Is it only me, or has anyone not noticed a difference when walking down their local high street since 19th July? I hardly see anyone with their masks off. And I don’t blame people from being cautious – it was hardly the ‘freedom day’ we were all promised! Not only is Covid very much still around, I think people are wary of getting all the normal stuff that usually goes round when people get close to each other – the chesty coughs, bunged up noses, sniffles and sneezes that make up the usual seasonal bugs.
But we don’t really want to be living in masks forever, so here are my tips on how to stay healthy after lockdown.
These are the four main ways the yoga can help with immunity:
🧘♀️ Condition the lungs and respiratory system
For this we need to be taking those lovely deep diaphragmatic or belly breaths. So as we inhale, we actively allow the abdomen to expand, with the chest movement remaining at a minimum, and then we allow the exhale to happen naturally.
A really great pranayama, or breath exercise, to strengthen the diaphragm is cubic breathing. It has been shown that the ability of the lungs to breath well is directly related to longterm health. The lungs need to be both compliant – ie able to stretch (inhale) and elastic ie able to retract (exhale) in equal measure. Practising holding and extending all four parts of the breath allows us to increase the range of motion of the diaphragm. Try this – inhale for 4 counts, hold at the top of the breath for 4 counts, exhale for 4 counts, and then hold at the bottom of the breath for 4 counts.
🧘♀️ Stimulate the lymphatic system, ridding the body of toxins
The lymphatic system protects your body from foreign invaders, maintains the fluid levels in your body, and transports and removes waste. Lymph could be described as the fluid of the immune system, lymph nodes trapping all the foreign particles that the body wants to get rid of. In fact, in Ayurveda they call the lymph ‘longevity juice’! We can see this most clearly in children, who’s swollen lymph glands in the throat tend to me more visible than ours. What does that say about their lively and active immune systems!
The lymphatic system doesn’t have a central pump to move it around the body like our blood does but rather moves through the body both with our movement, and with our breath. The central hub of the lymphatic system – called the cisterns chyli – is located just below the diaphragm. Studies have shown that the more effectively we breath, the better lymph is pumped through the body. When we are asleep, it is the breath that keeps our lymphatic system working. When we aren’t asleep though, the more we can keep moving the better. In your yoga practice, some dynamic flows like sun salutations will help to get the muscles working and the lymph pumping, and you can also add some firey pulses into standing postures or lunges to pump the calves.
🧘♀️Increase introspection to achieve greater homeostasis
Interoception is the way that our body communicates with the brain – it is the perception of the state of the body. It has been shown that our unconscious body states…digestion, heart rate, breathing etc….influence our emotional behaviour and decision making (Eric Ceunen, 2016). An example of this and one we can probably all relate to is the feeling of being ‘hangry’. We feel hunger in our bellies and our emotional response is one of anger. Our inner awareness is changing our outer behaviour.
The primary function of interoception is homeostasis. Homeostasis – the ability to maintain a stable internal state – helps to reduce inflammation, which leads to heart disease and chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, digestive issues and mood disorders like depression, and also autoimmune disorders.
Poor interoception leads to a lack of homeostasis and then more diseases can take hold. It has been shown that those with higher interoception have better health, and also catch issues earlier.
Poor interoception can lead to; pain, negative emotions, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, high blood pressure, poor emotional regulation, and cancer related fatigue.
Good interoception allows for increased vagal tone, improved heart rate variability and allows our autonomic nervous system to function optimally. It also increases our ability to recover from stressors, maintain better emotional stability and better resilience.
The way to tap into our interoception – and is the way I teach alongside the faster paced dynamics of the vinyasa flow based class – is to use slow and subtle movement. The faster your movement becomes, the more you miss. It is usual to be taught to listen to our hamstrings, or our glutes, or any other muscle that might be crying out as we twist ourselves into more and more pretzel shaped positions. But rarely are we taught how to stop and listen to what is going on inside. What is the breath like, how does the energy feel in that part of the body? What is this posture trying to tell you? This is really the powerful side of yoga, not the Power Yoga we see on Instagram and in sweaty studios. This is the power to change the mind as well as the body….slow movement deserves a place in every class.
🧘♀️Lower the stress hormones that can compromise the immune system
There is a robust body of research that suggests yoga and mediation can lower stress and decrease inflammation. Breathwork that allows the exhale to lengthen and the heart rate to slow taps into the parasympathetic nervous system – our rest & digest mode associated with the hormone acetylcholine which lowers the heart rate. Now let me say for the record, there is nothing wrong with stress. Not in short bursts. It allows us to be more productive, to be aware of danger, and even to boost memory. The problem lies when we are in this mode all the time. When the body never goes back to its resting state. Not only does meditation enable us to bring about his parasympathetic state, but also the immune system works best at rest. A double wammy.
But staying healthy is not just about yoga. We can also compliment our practice with these natural herbs and oils:
🌱 Echinacea to slow the development and reduce intensity of upper respiratory viral infections
🌱Elderberry syrup for vitamins C&A and lots of antioxidants
🌱Omega 3 to elicit a strong immune response
🌱Frankincense to stimulate the the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, encouraging them to amp up immune response. AND it’s anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory
🌱Oregano for it’s anti-microbial effects, limiting the growth of certain kinds of bacteria
I for one am all about the prevention rather than the cure, and it’s much easier to keep to remedies natural when it’s that way round too. So, keep up the yoga, stock up in your local health food store, and make sure you stay healthy after lockdown!
Be sure to check out my instagram for more wellbeing hints and tips.