Research is beginning to show the relationship between emotional stress and the depletion of the immune system, and suggests that, alongside all the practical and nutritional advice, we need to find healthy ways to deal with stress and anxiety to keep the immune system functioning well.
Yoga is therapy for the body, mind and spirit. Combined with an understanding of the relationship between food and healing, we have at our disposal a powerful tool-kit to strengthen our body’s defences and speed up the healing process. Click HERE for a yoga routine to strengthen your immune system.
BREATHE – try this while you’re reading. Sit up. Breathe slowly in through your nose. Relax your jaw and your tongue. Slowly and steadily release the breath through your nose and ‘watch’ as your lungs become empty. Pause……. breathe in again, softly and smoothly, pause……. and slowly, steadily breathe out, ‘watching’ right through to the end. Let your breathing return to normal. You have just improved your cardiac cohesion.
Defend yourself against Colds and ‘Flu – in Chinese medicine, these are called ‘exterior’ conditions and are often easiest to treat and cure while they are still showing exterior symptoms. They become harder to treat when they become ‘interior’. (See below for the early signs.) Their effects are first felt in the parts of the body exposed to the exterior – the skin and the mucous membranes of the nose, throat and lungs. So to defend against these viruses, we need to strengthen and support these areas in our bodies. Here are some suggestions:
Make your own Vitamin C – if you are already eating a well-balanced diet with lots of fresh fruit and veg, Vitamin C supplements are probably not necessary. Research shows that large doses of synthetic Vitamin C can be counter productive and can lead to the depletion of some minerals, plus other complications. So alongside the usual vitamin C-rich foods, consider the following:
- Foods high in Vitamin C include sprouted seeds – a cheap and highly nutritious food you can prepare yourself at home. Keep a selection of alfalfa, aduki, chick peas, lentils, mung beans, sunflower seeds, the list goes on…, in your cupboard and sprout away. (Scroll down for a short ‘how to’ video.) N.B. If you tend to feel the cold, always steam or sautée your sprouted seeds.
- To promote a healthy gut, I recommend a daily dose of live natural yogurt – sheep, goat, or soya. For the ultimate daily dose, with many other immune-boosting ingredients plus anti-oxidants and protein, see my Immune Boosting Smoothie recipe.
- Pau D’arco – to cleanse and strengthen the intestines, this amazing herb is helpful in preparing the body to fight infection. Take regularly as a tea – it tastes lovely! If you tend to have intestinal problems, IBS or Candida for instance, try the capsules, which also contain Goldenseal (see BELOW). Along with a dietary clean-up, no sugar, alcohol, wheat etc. these will help to clean, tone and strengthen your intestines.
- Astragalus – one of the key uses for astragalus is to improve immune function. One of the ways astragalus is thought to work is by increasing the production of immune cells. It may also have mild antiviral activity and help with the prevention of colds. Use Echinacea/Goldenseal (See BELOW) should you notice signs of colds or flu.
- Light your oil burner – keep the atmosphere around you as healthy as possible, in the home and at work. Vapourised, these essential oils can help to combat air-borne viruses and bacteria.
- Oregano oil is exceptionally antiseptic and it also has potent anti-viral properties.
- Tea-tree oil has similar properties, and is very helpful for coughs, colds, sore throats and breathing difficulties.
- Take a handkerchief with oregano or tea-tree oil into any situation where there is air conditioning, especially on a flight.
- To ease breathing difficulties, both tea-tree and oregano are useful as vapour inhalations. Put 3-6 drops in 4 pints of very hot water and breathe the vapours, with your head under a towel if possible. (You can use them this way in the house, if you don’t have an oil burner.)
- Add a few drops of either tea-tree or oregano oil to rinse water for laundry and for wiping down surfaces.
Sweat therapy has been used as a preventive and as a remedy in the early stages of colds and ‘flu for millennia – think Native American sweat lodge, Scandinavian sauna, British hot toddy! Sweating during the early stages helps to rid the body of the virus and defend against its deeper penetration into the body.
- Make a herbal hot toddy – drink a cup or more of diaphoretic herbal tea, such as yarrow, chamomile, catnip, peppermint, or fresh root ginger. Add lemon juice and raw honey to the tea if preferred. Take a hot bath or shower, cover in blankets and sweat. (Do not sweat to the point of exhaustion, however.) After sweating, change to fresh bedding and clothing, and rest. If baths are not convenient, drink the tea every half hour until sweating is induced. Once is often enough for this process, but it can be repeated twice a day until the exterior symptoms lift. (N.B. Sweating in this way is only helpful for people who are normally in robust health. It is not suitable for people who are weak or unusually thin.)
- Echinacea and Goldenseal – used periodically, this powerful combination fights inflammation and bacterial and viral infection. It also stimulates certain white blood cells so is good for the immune system and the lymphatic system. You can take it in capsule form or as a tincture (my favourite, but you may need to modify the taste). Keep some handy and if you notice any symptoms, start to take it. Don’t take for more than 8 weeks.
BREATHE, slowly in through your nose, lift your chest……. and breathe steadily out. Pause…. and do that once more. Relax your jaw, relax your tongue. Breathe in, lift your chest, pause……. and slowly breathe out, following your breath right to the end.