How your mind-body connection can reduce inflammation

In the first article in this series we introduced how chronic inflammation can impact our health and function.  Low levels of consistent inflammation in the body have been linked to pain, arthritis, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.  Research has found in some cases lowering the chronic inflammation has resulted in decreased severity of those conditions.   Prior articles on fish oil and  gut health have focused on food and supplements we can put into, or take out of our body to help curb this inflammation.  In our last article we discussed maintaining an active lifestyle can also improve inflammation.   In this article we will discuss how improving our mind-body connection can influence inflammation, and some options for doing so.

Mind-body activities such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong, meditation, or yoga have been known to improve many aspects of our physical and psychological health and quality of life.  Recent research also indicates that they can also lower inflammation within the body.  Below is a summary of mind-body activities that have resulted in improved inflammation in scientific studies.  The good news is that many of these activities do not take much time, and also have the benefit of improved stress management and overall well-being.

Tai Chi and Qi Gong

Tai chi, or tai chi chuan, and Qi Gong are ancient chinese arts that involve a series of gentle movements accompanied by deep breathing and relaxation.  Each movement flows into one another so a person is constantly moving, albeit very slow and controlled.   It is very gentle on the body and has a very relaxing effect (likely why it helps with stress and calms inflammation).  It is easy to do for even elderly patients as well as those with high levels of pain.  Both Tai Chi and Qi Gong have been shown to improve balance, decrease pain, and improve mood and quality of life.  There are several  private studios in Northern Colorado that offer classes in Tai Chi.  The Senior Center offers classes and the library offers books and videos on both Tai Chi and Qi Gong.  There are also various apps or videos on youtube that will guide you through Tai Chi or Qi Gong movements and activities.

Meditation

Meditation has been around for centuries, but in our modern society has come to mean many things.   Psychology Today defines it as “the practice of turning one’s attention to a single point of reference. It can involve focusing on the breath, bodily sensations, or a word or phrase, (a mantra).”  Yoga International defines it as “a precise technique for resting the mind . . . .  Meditation is a practical means for calming yourself, for letting go of your biases and seeing what is, openly and clearly. It is a way of training the mind so that you are not distracted and caught up in its endless churning.  Meditation teaches you to attend to what is taking place within without reacting, and this makes all the difference. . . . .You experience inner joy and contentment, you experience relief and inner relaxation, and you find a respite from the tumult of your life. “

There are many forms of meditation, and many ways to do it.  Some people do a guided form of meditation where someone instructs them in the process, whether it be in person or through an app or video.  This is recommended for beginners  Others prefer to do an unguided form where they spend 2-10 minutes doing through general mental activities.  An unguided session might involve spending 30 sec to 3 min doing various breathing activities, mental focus without judging or critiquing what you are thinking about, body scans, or just time to “let your mind be.”  There are numerous “guides for unguided meditation” on the internet.   There are several private studios in our area that offer various forms of meditation. The Senior Center also offers classes.  There are several apps on the market that offer guided meditation,  one of the more common ones is called Headspace.  The app is free and includes a basic course to get you started with meditation, and you can pay more for more advanced features if you choose.   Our local library also has books, ebooks, videos, and audio recordings to introduce you to meditation.

Yoga

Yoga also is an ancient art that combines various poses, breathing, and meditation.  Like meditation, there are many different styles of yoga, each having different points of emphasis.  Yoga can be minimally demanding with more emphasis on the breathing and meditation components that can be done from a sitting or lying down position, or can be quite physically intense requiring significant strength and balance.  As with the other mind-body activities, there are numerous yoga studios in town, the Senior Center offers classes, and the library has books and videos to help you explore yoga.  There are numerous sources as well on the internet from websites to youtube videos to apps.

Chronic inflammation can have significant influence on our overall health and well-being.  The good news is we have many ways from diet to exercise to mind-body activities that can positively influence our health.  Tai Chi and meditation and yoga have multiple benefits in that they not only can help us manage our stress and improve our emotional and psychological well being, but now we also know they can help us manage chronic inflammation.

Dr. Heather Sieler is a physical therapist at Colorado In Motion

References:

Morgan N, Irwin MR, Chung M, Wang C. The effects of mind-body therapies on the immune system: Meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014;9:e100903

https://nccih.nih.gov/health/taichi/introduction.htm

https://thebuddhistcentre.com/text/what-meditation

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/meditation

https://www.headspace.com/meditation