Mindful Meditation

In my studies of immunology this summer, I learned that there are techniques that can increase the activity of Natural Kills cells in our bodies. Natural Killer cells are a major part of our immune system. They have the ability to destroy cancer and viral cells through the use of toxic granules. They are an essential part of a healthy immune system. In fact, it seems that the activity of these cells can be affected by the activities we engage in. According to The American Journal of Chinese Medicine, individuals who received Qi from a Qigong Master increased the activity of their NK cells, post treatment. Further studies show that the practice of Qigong can also increase the activity of lymphocytes and monocytes.

A recent study, pending publication at the end of this month, found that individuals who meditated for 30 minutes a day over a period of eight weeks had measurable changes in the gray matter density portions of their brains. The centers associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress were most notably affected. Individuals in the study practiced “Mindful Meditation” which involves bringing the mind back to the present moment versus allowing the mind to wander.

Although these studies are preliminary, I think it’s safe to say that evidence is building in favor of relaxation practices. It seems our immune systems can benefit from healthy relaxation practices on a cellular level, while our minds have the capacity to increase function in key areas. I have to wonder if it’s the simple practice of engaging in an activity that soothes the body, versus stressing the body that is making all the difference.

As a student, I spend the majority of my days frantic. There is always more to learn, study, perfect and accomplish. Yet on those rare days when I take an hour to practice yoga, or walk the trails behind Bastyr, I feel my best. Now the question lies in whether the feeling arises from an internal physiological shift in the activity of my cells, an increase in brain matter, or in the simple fact that I took a moment to slow down and breathe.

References:
New York Times
Myeong, S.L., Huh, H.J., Jang, H.S., Han, C.S., Ryu, H., and Chung, H.T. (2001). Effects of Emitted Qi on In Vitro Natural Killer Cell Cytotoxic Activity. The American journal of Chinese Medicine, 29(1), 17-22.
Myeong, S.L., Huh, H.J., Jeong, S.M., Jang, H.S., Han, C.S., Ryu, H., Park, J.H., Chung, H.T. and Woo, W.H. (2003). Effects of Qigong on Immune Cells. The American journal of Chinese Medicine, 30(2), 327-335.

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