The problem: need a boost to your immune system?
Our somewhat hyperactive innate immune response spikes up temporarily after a stressful event, which makes sense if we are about to be attacked. However, at the same time, our more refined acquired immunity also gets taken along for the ride, albeit less so.
And what goes up must come down. In the face of frequent intermittent stressors, we usually find that the immune function doesn’t just return to baseline, it overshoots and becomes suppressed to an abnormal range of 40 – 70% below base level functioning.
So, if we are working a bit too hard, or running around meeting this demand or that, or have an unhealthy dose of psychological stress in our lives, then our immune function will become compromised.
In particular, the most sophisticated part of our immune response, the adaptive immune system (which releases different classes of lymphocytes, including T cells and B cells, to help identify and contain foreign bodies) is heavily compromised.
Stress will affect the formation of new lymphocytes and their release into our circulation. Meanwhile, the emergence of mass levels of stress steroid hormones (glucocorticoids) will inhibit the release of key messengers such as interleukins and interferons, which help the lymphocytes do their job of raising infectious alarm.
These glucocorticoids will also take existing lymphocytes out of circulation. The thymus, which is key to our adaptive immunity, will shrink as a consequence of their continued presence.
And it’s not just the steroid hormones that cause all the mischief. Beta-endorphin and CRH hormone, which are released when the “fight or flight” response is activated, also play their part and can compromise immunity even when glucocorticoid levels are low.
If you suppress immune function for long periods or on an overly frequent basis, you are much more likely to fall victim to an infectious disease. And you will find it much harder to combat once you have it.
Being stressed means you are three times more likely to get the common cold – as detected by the Common Colds Unit in Wiltshire – and being chronically stressed makes you far more susceptible still.
How can Vedic meditation help?
Vedic meditation breaks the cycle of chronic stress patterning and breathes life into our immune system by giving the body the deep rest it needs to restore and reboot.
It eliminates the frequency and intensity of the stress response by calming down the nervous system and the activity of the amygdala. In this way, meditation prevents the immune system from being thrown into destabilising cycles of hyperactivation and suppression.
As a result, our levels of lymphocytes, interleukins and interferons will be more harmonised with a healthy mode of operation, as will our beta-endorphin and CRH levels, which may otherwise be causing us problems.
The thymus will be more protected from shrinkage, and our innate immune system will be free to operate in a more optimal way.
It is a wonderful way to prevent ourselves from falling foul of infections as we so frequently do. And if we ever do push it too hard, it is a brilliant tool for speeding up our recovery and getting ourselves back on top.
I'm fitter and healthier than I have ever been, I'm more present, trust my intuition and my stress levels have reduced. I've had very little illness over the last two years, hardly a cough or cold in sight! Join one of their free introductory talks, that in itself is illuminating.