Struggling to stay healthy and vital this winter? If so, these simple yoga and health tips may help you get back on track:
Regular, daily yoga exercise will contribute towards a healthy immune system by increasing blood flow and helping to combat free radicals (unstable oxygen molecules created by environmental toxins that damage the immune response). A few rounds of Sun Salutation are a good place to start when practicing at home.
To target immunity specifically, it is useful to practice any variety of backbend, as this will stimulate the thymus gland (a key player in the immune system), located behind the breastbone. So postures such as Cobra, Bow, Camel, Cat, Locust, Fish and Wheel are useful, either as part of a flowing sequence or on their own, fully supported and held as a Restorative.
Resting with the legs up against the wall - possibly with the hips raised on a bolster or block - is also very beneficial, as the inverted nature of the pose will stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (the body's relaxation response), thus promoting health and wellbeing.
If the sinuses are blocked, Down Dog with block support under the head can be helpful in allowing congestion to drain.
Any controlled breath exercise is recommended to boost immunity, as the nasal passages will be cleared, the lungs strengthened and the body oxygenated (so, Fire Breath, Bellows Breath, Alternate Nostril Breath).
Lion Pose or Dog Breath (which involve touching broad tongue to the chin and either roaring or panting) are particularly good as they dislodge anything unwelcome from the back of the throat.
Hissing Breath works well as it serves to lengthen exhalation (thus stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system - see above): Inhale deeply though the nose and exhale fully through the mouth making a 'hissing' sound, like snake.
MUDRA (Ritual Hand Gesture):
Resting the hands in the lap, interlocking the finger and extending one thumb purposefully upwards in Linga Mudra increases the power of resistance against coughs, colds and chest infections. Used with repetition of an appropriate affirmation (such as 'my body is becoming increasingly strong and healthy'), the gesture can be particularly effective.
AYURVEDA (Preventative Health Measures) - Neti:
Neti is the process of washing out the sinuses with a warm saline solution matching the body's natural pH (ie, it shouldn't sting). It is performed using a neti pot and, if practiced regularly, will assist in keeping the sinus cavity free of pollutants, chemicals and congestion, thus preventing infections that contribute to immune deficiency.
In addition to a well balanced diet full of fruit, veg and wholefoods, the following boosters are recommended:
A drink of hot water mixed with a teaspoon of turmeric and a slice of lemon is a good natural cure-all (let the turmeric powder settle to the bottom when drinking). The lemon is packed with vitamin C, cleanses the body and balances pH levels, whilst the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of the turmeric boost healing.
Honey is another of nature's super tonics, as it restores energy, has a general calming effect and helps to dissolve mucus. Applied externally to the skin, it disinfects and heals minor wounds. Cold pressed honey is best, as heating it tends to dilute its charge.
Apple Cider Vinegar is a particularly potent natural pick-me-up, with its health benefits having been documented through thousands of years. It's known to have anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, and anti-viral properties. It also contains important minerals, trace elements and vitamins as well acetic acid, propionic acid, lactic acid, enzymes, amino acids and roughage in the form of potash and apple pectin. Apple Cider Vinegar's vitamin content includes Vitamin C, Vitamin E, Vitamin A, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B6, Provitamin beta-carotene, Vitamin P (bioflavonoids). A capful in an inch or so of water is a good way to take it.
Magnesium is an essential mineral for staying healthy and is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. Multiple health benefits of magnesium include transmission of nerve impulses, body temperature regulation, detoxification, energy production, and the formation of healthy bones and teeth. A mugful of Epsom salts in a hot bath (enjoyed for around 20 mins) will help keep magnesium levels high. In addition, a few drops of mint oil can be added to the water, as inhaling it will kill bacteria on mucous membranes and stimulate the formation of antibodies in the sinus cavity.
Key to a healthy immune system are good quantities of vitamin D (particularly D3), which can only be acquired when bare skin makes contact with sunlight – a rare occurrence in the UK, but possible if we put our minds to it! Fresh air is also important, as it promotes oxygen exchange between blood and air and speeds metabolism, leading to efficient mobilization of energy from nutrients.
Penny Jane Fuller 2016