Lately, everywhere you turn you find something documented on the flu and how it has reached epidemic proportions. As of this writing, according to the CDC 47 states are under “widespread reports” of the flu. All of us know at least someone working through it, or have battled it ourselves!
Granted, circumstances that maximize our exposure to the flu as well as other viruses and bacteria, will heighten our chances of contracting disease…not to mention other factors such as stress that weaken the immune system and render us more susceptible.
So…other than or in addition to the flu shot, how else can we better “arm” ourselves to avoid or combat disease? One key consideration is to do what you can to strengthen your immune system so that it is “ready for battle”.
The good news? If you’re reading this newsletter, you probably already place some value on fitness. So let’s talk about “fitness” in its broadest and most enduring sense…as in ‘fit to perform’ (strong, active, and resilient), in other words: healthy!
We already know that taking care of our body (working out/eating right) is vital to health, and good health means you are less susceptible to disease. So how do we ensure that our fitness practices keep us strong, active and resilient abundantly, into the future, and with less “stumbling blocks” from disease along the way? Healing (Nurturing) practices such as Yoga and Qigong have proven to be instrumental in boosting the immune system and fighting disease.
At the most basic level (just in case I can’t hold your attention for the entire article…), Yoga and Qigong both involve several specific breathing techniques that strengthen the respiratory system by improving the mechanical efficiency of our lungs, increasing the elasticity and strength of the whole lung to help prevent infection. Colds are caused by bacteria that affect the upper respiratory system. If the immune system is weak, the bacteria can go into the lungs and cause bronchitis or pneumonia.
A Short Primer on the Immune System
The lymphatic system is part of the circulatory system, comprising a network of conduits called lymphatic vessels that carry a clear fluid called lymph. This fluid picks up bacteria and viruses and filters them out via lymph nodes. Lymphatic organs play an important part in the immune system, having a considerable overlap with the lymphoid system. Lymphoid tissue is found in many organs particularly the lymph nodes and in the lymphoid follicles. Lymphoid tissues contain lymphocytes, which is the primary cellular component of lymph (that fluid we just spoke of that moves/filters bacteria and viruses from the body), as well as other types of cells for support. The system also includes all the structures dedicated to the circulation and production of lymphocytes, including the thymus (also known as the “immune gland”), among other structures.
Nurturing practices such as Qigong and Yoga include physical exercises and specific breath work that, in addition to increasing muscular strength, have been proven to: improve circulation of fluids, movement of toxins, and mechanical efficiency of internal organs, stimulate glandular activity, and clear blockages throughout the body.
Keeping Things Flowing…
Our modern society has afforded us the luxury to work comfortably while seated at a desk most of the day. Sadly, our organs don’t find comfort in this, since this position inhibits circulation. Things don’t keep flowing and this leads to blockages and toxin buildup which compromises our immunities…our ability to fight disease.
Yoga poses (exercises) place the body in specific positions that allows for massaging of internal organs and glandular stimulation while at the same time strengthening of our muscles (very efficient!). When these moves are actively executed in combination with the breath, our organs are supplied with freshly oxygenated blood, helping them function at their best. Recent research has indicated that immune gland function from the Thymus can be activated through breath work and yoga poses that stimulate the chest area (cobra, bow, and locust). The Thymus gland undergoes natural degeneration with age, and practicing yoga can improve its function and boost immunity. Also, yoga poses that invert the body (head below heart) for instance, increase circulation of lymph, which helps filter out bacteria through the lymph nodes.
Equally relevant – Qigong practice has been associated with the increase of white blood cells. Of particular significance is the fact that studies have shown the percentage of lymphocytes to be elevated after Qigong “workouts”. Further research has shown Qigong practice to have a regulating/normalizing effect on immune function. After practicing Qigong, elevated white blood cell count decreased for appendicitis patients, while the low count in cancer patients after chemotherapy increased to normal. Studies also showed improvements in cellular immunity. After 3 months of Qigong practice lymphocyte transformation rate increased by 1.1%.
So what are you waiting for? Take time to strengthen and heal and complement your functional training workouts with Nurturing Practices! And in the process…you might shorten your colds and maybe bypass the flu altogether!
1. Eisen, M. Part 13 (a): Qigong and the Immune System. May 2011. Yang Sheng