Your immune system is made up of many components including the tonsils, thymus gland, lymphatic and circulatory systems, 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 like bacteria, viruses, and parasites. The immune system changes with age (recovery from a cold is a slower process) and 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 with 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 (check out www.banyanabotanicals.com)
Gargle with salt/herbs/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
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):
- Uddiyana bandha, Agni sara, Kapala bhati
Well-balanced practice with forward bends, twists, prone back bends, 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
- Eat light breakfast, main meal at lunch, simple dinner like soup before 7pm
Try to eat 30 approximately 30 fruits, vegetables, and spices a week for optimal gut health
Elimination diet + kitchari to rebalance the gut
When you feel low energy or sick, eat simple food combos and SOUP!
1-2 Tsp.Chyavanprash at day (high in Vitamin C)
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
FOOD AS MEDICINE
For optimal health during cold and flu season, stock your home with the following foods. When you are stressed out, on the verge of getting sick, or feel low energy, make a soup with seasonal vegetables and proteins listed below. 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 meat are best), whole grains, wheat germ, soybeans, prunes, cauliflower, cabbage, avocados
- Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, kiwis, rose hips, berries, green and red peppers, broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables, 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, soy beans, kidney beans, almonds, Brazil nuts, prunes, black strap 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. Examples: Reishi, Turkey Tail, Shitake, Chaga or Lion’s Mane.
Other foods suggestions include: garlic, onions, ginger, green tea, nutritional yeast
PRE/PROBIOTICS + FERMENTED FOODS
Some of the most important players in gut health include probiotics (the good bacteria in your gut). Probiotics can be found in supplement form and are also abundant in fermented foods, such as kimchi, sauerkraut, pickled vegetables, tempeh, miso, yogurt, and kefir.