As the world reports more COVID-19 outbreaks, it’s important to recognize that just stress alone can weaken one’s immune system. This can make make one more susceptible to pathogen infections such as viruses, bacteria, or other microorganisms that can cause disease.
During this time of vulnerability, we must commit to intentional practices that bolster our resiliency with daily lifestyle strategies that will nurture and support primary prevention as well as overall health.
Pathogens usually enter our bodies through the mouth, eyes, nose, urogenital openings, and or through breached skin. Pathogens can be spread by indirect contact when an infected person touches a surface and leaves behind microbes that are then transferred to another person who touches that same surface and then touches his or her mouth, eyes, or nose.
Pathogens can also be spread “airborne” through what we would call droplets. By sneezing, coughing, or talking we can transmit pathogens through direct or indirect contact with mucous membranes of the mouth, eyes, or nose of another person. However, it’s important to recognize and digest that pathogen infection does not necessarily mean disease.
Infection occurs when viruses, bacteria, or other microbes enter your body and begin to multiply. In response to a pathogen invasion, our immune system steps in and tries to rid the infection from the body. When our immune system is working correctly, it fights off infections and keeps us healthy. But, when our immune system is not working correctly, germs and other abnormal cells in the body can easily cause disease. Disease, which typically happens in a small percent of infected people, occurs when the cells in the body are damaged. This is why strengthening one’s immune system should and can be the first and foremost pathogen prevention priority.
Boosting Immunity Through Ayurveda
According to Ayurveda, balanced digestion aka. Sama Agni (balanced digestive/metabolic fire), proper liver functioning, and overall balance in the endocrine system all nurture, boost, and inspire the proper functioning of our immune systems. Ojas (vital sap, vigor, immunity) is the end product of perfect digestion. During vulnerable times – cold and flu season, the junctions between seasons, major life-events and or transitions, and during times of elevated stress – we need to remain mindful and intentional about how we are proactively protecting and nourishing our Ojas (immunity).
Tending to our Agni (digestive fire) is the steadfast way to nurture proper ojas, but the simple lifestyle wisdom offered below can also assist in promoting optimal health, bolstering Ojas, and ensuring proper immunity during adverse times in our lives.
Realigning our lives with the rhythms of nature. It can be as simple as rising with the sun and sleeping with the moon. Ideally one should be waking between 5-6 AM and going to bed prior to 10 PM. Understanding and honoring the natural and biological oscillations found within the 24-hour clock can have a profound effect on our physiology and healthy cellular function.
Our Agni (digestive fire) can be strengthened through mindful eating practices (sadhana), eating with intention (including all six-tastes at each meal), and by maintaining a regular eating schedule (eat meals at consistent times) each day leaving about 4 hr intervals between meals to allow for the gross digestive process to take place. Lunch should be our largest meal of the day, as this is when our digestive fire (metabolism) is at its peak. When necessary, one should also follow a pacifying diet. Meaning if there is a current state of imbalance in the doshas (mind-body types) one needs to follow a nutritional plan that can help pacify (assist in balancing) that current state of imbalance. If you are wanting to learn more about your current state or condition (vikriti) in efforts to understand what tastes, foods, and lifestyle strategies can support bringing you optimally back into a state of balance please consider my Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consult service offering. This offering will provide you with a fully customized lifestyle plan, specific to your imbalances, that will act as your intentional guide-map to facilitating optimal health and well-being.
Prioritizing self-care, proper sleep (in bed by 10 PM with 7-9 hrs of sleep each night), establishing a daily routine (dinacharya / nourishing daily practices) like tongue scraping, garshana, and abhyanga, as well as stress management practices like daily pranayama, meditation, and yoga, can all be helpful lifestyle strategies to protect and promote proper immune system functioning.
Caring for the senses: our ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and skin can be beneficial in boosting immunity. Ayurveda tells us that proper digestion not only takes into account the food and nutrients we ingest but also all sensory perceptions. This is why healing through the five senses can be a profound way to further regulate Agni, as well as profoundly assist in balancing the mind (Maha Gunas aka. qualities of the mind). Things like sound therapy, healing sights (spending time in nature), aromatherapy, taste therapy (the inclusion of all six-tastes at mealtimes), and therapeutic touch (practices like Thai Yoga) can all be useful lifestyle strategies to nourish the senses, further revitalizing and nurturing immunity.
The thymus gland, both a lymphatic organ and endocrine organ, located just beneath the upper part of the breastbone in the middle of the chest. This gland produces t-cells which help to fight off infection. Thus, proper thymus function can help to support our immunity. Increasing our VDR (vitamin D receptor) through foods we consume or even through direct sunlight exposure (note: the belly is the best place to absorb natural sunlight) can help activate the thymus gland. Other yogic practices such as tapping the thymus gland can further assist in thymus activation improving overall well-being, strength, and vitality.
Adaptogens like ashwagandha, holy basil (tulsi), brahmi, maca, shatavari, reishi, ginseng, chyavanprash (a nutritive jam), etc. can be helpful in facilitating and supporting a healthy stress response. Adaptogens are non-toxic plants/herbs, roots, and or mushrooms that have an impact on the body’s adrenal system. Adaptogens work to help to restore balance in our hormonal and physiological responses to stress. They ensure that our bodies, minds, immune systems, and energy levels function optimally. Some are even known to improve digestion and weight loss. Ways to incorporate these nourishing herbs into your daily nutritional regimen are perhaps through adaptogenic teas, tinctures, capsules, chutneys, jams, or through powder form. While adaptogens are natural compounds with minimal to no side effects, it is always wise to exercise awareness with your physician prior to including or combining these natural supplements into your daily routine.
One sure way to reduce stress, which aids in immune functioning, is to simply live your life to its fullest every day. Do not allow fear of illness to paralyze you. Remember there is an “I” in illness and a “We” in wellness. Once we get through this time of hankering down at home in quarantine and social distancing, get outside, soak up the sun, spend time with friends, family, and peers. Go to the gym, yoga center, grocery store, farmer’s markets, etc. Cultivate deep understanding that community alone has an impact on our well-being.