Feeling strong and often uncomfortable during challenging times is completely natural. And while it may be tempting to suppress anger, sadness, grief, and frustration, mental health experts say it can put physical strain on your body and negatively affect your immunity and well-being. When your body is under significant physical or emotional pressure, it has to work harder to find and maintain balance. Fortunately, yoga can help us regain balance during stressful times of the year, turning stress into stress, known as beneficial stress, which helps build resilience. So try to feel restless and rely on your practice to help you deal with these difficult emotions.
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- Basics of Immunity
- Break the stress cycle with yoga
- 5 tips for building immunity
- 1. Keep in touch with others and share your kindness
- 2. Do more yoga
- 4. Practice meditation
- 3. Take a rest!
Basics of Immunity
Your immune system shows your body’s intrinsic healing ability. It fights foreign invaders by sending an army of white blood cells through your bloodstream and a fluid called lymph through your lymphatic system. If you’ve ever noticed swelling in your neck when you are feeling uncomfortable, this is your lymphatic system at work. Lymph nodes become tender and swell in response to illness, stress, or infection. This is a sign that your lymph system is flushing out infection-causing bacteria, viruses, dead or diseased cells, and other antigens – substances that trigger an immune response. Asana and Pranayama support this filtering process by promoting the flow and movement of the lymph.
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See also self-massage of the lymphatic system
Break the stress cycle with yoga
Not all stress is bad. Positive challenges like getting promoted or pursuing a new hobby will help you grow and build resilience.
However, when you feel threatened, your fear center is activated, triggering anxiety and the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which put stress on vital organs, activate the fight or flight response, and prepare you for a response. If your body is in this condition regularly, you may experience increased blood pressure, poor digestion, and decreased immunity. Fortunately, research suggests that you can consciously regulate your stress response, reduce inflammation, and potentially improve immunity with yoga.
Yoga increases activity in the brain’s prefrontal cortex – the part responsible for conscious thinking and emotional regulation – which can help reduce stress. Yoga also decreases activity in the amygdala, the part of your brain that works with the prefrontal cortex to identify threats and process fear.
Regular asana practice can regulate both parts of your brain and decrease the number of times you feel abducted by real or perceived threats.
Poses, breathing work, and deep relaxation practices like meditation also strengthen your body’s ability to move from the stress response (activating the sympathetic nervous system) to the relaxation response (activating the parasympathetic nervous system). Overcoming short-term stress improves the functioning of your immune system and increases your body’s ability to fight and heal antigens.
You’ve probably heard of homeostasis, the dynamic process your body goes through in order to maintain balance. But you may never have heard of allostasis: the dynamic process of maintaining homeostasis in the face of increased stress. For example, if you are under significant stress during a major life change like divorce, death, or even a pandemic, your body has to work harder to find and maintain balance. People are built to be strong and resilient. Yoga can help maintain this resilience.
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5 tips for building immunity
Turn your adversity into eustress to boost your immunity and thrive in difficult situations. Here are five research-backed ways to do this:
1. Keep in touch with others and share your kindness
Humans are social animals designed to be connected. Call your parent, grandparent, old friend, or someone you haven’t spoken to in a while to check in and offer assistance. Helping others gives you a mission, purpose and meaning, and inhibits your brain’s fear center – a phenomenon Stanford researcher Kelly McGonigal calls the “biology of courage”. This approach to taking care of friends will help maintain your optimism and change your body’s negative response to stress.
2. Do more yoga
Even a few minutes of poses or inversions carries infection-fighting white blood cells through your system. Lymph vessels have one-way valves that prevent backflow. Poses where your head is below your heart, such as Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog pose), Salamba Sirsana (assisted headstand), and Viparita Karani (leg up pose), stimulate these valves to open, which eventually leads to opening Brings the lymph back into your bloodstream via the ducts and thus maintains your normal blood volume and blood pressure. To relieve emotional pressure, try practicing yoga to relax at night or the first thing you wake up to. Because dynamic movements and muscle engagement also get your lymph flowing, take small breaks throughout the day to walk in utkatasana (chair posture) or do a little sun salutation on the floor or against your desk.
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3. Cultivate calm with mindful breathing
Longer exhalations stimulate your vagus nerve, which signals your heart to slow down and activate your resting, digestive, and rejuvenating responses. You can start by introducing a simple breathing technique into your daily life or throughout the day: just sit up and consciously breathe more fully, doubling the length of the exhale for an inhale-exhale ratio of 1: 2. Start with a 2-count inhalation and a 4-count exhalation, gradually lengthening as you feel comfortable.
4. Practice meditation
Meditation trains your brain and body to increase the effectiveness of the relaxation response. Here is a visualization to try out: Imagine a light within you that expands with every breath. See it grow beyond your body, your home, your city, and your nation. Imagine your light touching the light of others around you. Try to work on this visualization for up to 20 minutes. Remember: Feeling connected with others is a particularly powerful way to stimulate the immune response.
3. Take a rest!
Sleep is key to maintaining adversity and immunity. Studies show that good quality eye is essential to rejuvenating and repairing your body, so it can support the production of infection-fighting T cells and cytokines, a protein used to fight infection and inflammation. If you can, log in at least seven to eight hours a night. If you can’t, take a 20-minute nap to counterbalance the negative effects of sleep deprivation on your immune system. Beyond the nocturnal eye, take breaks during the day to meditate and relax. Even five mindful minutes an hour or two can be comforting. Or, try this 20-minute yoga nidra, or yoga sleep exercise, before bed.
Also see 5 Ayurvedic Supplements To Stay Calm, Grounded, And Healthy
Images from the Science of Yoga by Ann Swanson, reprinted with permission from DK, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2019 Ann Swanson and Dorling Kindersley Limited.