Although there are a number of supplements on the market that claim to boost the immune system, there is no real evidence for that they work. If the body is actually deficient in certain vitamins, taking the right dose of those particular ones might help a weakened immune system. However, taking mega doses of anything is at best likely to be a waste of money and at worst could be toxic.
The best advice is, as we all know, to lead a healthy lifestyle. Eat moderately, a varied diet, avoid smoking, drink small amounts of alcohol only with food and just occasionally and exercise regularly (and moderately!). If we have a good healthy baseline, we can deal with an occasional…err ‘deviation’ (we are only human!) and regain balance again relatively easily.
Other things well within our control are to develop efficient breathing, quality relaxation, good sleep, doing more of what we love, feeling grateful and being able to laugh and not take life too seriously. After all the very worst that could happen is going to happen to us all eventually anyway!
BREATHING & CLEANSING THE RESPIRATORY TRACT
In Chinese medicine the lungs are considered to be the ‘tender organ’, because they are so susceptible to pathogens. (The Chinese medicine version of pathogens, such as wind-cold and damp-heat would not be recognisable to a western doctor, because they describe the effect of the invader on the body rather than it’s biological classification.) Healthy lungs are an essential component of good immunity when it comes to viruses etc that are likely to enter the body by that route. The lungs do have a clever method of cleaning themselves known as the ‘mucus escalator’. The walls of the respiratory tubes are lined with a membrane that produces a sticky, lubricating mucus and microscopic hair-like projections called cilia. These constantly move in a wafting action, up and out towards the throat, moving the sticky mucus, which has trapped harmful particles and organisms. One of the problems of smoking is that it paralyses the action of the cilia. Smokers often have a morning cough, because they have not smoked during the night and the cilia have been able to get going to start clearing out the accumulated mucus and other debris. Severe pollution can have a similar effect.
Apart from not smoking and avoiding polluted places, we can help support the lungs with breathing exercises. It can be helpful to think of these as medicine, with a right ‘dosage’, so they are effective without becoming harmful. If you over-breathe, you may hyperventilate, change the ph of the blood, get dizzy and could even pass out – definitely not healthy!!
The yoga breathing technique, kapalbhati is one of the kriyas (cleansing practices), partly because it helps stimulate the natural cleaning mechanism of the lungs. Additionally, it is energising, stimulates digestive fire (but only to be done BEFORE eating), tones the abdomen, cleanses the nadis (energy channels / meridians) and shifts our mood.
If you have an underlying respiratory problem, you may have been sent to a chest clinic and been taught ACBT / huffing breath (as I was after I had contracted hooping cough in my 30’s). Here is a Youtube video. Over the years I have also developed my own yoga version of the exercise.
The complete yoga breath is another practice that can help thoroughly ventilate the lungs and make sure the whole breathing mechanism is working well.
Inhale to a comfortable count of 4, pacing the breath, so you have some left to reach the collar bone area.
1. Breathing downwards, as if into the pelvis
2. Horizontally widen all around the lower ribs / diaphragm
3. Expand the chest
4. Breathe upward into the space above the collar bones
Either exhale from the top down, finishing with a gentle squeeze of the belly, or just let the exhale fall out through the mouth.
If you are a beginner, take a normal breath before repeating. Do 3-5 breaths then return to normal breathing. Repeat up to 3 times.
N.B. NEVER force or strain any breathing techniques. That can have the opposite of the desired effect!!
All these practices should be done moderately, to find what works best for each individual. More is not better. Especially if they are new to you, gradually ease into them, take pauses between rounds, to feel the effects (and develop mindfulness!)
Gargling with salt water has been suggested in the official advice. Another yoga kriya is nasal washing known as neti. This involves flushing out the nasal passages with warm salt water. With the head forward and turned to the side, water can be poured from a container with a spout, up one nostril so that it flows out through the other (the gentle version), squirted up with a sinus rinse bottle, or simply sniffed up each nostril, while holding the other one closed. A good time to do this is before breathing exercises, after being exposed to pollution and, at the present time, after being around other people.
Examples of nasal washing devices all available on Amazon.
For many years, I noticed that my nasal membranes got so dry in airplanes that my nose would bleed. I took to rubbing a drop of olive oil inside each nostril, whenever I fly (or spend long periods in an air-conditioned atmosphere), which completely cured the problem.
In the last couple of years, because airplanes have long been notorious for spreading infections, I have taken to adding to my little travel bottle of olive oil, a couple of drops of tea tree essential oil (approx 1:10). Tea tree is reputed to have anti-viral properties. I cannot say I have any evidence for this as protection against germs, but it is pleasant and unlikely to do harm. NEVER use essential oils undiluted as they may cause irritation.
DRY SKIN BRUSHING is a method of all over exfoliating to help keep skin healthy and the skin is the immune system’s first line of defence. You can read my post about it here
The other factor we hear a lot about is stress. A certain amount of stress is actually good for us, but too much and over too sustained a period is not.
So in the time-honoured words from the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; “DON’T PANIC”!!!
Learn to relaxxxxxxxxx…… This might be easier said than done, especially for those who are so used to being constantly wound up those few extra turns, that they are no longer even aware of it! An indication is if you are someone who finds it a big challenge just to be still and do nothing for 10 minutes and immediately want to reach for your phone. Here is a hypnotherapy recording by Trevor Sylvester to help you relax and strengthen the immune system
Every now and then, practise taking a different perspective. This is called pratipaksha bhavanam. Imagine taking a step back from yourself and seeing what you are doing, thinking and feeling as if from some some distance away. Apply the bigger picture view and ask yourself what is the wisest way to proceed – for your own well-being and happiness and for all others around you.
Learn the art and skill of relaxation. Find what works best for you. Start with short power naps and progress to longer guided relaxation. Eventually you could dive into the deeper aspects of meditative consciousness in yoga nidra. Find a position that is comfortable and works for you. Savasana, the yoga ‘corpse’ pose with some supports works for many people.
Restorative yoga is exactly what it says, using supported yoga postures to deeply relax and to release tension from different areas of the body in various positions in order to restore energy and optimal function.
Establish a routine to help ensure you get good sleep.
• Aim to go to bed at the same time most nights
• Eat supper well before bedtime, avoid caffeine and minimise alcohol consumption
• Stop using all electronic media several hours before bed
• If your mind is worried / preoccupied, read or watch something that transports you into another state, but be careful of over stimulating the mind in a different way
If you are going through periods of insomnia, don’t worry, try to snuggle up and luxuriate in the fact that you don’t have to get up yet. As long as you are resting your body can still replenish itself. If your mind is too restless, listen to a relaxation or yoga nidra recording, which will also help enable your body to restore itself.
What do you love? Think of the places, people you hang out with, pets, activities that you most enjoy, that give you a sense of well-being / peace / joy / calm / okay-ness, or when you can become so wonderfully absorbed in the moment that you forget yourself. Make sure you give time to them regularly. It is good for your health.
What simple things in your life is it easy to feel grateful for? The feeling of gratitude is good for our health.
And finally the joy and healing power of laughter. I believe it is our saving grace. it gives us distance and perspective and stops us from taking ourselves and life too seriously.
Try watching this video, see what happens to you and how it makes you feel.
“Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out of it alive!” ~ Elbert Hubbard