December 2, 2009 at 4:23 pm , by Julie Bain
I’m washing my hands like crazy these days and keep little bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere. But guess what else I’m doing to avoid getting sick this winter? Meditating!
Stress Makes You Sick
Yep, new research shows that stressed-out people have higher levels of the inflammatory stress chemicals that burn out your immune system and make it harder for you to fight off an infection. But people who practice meditation three to four times a week have lower levels of those nasty chemicals in the body, which may make them less likely to get sick. (I learned this from our story in LHJ this month called “Your Family Flu-Prevention Plan.” Check it out for other great tips.)
It can be tough to teach yourself how to meditate if you’ve never done it before. Many people who try to sit quietly, focus on their breathing and quiet their thoughts report that they can’t “turn off their brains” and that they’re too easily distracted. Then they judge themselves by thinking they’re terrible at meditating, which is definitely counterproductive. Guided meditation, with music or talking or chanting, can help.
I had practiced meditation before, but hadn’t done it in years. Coincidentally, after I’d written a blog on the anniversary of Woodstock last summer, Ticia Agri, who was part of the festival back in ’69 and saw the blog, sent me a CD of her guided meditation called The Ribbon Breath Meditation (left). It’s a good way to get started. Only 15 minutes long, the CD uses drumbeats and music as it leads you upward from your feet to the top of your head, using color imagery that’s easy to visualize. You sit quietly, listen to Agri’s soothing voice and the music and somehow your breathing slows and you know what to do. It feels good!
Slow It Down
On one particularly stressful day recently, I got home, sat down and took my pulse: 88 beats per minute. Then I sat and listened to the meditation CD. Fifteen minutes later, I checked my pulse again: 52 beats. That’s a 41 percent reduction in heart rate, folks—nothing to sneeze at! Don’t know if it’ll stop me from getting a cold or flu this winter, but it couldn’t hurt.
You can do any form of meditation, yoga, focused breathing or relaxation training and get health benefits. During this season of holiday craziness (and the flu!), why not pledge to slow down for a few minutes each day and just breathe? Healthy holidays to you!