in, the higher their immune cell counts at the end of the study were.
How Meditation Changes the Brain
While most of us may not meditate to bring the mind and body together as “one” like Buddhists do, mindfulness meditation has positive effects on the brain, just like it does on the body, to influence your immune health.
In a 2011 study conducted at Harvard University, researchers found that after 8 weeks of meditation practice, the participants had less brain cell volume in the amygdala – the part of the brain responsible for fear, anxiety and stress.
This physical stress-reduction change in the brain improves immune system function, since stress can make you more susceptible to illnesses and diseases.
Why Meditation Matters for Those in Addiction Treatment and Recovery
The consensus is meditation is good for the body and mind and can even improve your immune health. But if you haven’t put much stock into the idea of meditation before, why should it matter to you now?
It’s true that meditation isn’t a cure for addiction or the single solution for reaching and maintaining sobriety. But meditation practice can play a key role in your recovery and help strengthen your immune system.
Unfortunately, substance use can seriously impair your immune system and leave you more vulnerable to viruses like the coronavirus (COVID-19) and other diseases. Based on the evidence that currently exists, mindfulness meditation may be able to actually repair your immune health and put you in a better position to fight off illnesses.
Of course, meditation can only help your immune system if you stop drinking or abusing drugs. Luckily, practicing meditation in both treatment and recovery can help you regulate your emotions, regain a greater sense of self, manage addiction cravings, ward off temptations to relapse and ultimately help you live a healthier, happier life.
Start Your Journey Toward a Healthier Life at The Raleigh House
Meditation is a powerful practice that can truly help you transform your life after addiction. At The Raleigh House, we can help you develop this valuable habit and use it to get to the bottom of your substance abuse and maintain long-term sobriety.
While addiction may make you feel like you’re isolated and alone, the reality is you’re far from it. Meditation combined with our holistic, evidence-based treatment approach can help you rebuild your life and regain connections you may have lost because of your substance abuse.
If you’re ready to get started, our admissions team is available to take your call. Fill out our form or contact us today.