With the COVID-19 outbreak dominating the news, many people are stressed about the possibility of contracting the virus. Unfortunately, the unpleasant sensation of anxiety isn’t necessarily the worst of this stressful experience, one’s immune system doesn’t perform as effectively when one is troubled. While this decreased immune function effectiveness might not result in CoronaVirus, it may make it more likely one will come down with some ailment — be it a cold, the seasonal flu, or inflammation.
A number of studies have shown that the immune systems of optimists outperform those of pessimists. However, one University of Kentucky study even showed that a given individual’s immune system performs better when that person felt optimistic than when they didn’t.* Recognizing that one has a strong and effective immune system gives you a boost over worrying.
So how does one build confidence in one’s immune system. There are many meditative practices that one can use to help one’s immune system perform at its best. And practicing will also serve as a reminder that you are doing your best for your body. By focusing the mind on bodily sensations, one’s breath, a mantra, or a visualization, one counters obsessive or anxious thinking that can keep the body’s stress response triggered. Calming and rest-inducing practices flip on the body’s relaxation response or the ‘rest and digest’ mode — making resources available for a vigorous immune response.
Here are a few immunity boosting practices that you may want to give a try.
5) Yoga Nidra:
Yoga Nidra is a meditation practice that combines sound, body, and breath awareness. The intensely restful practices of “yogic sleep” grant the body’s immune system the resources to take on viral invaders. It triggers such a deep relaxation that many people use it to fall asleep. Furthermore, through sankalpa (or resolutions) one can remind the subconscious of one’s health and vigor. Even a short 10-15 minute practice can reset the brain for a more positive and productive day.
Extending the duration of the exhaled breath is the key outcome of Pranayama. When we are stressed, we tend to feel shortness of breath. Pranayama slowly builds lung capacity and strengthens all breathing muscles. And practices that draw out the exhalation, such as viloma pranayama or inserting pauses in the out-breath or vrtti pranayama with lengthened exhalation and retention of the inhalation, calm the body and quiet the mind. Concentrating on counting and manipulating the breath also breaks the chain of obsessive thought.
3) Progressive muscle relaxation and rotation of awareness:
If one is having trouble getting to sleep or achieving a restful state, these practices are powerful tools to induce rest. Exercising is a great way to relax the muscles, but so is just bringing your awareness or consciousness to different muscles of the body. This is the foundation practice of Vipassana and Vipassana followers do this for hours together. This also forms the foundation of the Yoga Nidra practice.
As was pointed out in the introduction, optimism has been shown to improve immune function. A more positive and optimistic outlook is a boon to immunity, regardless of whether the optimism is specifically about one’s own health. Taking time to be grateful shines a light on the good things in one’s life, and that can’t help but make one take a more positive outlook. Infact, if one observes carefully there is a clear sensation in the body as one starts to think about the people and the things one is grateful for. Regularly practicing gratitude makes it easy for the body to call upon this state in times of stress.
1) Sleep practices:
Lack of sleep is a major cause of suppressed immunity. If you want to fight viral infections at your best, you need to sleep at your best.** Sleep is often the result of our daily routines, our eating habits, and our thought patterns. Good sleep is an indirect outcome of meditation. Although, there are many practices available just to help you fall asleep.
These are but a few practices you can do to help your immune system perform at its best. Along with a healthy diet, regular physical activity, and a few hygienic precautions, you should be ready to weather whatever comes your way.
*Segerstrom, S. C., & Sephton, S. E. (2010). Optimistic expectancies and cell-mediated immunity: The role of positive affect. Psychological Science, 21, 448–455.
**Besedovsky, L., Lange, T. & Born, J. (2012) Sleep and immune function. Pflugers Arch -Eur J Physiol 463, 121–137.