Immune Health: 6 Yoga & Ayurvedic Tips for Navigating the Seasons
Your immune system is made up of many components including the tonsils, thymus gland, circulatory systems (including the lymphatic system), digestive tract, and bone marrow. Each of these systems, or parts of the body, plays a unique role in helping your body fight against foreign invaders such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites.
The immune system changes with age. For example, as we age recovery from a cold becomes a slower process. Immune functions are proven to decrease when faced with chronic stress, which is why yoga and a yogic lifestyle are so important for maintaining your health. As soon as you get that “hunch” that you might be getting sick—maybe your throat feels swollen or you have super-low energy—stop what you’re doing and start planning your self-care time before the cold has time to settle in.
I’ve broken down the components of the immune system here and listed some practical ways that yoga, nutrition, and Ayurveda can help. I hope this serves you well in the seasons ahead.
1. Nose-to-Throat Support
- Neti/Nasya oil
- Gargle with salt, herbs or oil
- Soothing Throat Spray (Herb Pharm brand) used 5-8 times a day
- Teas with licorice, ashwagandha, ginger, and honey (consume 3-4 cups when feeling at risk of catching a cold)
- Essential oil therapeutics. Place several drops of one of the following antimicrobial oils in a diffuser: eucalyptus, silver fir, lemon, lemongrass, palo santo, tulsi, pinon pine
2. Lymphatic System
- Stay hydrated
- Do dynamic movements including inversions, muscle contraction and relaxation, and twists
- Get a massage or do self-massage
- Dry brushing
3. Circulatory System (heart and blood vessels)
- Eat a heart-healthy diet (avoid or minimize red meat, fried foods, processed foods, and alcohol)
- Exercise (to reduce blood pressure, lower bad cholesterol, strengthen heart muscle and support blood vessels to improve blood flow)
4. Digestive System (your second brain)
- Breathing practices: Uddiyana Bandha, Agni Sara, Kapalabhati
- Well-balanced practice with forward bends, twists, prone backbends, and inversions
- Asanas that target lymphatic channels and nodes (neck, armpit, chest, abdomen, pelvis, groin)
- Pump and release technique (tighten and relax muscles in poses)
- Restorative or Yin Yoga
Ayurvedic Food Rules
- Elimination diet plus kitchari to rebalance the gut
- When you feel low energy or sick, eat simple food combos and soup
- 1-2 Tsp. chyavanprash at day
- Digestive teas: fennel, ginger, lemon, peppermint, tulsi
5. Bone Marrow
- Consume bone broth; it provides the nutritional synergy to calm an overactive immune system while supplying the body with raw materials to rebuild stronger and healthier cells
6. Food as Medicine
For optimal health during cold and flu season, stock your home with the foods listed below. When you are stressed out, on the verge of getting sick, or feel low energy, make a soup with these seasonal vegetables and proteins. I often recommend soups because they are hydrating, easy to digest and force us to sit down when we eat. When your immune system feels compromised, eat soup!
- Vitamin A: Seaweed, mustard greens, kale, spinach, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, squashes, fish liver oil, egg yolks, milk products, dried mango, peaches, papaya, apricots,
- Vitamin B6: Fish, poultry, egg yolk, meats (organ meats are best), whole grains, wheat germ, soybeans, prunes, cauliflower, cabbage, avocados
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, rose hips, strawberries, green peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley
- Vitamin E: Cold-pressed vegetable oil, seed and nut oils, egg yolks, milk fat, liver
- Iron: Cooking in iron pots or skillets, brewer’s yeast, kale, dandelion greens, wheat germ, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, red animal meats and organs, eggs, salmon, oats, brown rice, lima, beans, soybeans, kidney beans, almonds, Brazil nuts, prunes, blackstrap molasses (the latter is great added to oatmeal in the morning)
- Zinc: Oysters, red meats, herring, egg yolks, milk products, whole wheat, rye, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds
- Mushrooms: Eat a variety. Mushroom polysaccharides improve immune function by increasing the activity of macrophages, which have a voracious appetite for harmful microorganisms and cancerous cells.
Reprinted with permission from Melina Meza.