In the midst of the pandemic there are many reasons we should focus on our meditation practice – and for most of us time shouldn’t be a constraint. Although not difficult to imagine the potential benefits of meditation for mental health and resilience in the pandemic, this post relates to a brand new publication examining the potential for meditation and yoga as adjunctive medical treatment for coronaviruses.
Bushell, W., Castle, R., Williams, M. A., Brouwer, K. C., Tanzi, R. E., Chopra, D., & Mills, P. J. (2020). Meditation and Yoga Practices as Potential Adjunctive Treatment of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and COVID-19: A Brief Overview of Key Subjects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
The paper examines two potential means of improving immune responses with these meditative practices – the optimization of the inflammatory response and melatonin levels.
The authors explain the linkages found by previous researchers between the immune system and the inflammatory response – the fact that many infectious diseases cause damage through the host’s own inflammatory responses. Inflammation can be brought under control through up-regulation of the vagal nerve which reverses the “fight of flight” response and replaces it with the “relaxation response”. The authors explain their perspective that meditation and yoga could be effective as adjunctive interventions against serious infection diseases, including malaria, HIV/AIDS, and SARS due to the anti-stress and anti-inflammatory properties of these practices. Specifically, a six-week study of 20-min daily of mindfulness meditation resulted in a significant down-regulation of activity of the pro-inflammatory transcription factor. Other studies have shown decreases in the circulating levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines and increases of the anti-inflammatory cytokine.
The second proposed mechanism is through optimization of melatonin secretion. Researches have specifically identified melatonin as a substance that should be investigated for possible treatment against COVID-19. Studies in animals and humans have found beneficial effects of melatonin against serious viral infections, including herpes, HIV/AIDS, influenza A-H1N1, and West Nile virus. Melatonin appears to possess the capacity to selectively up- and down-regulate its antiviral/immune-enhancing and its anti-inflammatory effects according to the state of the environment in which it is present. Studies show that regular practice of meditation and/or yoga is associated with elevations in melatonin. Solberg et al., reported that more experienced meditators had 150% higher resting levels of melatonin compared with an age-, gender-, and physical fitness level-matched reference group
Whether you are a novice meditator or an experienced one, its nice to think that perhaps your meditation practice could be providing you with some protection against COVID-19 as well as helping you to cope with the day to day challenges of life in a pandemic. All the best and stay safe!
- The effects of long meditation on plasma melatonin and blood serotonin. Med Sci Monit 2004;10:CR96–CR101.