The world is changing and I daresay it will become a better place. Being an eternal optimist, I will nevertheless say it: The earth will become a healthier place precisely due to Corona. This hope however does not change the fact that I am deeply distressed at the increasing human cost being extracted by this epidemic.
The Human Body
The human body is a self-sustaining engineering marvel, created by nature through holistic processes that are beyond the ken of any human mind. Science does have a basic understanding of it, but in a rudimentary schematic fashion. Humanity has made so-called breakthrough discoveries and progress in various fields such as genetic engineering, cloning, surgery, psychology, medicine, manufacturing and space travel; but each of these fields is fragmented, cut-off from other knowledge sinks. These fields have a blinkered subject specific view and do not comprehend life, the body and the universe as belonging to a singular continuum or state of unity.
Difference between the scientific and yogic understanding of life and body
At the current state of science, life is viewed and understood as a series of systemic functions. Correspondingly modern medicine and healing also takes a piecemeal approach to treating the human body. Yogic science however treats the body as a whole. Here each body function is dependent upon all the well-being of all other body parts and their functions. Optimum health is an outcome of optimal diet, exercise, sleep and breathing.
Stress and modern lifestyle are an enemy of your health
Modern day living and its vices are particularly damaging to the human immune system. Contemporary lifestyle subjects the body and immunity to a rather large array of artificial and destructive influences: unhealthy diets, alcohol, smoking, drug abuse, stress etc. All these factors contribute to a reduction of ability of the immune system to identify and tackle challenges. Stress has become a very commonplace and largely accepted outcome of life nowadays; this more than anything else contributes to a breakdown in the body’s ability to defend itself against bacteria and viruses.
When stressed, the hormone cortisol stays in the blood for extended periods of time, to which the body develops a resistance, leading to increased internal inflammation. Cortisol is nature’s built-in alarm system; and your body’s main stress hormone. It works with certain parts of your brain to control your mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol is responsible for the body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis. Besides cortisol also plays an important role in a number of things your body does. For example, it:
- controls how your body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins
- prevents inflammation
- the regulation of blood pressure
- increases blood sugar (glucose) in the system
- controls your sleep/ waking cycle
- boosts energy to help handle stress and to restore balance afterward
Hence a cortisol imbalance – too little or too much, will understandably be detrimental to the above metabolic functions. For instance, when your body is on high alert, cortisol can alter or shut down functions that get in the way. These might include your digestive or reproductive systems, your immune system, or even your growth processes.
Stress impairs the immune system’s ability to cope with and eliminate harmful microbes. One such microbe, the corona-virus has suddenly gained scarily dangerous proportions. It has created an epidemic across the world and has had fatal consequences for hundreds of thousands across the globe, old and young. It has proven to be especially devastating for aging people. The coronavirus however, on a whole, is not a new entity for the human body. The corona-virus belongs to the family of viruses which causes the common-cold and other influenza like respiratory illnesses in humans. A healthy body and immune system are perfectly capable of warding off this virus.
Yoga and Meditation boost immunity
As recognized, regular practice of yoga is like a great health insurance policy. Yoga stimulates both components of our autonomic immune system – the parasympathetic (PNS) and sympathetic nervous system (SNS). In other words, doing yoga boosts the immune system as a whole. In addition, yogic breathing exercises are known to be particularly beneficial to the respiratory system. As already widely known and experienced, our breath has a direct correlation with stress and tension. For the purpose of stress reduction therefore, I am going to talk about yoga techniques that affect the parasympathetic nervous system. The good news is that yoga balances & stimulates the PNS, or calming side of the equation. This in turn is proven to reduce stress and strengthen the immune system. You learn how to control your breathing during āsana (maintained body posture) practice, and also during specific breathing exercises known as Prānāyāma, as also while meditating. All of these yoga practices have been shown to reduce your blood pressure and the heart rate. This in turn fortifies your immune system and helps it respond more effectively when dealing with challenges such as corona-virus related ailments.
A simple QED therefore: yoga poses boost immunity. And we all have read, heard and seen how compromised immunity multiplies the severity of Covid-19; it has lead to fatalities in hundreds of thousands of cases.
Below are a few photos where I walk you through yoga sequences or āsanas that will not only help to de-stress the nervous system and calm your mind; these are known to strengthen the immune system and support the body in warding off illness. These are yoga poses that boost immunity.
The Padmāsana for practicing prānāyām stimulates our internal organs and helps balance our hormones. The rhythmic breathing cleanses our respiratory passages and consequently our lungs. The lungs as we all know, are responsible for extracting the oxygen out of the air and supplying it to our bodies; this process also involves removing the impurities in the air and detoxing our body and its organs. Fresh oxygen is very essential to the smooth functioning of all our body systems and hence also the immune system.
The rhythmic pattern of the breath and our focus on it also helps in creating a meditative ambiance in our mind. Meditation calms the mind, removes anxiety and assists body functions, allowing the immune system to stay alert.
The Vrikshasana: The importance of vrikshasana (tree pose) comes from the fact that you (the practitioner) has to learn to find his or her inner balance and synchronize it with the breath. This asana helps you to automatically clear your mind, because it requires a lot of focus to achieve and maintain.
The best time to practice this asana is the morning hours, under the sun. According to the theoretical significance, this asana helps you create a pyramid like shape that helps draw energy from the sun and distribute it equally across our body.
Sunlight is an essential element of life, and boosts our health and immunity naturally.
The Dhanurasana (Bow pose) is a great way to help your lungs get more oxygen. During this pose, the rib-cage gets stretched – opening the lungs and helping it increase it’s breathing capacity. As previously determined, there is a direct correlation between our breath and our immune system. Hence, doing this asana helps fortify the immune system automatically, besides improving your flexibility, reducing belly fat and stimulating the spinal cord.
The Ardha-matsyendra-asana stimulates the pancreas, the organ that produces insulin. Insulin, in turn, helps control our sugar; it regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and protein by promoting the absorption of glucose from the blood into liver, fat and skeletal muscle cells. Of course good health of our blood, liver and bones is very essential to having a strong immunity. Please remember our body is not just the sum of all its organs; but viewed from a yogic lens, our body is but one system, that requires a balance of all its organs & systems, including the immune system for optimal operation.
Last but by no means the least, I would like to mention that this asana helps people afflicted by diabetes, both type 1 and 2, manage their diabetes. And if you have diabetes, you already understand the direct connection between insulin, health, and the immune system.
Yoga is the path to balance and inner strength
CoVID-19 is a new type of coronavirus and the human immune system has been caught off-guard. As we all watch the figures roll in, we can roughly calculate that this ailment has had a fatality rate of roughly 6 to 8% so far. It has been said that about 80% of those who catch CoVID will experience only mild symptoms. These are mostly people whose metabolisms and immune-systems are in balance. Now, I will not claim that yoga is either a cure or a vaccine, but out of personal experience of working with a range of patients I can affirm with confidence that it helps the body build, maintain an optimal balance and functioning; and that will automatically translate into a healthy immune system.
A strong immune system is of course an enviable asset especially at a time such as this.
Yoga mat? What’s that??
If you’re looking for the perfect mat to practice on at home, check out some eco-friendly recommendations in the Yoga-gear section of the website. A good yoga mat is a useful tool to help enhance your practice and postures, so yes, please do try to get yourself a mat on which you feel comfortable. However, please do not let the lack of a mat turn into an excuse for delaying practice and neglect strengthening your immunity. In the Covid era, the experience of weak supply chains is a stark reality that we may have to learn to live with for some time.
So, I am offering a few suggestions below that will assist you to begin your practice ASAP. A dedicated mat is a great tool when learning and practicing yoga, but remember: the purpose of yoga is to foster harmony in the body, mind, and environment; to be a system of increasing self-awareness and to decrease disease. The purpose of a yoga mat is consequently just to aid body awareness and regulation. A mat is therefore simply a rectangular piece of PVC or natural or recycled rubber, jute organic cotton or natural cotton; its main function is to provide proper traction and cushioning; to reduce the stress on your joints. It also increases your stability and prevents your body from slipping when it gets sweaty.
So, keeping these points in mind you can find many alternate materials at home that will provide similar benefits as a yoga mat. Here are few tips to replace a mat when you do not have one nearby:
- Beach Towels. They aren’t just for lounging by the pool!
- Woven Blankets. Take those extra throw blankets out, fold them into a long rectangular and — voila!
- A Grassy Lawn.
- The Beach.
- Grippy Socks.
- A Bath Mat.
- Wooden flooring
? – Om: for health & in peace – ?