Mindfulness and the Immune System: Training the Brain

The travails of everyday life frequently leave people feeling frustrated, empty and exhausted, with a compromised immune system that presents a higher risk of illness. The good news is that mindfulness meditation can benefit overall health and wellness by creating a hardier immune system.

How it Works

Researchers have found that mindfulness meditation stimulates electrical activity in the prefrontal cortex and other brain areas associated with anxiety and other emotions. As a result, the brain is able to operate more effectively.

Feelings of serenity that result from mindfulness meditation also result in a weaker release of cortisol, adrenaline and other stress hormones that compromise the immune system.

A study conducted by University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) involved HIV-positive patients who were asked to meditate for 30 to 45 minutes every day. The results were impressive, as CD-4 cells – immune cells that slow propagation of the HIV virus -- slowed down considerably after eight weeks of regular meditation.

It appears that even chronic illness such as diabetes and high blood pressure, and painful conditions such as fibromyalgia can be controlled and minimized via mindfulness meditation, as well as extremely challenging illness such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. Mindfulness also improves memory, attention span, creativity and stamina.

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation isn’t difficult to learn, and the benefits, which include reduction in depression, anxiety, stress, irritability and exhaustion, can all be reduced with regular practice.

The technique involves directing focus on the sensations of the moment. When the mind wanders, the attention is brought back to the breath, which provides an anchor. By quieting the mind, we become more present with ourselves and the world around us. The positive environment created by mindfulness allows the immune system to flourish.

With practice, it becomes easier to remain in the present and let go of worry and anxiety about the past and future.

Although ten minutes per day is a good way to begin the practice of mindfulness meditation, practitioners recommend working up to at least 20 minutes per day.

Advice from the Chopra Center

Although experts at the Chopra Center recommend regular meditation (morning and evening) as the core of a healthy immune system, the Center additionally offers three practical suggestions that can strength the immune system and help fend off illness.

  • Avoid seriously stressful situations, which trigger a surge of stress hormones.
  • Address low level stress at work and at home, as even minor stressors tax the immune system.
  • Get plenty of rest to avoid exhaustion.
  • Wash your hands several times a day, especially after touching another person’s skin, as regular washing reduces the chance of infections

Mindfulness and Addiction

Regular practice of mindfulness meditation has proven to be an effective treatment for drug and alcohol addiction, as well as issues such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. Many quality drug and alcohol treatment centers and rehabs, including Paracelsus, offer mindfulness meditation as a beneficial alternative treatment.

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