Nutrition and Immune Function
It’s that time of year again; there is almost always a soup on the stove and everywhere around me people are getting the sniffles.
Students are often telling me how amazed they are about the difference a regular Yoga practice has made to their general health - in winter especially I thank myself every day for the strength that Yoga has given my immune system. I’ve written a little here about immune health & how to boost it, if you’re new to my newsletter you can skip the rant and find out about classes, workshops, meditations & retreats by scrolling to the bottom…
Our bodies are incredible. Each one of us is a walking miracle - so complicated, with so many systems functioning seamlessly together. My 6 year old has become obsessed with the immune system recently, and I have to agree, it's pretty cool.
The immune system consists mainly of the thymus gland, the spleen and lymph nodes, which together generate and circulate immune cells and antibodies.
Deepening your yoga practice to focus on the glandular system invites endless support to your total well-being. The thymus gland sits directly behind the sternum and informs T-cells to attack different antigens or pathogens that invade the system stimulating an immune response. So, the best yoga for strengthening the immune system either expands or puts pressure on the thymus. All back bends are essentially ‘front opening’ poses, and are, therefore expansive to the chest, stimulating blood flow in that area. This can be as simple as a cat & cow stretch or as challenging as a full wheel. The key is to do something every day, so even a couple of minutes of slow cat & cow with deep conscious breath will give you results. We can put pressure directly on to the thymus by tapping the breastbone firmly & repeatedly, or, with a supported matsyasana (fish pose) - this one will feature in all my classes for the rest of winter…it’s a real winner.
Walking briskly every day and blasting yourself with cold water (eek!) in the shower will help to keep your circulation functioning at it’s best, not to mention waking you up the way that no mount of caffeine can compete with. Increased circulation leads to more oxygen in your blood and the creation of more T cells. T cells = Health!
Nutrition plays a huge role, of course, but you don’t need to spend crazy money getting fancy supplements & vitamins. I’m all about whole foods; cheap & cheerful. Here’s 7 winter staples for immune health:
Walnuts are the best. They contain large amounts of omega-3 fats, which have been found to protect against a wide range of illnesses, from cancer and rheumatoid arthritis to depression. Your body can’t make omega-3 fats on its own, so it’s important to eat foods that are high in this healthy fat. Lightly toast them in the oven and add them to a salad. Yum!
Blueberries contain huge amounts of antioxidants. Blueberries contain vitamin A, B, C, E, anthocyanin, copper, iron, selenium and zinc. Obviously not in season but I always keep a big bag in the freezer.
Greek Yogurt. All yogurts are excellent sources of potassium, calcium, zinc and vitamins B6 and B12. What sets Greek Yogurt apart from other types of yogurt is it’s thicker, creamier texture, AND it contains probiotics, is lower in lactose and has twice the protein content of regular yogurts. Don’t be fooled by “low fat” varieties - the normal kind is far superior for your health.
Garlic is said to help defeat the common cold, kill bacteria and even ward off vampires(!). It contains allicin, ajoene and thiosulfinates that help the body prevent and fight infections. It’s most effective raw - if you hate the flavour you can even absorb it through your skin (put a slice inside your socks before bed) and still receive it’s benefits.
Kale. This hearty green vegetable is a nutritional powerhouse. The nutrients in Kale strengthen the immune system and fight viruses and bacteria. It’s a great source of iron, which is an especially important mineral for vegans and vegetarians. Add it to your salads, smoothies, soups, burgers or make kale chips. Other leafy greens like spinach, watercress & chard are also winners and are easily grown in pots for maximum freshness.
Quinoa is an amazing source of protein, containing 9 amino acids. It is rich in both vitamin B2 and magnesium, which may help reduce the frequency of headaches. It also contains other B vitamins and high levels of iron and zinc, minerals necessary for a healthy immune system. You may be aware of the issues in Bolivia stemming from the rise in this humble grain’s popularity - just look for a more locally sourced product; the one I get is from Tassie. Make sure you give it a really good soak (an hour is best I think) & rinse thoroughly before cooking.
Arugula (rocket) is a rich source of calcium, copper, manganese, iron, potassium and phosphorus, all of which help maintain proper levels of pH in the blood. Arugula also has anti-bacterial and anti-viral properties and is a great source of dietary fibre.
Reducing stress has also been proven to increase immune function. If you're reading this chances are you've already experienced with the stress relieving aspects of Yoga & Meditation. Here’s a short, heart-opening meditation for you…enjoy!
Looking forward to seeing you on the mat soon
ps - I’m off to Bali for all of September to teach on 3 retreats, including the first ever Big Hearted Business Creativity & Wellness retreat - exciting!
There are still a few places left for my 7 day Yoga Immersion (6th-13th September, info below) so please let me know if you are interested. I will be finalising dates for my 2015 retreats in the next couple of months - please register your interest and ideal dates for the 'regular' Yoga Retreat and also the FamilyYoga retreat and I will do my best to accommodate you.