Can Meditation help keep you from getting sick? This study says yes

GREG WELLS - Health Advisor

Special to The Globe and Mail

Published Sunday, Nov. 23, 2014 12:00PM EST

If you’re at all like me, you dread getting sick. I’m just not very good at lying around for days feeling as if I’ve been run over by a truck. So I’m all about trying not to get sick in the first place.

As a researcher at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, I have to get a flu shot. But since the flu shot is not 100-per-cent effective, I am working on other ways to avoid getting sick or, if I do, to get better as fast as I can.

In my hunt through the research on influenza, I came across a very interesting finding. In a paper published in the Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Bruce Barrett and colleagues from the University of Wisconsin-Madison looked into the benefits of meditation and exercise for prevention of the flu.

Before the annual flu season began, they divided their research volunteers into three groups: one that would practise meditation, another that would exercise regularly and a third control group that just carried on with normal daily life. They then tracked how many people in each group got sick and how severe and long-lasting their symptoms were.

The results were surprising.

As an exercise physiologist, I would have bet that exercise would be more powerful than meditation for preventing the flu. I was wrong.

Both meditation and exercise reduced the number of people who got sick by about 25 per cent.

The severity of the symptoms was lowest in the meditation group, followed by the exercise group and most severe in the group that did neither.

The duration of the illness was reduced equally by meditation and exercise.

Perhaps the most interesting finding was the total number of missed days of work in each group. The meditation group only missed 16 days, compared with 32 in the exercise group and 67 in the observation-only group.

The researchers conclude that exercise and meditation are both effective in reducing the burden of respiratory-tract infections. Moderate exercise is known to be very beneficial for your immune system – the body’s system that fights off infection, illness and disease. This is partly because exercise improves the flow of fluids in your lymphatic system, which means that viruses, bacteria and toxins are filtered from your blood and lymph more effectively. Consistent exercise also increases the number and potency of macrophages, which are white blood cells that travel around your body and attack and destroy invaders. We know that exercise works and how it works.

Although meditation, yoga and relaxation have all been used effectively to help people reduce stress, hypertension, anxiety, insomnia and illness, how meditation works to accomplish this is less clear.

But some new research studies have shed some light on this area.

A group at Massachusetts General Hospital found that when people practised meditation – either experienced practitioners for a single session or novices consistently for eight weeks – there were improvements in the function of mitochondria (the energy factories inside all the cells of the body), better insulin metabolism (which helps your cells absorb blood sugar which they then use for energy) and less inflammation (high inflammation is related to many illnesses and diseases).

In addition, a research study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that students who practised meditation increased their levels of immunoglobulin A (which is a substance that identifies invaders such as viruses and bacteria so that they can be destroyed by your immune system) and that the levels kept increasing over the course of the four-week study.

At this time of year, some people are going to get sick. If you don’t want to be one of them, be sure to work out and take time to relax each day. Even better, try meditation. You’ll be doing your body, your mind and your immune system a lot of good.

Dr. Greg Wells is an assistant professor in kinesiology at the University of Toronto and an associate scientist in physiology and experimental medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children. He is a health and high-performance expert who inspires better living through better nutrition and better fitness. You can follow him on Twitter at @drgregwells or visit his website at drgregwells.com.

How to Manage Your Emails Mindfully

People are often less mindful with email than they are with face to face communication. Computer screens have the tendency of creating a “zoned out” state. Yet, mindfulness in emails can be very important – in fact, it can be even more important than mindfulness in face to face communication.

Why? Because in emails, the receiver is acting on incomplete information. You don’t have all the nonverbal cues telling you what the other person is really trying to communicate. When you’re reading an email, it’s easy to misread a person’s intentions – and see an attack or criticism, where there wasn’t one. Likewise, when sending an email, it’s easy to send an email that’s received harsher than it was meant to be.

Mindful emailing can help prevent both of these situations. Mindful emailing means staying connected to yourself during the email process, as well as staying connected to the fact that you’re communicating with another human being.

 

 

Mindfulness can improve email communication

 

You don’t have to practice mindfulness every time you open an email. However, practicing mindfulness during charged or potentially heated email exchanges can go a long way towards diffusing tensions and preserving relationships.

Developing Mindful Habits for Reading & Sending Emails

When you notice heat, anger or defensiveness arising during an email exchange, pause for a moment. Then go through this meditation process.

Take a Conscious Breath. Take a few moments to just pay attention to your breath. This can help “break” you out of your negative state. If you’re feeling negative emotions strongly, consider pausing for a couple minutes to do two minutes of breathing meditation.

Visualize the Sender / Recipient. Take a moment to visualize the other human being with whom you’re communicating. Become present to the fact that you’re in an exchange with another human. You’re not just typing letters into a screen, but interacting with another being. Spend a couple moments with this idea.

Re-Read the Email. If you’re sending an email, re-read the email. Remember that the receiver doesn’t have the same non-verbal cues as an in-person communication. Remember that they might not necessarily assume positive intentions, unless positive intentions are abundantly clear. Is there any way that your email could be misconstrued? Use your emotional barometer as a guide and rewrite your email if necessary.

If you’re receiving an email, likewise, pause and re-read the email. Notice any emotions or sensations that arise in your body, and simply let them pass without judgment. Realize that you also don’t have the benefit of nonverbal cues, and that you may be reading criticism or attack where there isn’t one. Re-read the email and see if the email could be read more objectively.

Take Three Breathes Before Replying. Before you hit “send” on your reply, take three deep, slow breaths, at least four seconds in and four seconds out. Stay as present as you can to your emotions and to your breath. During these three breaths, feel free to change your mind about sending, or to decide to edit your email before hitting send.

Mindful Emailing

It’s easy to be impulsive with email. A person who never lashes out at others in person can easily send off a criticizing email without being aware that it might hurt the receiver. Taking just a few moments to go through these steps can help avoid a lot of misunderstandings, as well as needless stressful emotions.

To your happiness and success,

  • Search Inside Yourself

“On The Cushion” – An Insight Meditation Sitting Group (VIPASSANA)

WEEKLY - Tuesday Evenings – DUNDAS – 7:15 – 8:45 p.m.

Contact Donna Paige – 905-317-9768 OR donnapaige77@gmail.com

The purpose of the group is to support ongoing meditation practice for those with experience and to provide opportunity for others to learn to develop a sitting practice.  There is no advance registration needed – it is an open group.  Please contact Donna Paige for details.

Mindfulness program helps teens mental health

Hamilton Spectator Wednesday Feb 3 2016

Delaney Peirce is 17, but just recently learned to breathe — really breathe — thanks to a mindfulness program.

She has conversion disorders which made her faint whenever she got nervous. She also suffers from anxiety and depression, but a new Teen Mindfulness Group program at McMaster Children's Hospital where she is an outpatient has given her a new lease on life.

Delaney found the eight-week program "very relaxing, very calming".

"It was a lot of deep breathing, and I use that now when I get nervous or anxious," she said.

It also taught her to resist basing her decisions on reactions and emotions.

"I learned to respond instead of reacting."

The program also helped her most recently with the pressure of high school exams.

"I was getting overwhelmed so I put my head down on my desk and breathed heavily in and out." It helped tremendously and put her in a good frame of mind to write the exam, she says.

Delaney stars in a video on the program that premièred in support of last Wednesday's Bell Let's Talk Day. You can watch it at https://vimeo.com/152496795.

The program, run for the first time at Mac last fall, ended in early January, but clinical specialist Cheryl Webb expects to run it twice a year. It is only available to McMaster Children's Hospital patients of adolescent medicine, ages 14 to 18, with a range of illnesses.

Webb based the program on a book by Dr. Dzung Vo, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at British Columbia's Children's Hospital and author of "The Mindful Teen: Powerful Skills to Help You Handle Stress One Moment at a Time."

Vo has for three years run a teen mindfulness program in B.C. developed by U.S. expert Jon Kabat-Zinn, Webb said.

Webb called Vo for advice and he provided guidance in setting up the Hamilton program, she said.

All seven participants have become more aware of when they started to worry and can use tools in the program "to stay grounded … so they wouldn't get overwhelmed," Webb said.

"Mindfulness is about trying to stay present in the moment."

The teens also learned that thoughts are not facts, Webb added.

"It's eye opening that we can choose which (thoughts) to keep and which to let go of."

It is stressful being a 16 or 17 year-old, but it is also empowering to recognize "that knot in your stomach is because of worry" and that you can let it go and let go of the pain, she said.

"They are just becoming more aware of how their feelings show up in a physiological way in their body."