When I was a little girl, my life dream was to become a doctor when I grew up. However, after the personal trauma of having to dissect a frog in a high school biology class, I thought to come up with another plan. Fast forward to twenty years later, a yoga teacher is as close as I came to that aspiration.
Through having a personal yoga practice, I understand the human body more intricately than I have in any science class. I find the innate nature of the human body fascinating, particularly that our bodies are structured in a way to have everything we need in order to combat disease and heal ourselves. Our immune functions are closely associated with four parts of our bodily systems; nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular and lymphatic. From my own experience, following some basic daily activities to harmoniously work with each of these systems can help boost the body’s immunity.
The simple act of breathing can have a great impact on how our body responds to the world it lives in. Try it for yourself. Take a deep breath in through your nose and count as you do so. As you exhale, see if you can extend the breath to a slightly longer count than your inhale. Try doing this a couple of times more. Notice how you feel, probably a bit more physically relaxed. The nervous system plays a very important role in helping the immune system function well. When we extend our exhalation to be slightly longer than inhalation, this sends a message to the parasympathetic nervous system to activate rest and replenish mode steering away from the sympathetic nervous system state of fight and flight. This activation sends a response to the major organs that the body is calm and, in this state, able to regenerate cells which are needed to enhance our immunity.
Yoga postures like matsyasana, fish pose and sarvangasana, shoulder stand are great for regulating the thyroid glands. Setubandhasana, bridge pose and bhujangasana, cobra pose stimulate the testes or ovaries. These glands are a few of several in our endocrine system which produce and release hormones into the bloodstream. The ability to proactively handle stress in everyday life could alleviate the constant activation of the endocrine system, which in turn, increases the effectiveness of the immune system. It’s the hormonal boss helping to regulate other bodily systems. By exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and eating a healthy, balanced diet we can greatly contribute towards regulating our endocrine functions. Having a hormonal balance helps us to better function in the world, on a day-to-day basis.
Our circulatory system is responsible for our heart and blood flow and it carries oxygen, nutrients and immune cells throughout different parts of the body making sure they reach the site of any infection in due time. Therefore, it is important to keep the circulation of the blood thriving. Hot yoga is one way to get increased blood flow to your arms and legs, delivering more oxygenated blood to the muscles. Another way to increase blood circulation in the body is to practice abhyanga, self-massage with oil which has a stimulating response to blood circulation. I recommend using almond, sesame or coconut oil depending on your body type and the current season. The thicker texture of oil not only helps the body to relax but it makes us massage the body with a sturdier intensity in order to encourage circulation flowing deeper into the veins and arteries.
We also have an internal plumbing mechanism which is responsible for flushing out toxins from the body, referred to as our lymphatic system. It is the main passageway used by our immune cells, aka lymphocytes, throughout the body. Lymph vessels are like water treatment facilities which filter out the lymph fluid, eating up waste material and toxins and even infuse our lymph with fresh immune cells. Eating detoxifying foods like greens, citrus fruits and berries which are also rich in antioxidants, and drinking plenty of water-lush drinks will help promote a healthy lymphatic and digestive flow.
Our immune system works across most of our body's key functions, so in order to support our immune system we have to support our entire body. For me, there are certain daily activities that are non-negotiable when it comes to supporting my body; eating a balanced diet, practicing yoga and getting enough sleep are fundamental ways to ensure my body is going to be there for me when I need it and I also like to think of it as part of my self-love routine. I believe that by giving the attention and love the body needs, it will in turn continue to carry me healthily throughout my life experiences. As BKS Iyengar so beautifully said, “The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.”