The world is facing a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus; COVID19. The news about this pandemic is everywhere. It has affected our food supplies, financial condition, and separated us from our loved ones. A large population is physically and mentally vulnerable. The whole world is anxious at the same time. But the ones who practice yoga regularly have stronger immunity and has less chance of being affected.
In this article, we will not talk about COVID19, everyone’s been doing that. Here, we will talk about how anxiety weakens our immune system and how we can use Yoga, Pranayama, and Meditation to maintain immunity. People are being aware of mental health and it’s importance.
The question is, ‘Is this pandemic only the reason for our anxiety?’. Definitely, not. World’s 80% population suffers from anxiety and stress. Our fast-forward lifestyle is the reason for this. We care less about what kind of food we eat and at what time. Our jobs have become less and less physical and many of us don’t exercise. The routine overwhelms us and we lose the balance between inner and outer world. That is when we start developing anxiety and stress disorder.
Anxiety and the Immune System
Anxiety and stress are necessary for humans to function in day to day life. But, too much anxiety and stress for a long period are harmful psychologically as well as physiologically. It weakens the immune system and increases chronic inflammation. Anxiety puts stress on the body which in turn produces cortisol, a stress hormone. Cortisol helps to reduce inflammation by weakening some antibodies which work to increase inflammation. It also reduces the number of white blood cells in the body. This is good for our bodies while in an emergency. But, when anxiety and stress prolong, cortisol keeps suppressing those white blood cells and t-cells which build up our immune system, which in result weakens the immunity.
Psychology of Anxiety
For our mind, anxiety is the response to danger. Thus, when anxiety is triggered, our body puts us on alert without the presence of any real danger. Anxiety is a psychological phenomenon. But with time it results in physical symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, headache, stomachache, and so on.
Anxiety and stress make us vulnerable to viruses and bacteria which cause cold and flu including the COVID19. Our routines must include activities to be mindful and anxiety-free. The answer to this has been with us from centuries; yoga and meditation. Yoga is ancient but it is science. The practitioners maintain very good health throughout their lives, even in old age.
Yoga boosts the immune system and reduces anxiety
A beautiful thing about yoga is that it works for everything. Unlike other physical exercises, it works in all three levels: body, mind, and soul. Dr. Wayne Dyer’s quote “As you begin to heal the inner you, you alter your immune system” defines the benefit of yoga very well. Yoga helps lower stress hormones, stimulates the lymphatic system to expel toxins from the body, and brings oxygenated blood to all the organs. It makes you calm, connects you with your breath, and relaxes the body in case of excitement by regulating the parasympathetic system. It connects you with your real emotions. It provides strength to deal with it rather than suppressing or avoiding it.
All the yoga postures contribute to the maintenance and enhancement of health. Some of them are listed below with their visible benefits to the immune system and anxiety.
Adho mukha svanasana (Downward facing dog) increases blood flow to the sinuses. Other inverted postures and forward bends also do the same.
Ustrasana (Camel Pose) and Gomukhasana (Cow face pose) reduce the chance of bronchial congestion.
Setu bandhasana (Bridge Pose) opens the heart and increases blood circulation and energy in the body.
Kurmasana (Tortoise Pose) and Matsyasana (Fish pose) opens the chest and stimulates thymus.
Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose), Halasana (Plow Pose), and Dhanurasana (Bow Pose) increase white cells in the body.
Likewise, the variations of inverted pose, forward bend, and twisted postures stimulate and regulate crucial organs in the body. They strengthen the immune system.
Pranayama for an immune boost
Pranayama is the practice that strengthens the prana in our body. It is the combination of inhalation, retention, and exhalation of breath. It helps bring oxygenated blood to each cell in the body, oust toxins, align chakras, meet mindfulness, and makes the body and the mind calm. Ujjayi breathing, kapalabhati, and nadi shodhan pranayama are the fundamental pranayama practices.
You can practice Ujjayi breathing by breathing in and out from the base of the throat. It expands the lungs to their greatest capacity which allows a high amount of oxygen to enter the respiratory system. It provides a good massage to the lungs and other respiratory organs.
Kapalabhati pranayama is the king of breathing practices. To practice kapalabhati, exhale forcefully from the nostrils pulling the lower abdomen in. Kapalbhati pranayama is a key to maintaining all the systems in our body functioning. Amid all other benefits, an increase in levels of oxygen in the body is one of the chief outcomes of this pranayama.
Nadi Shodhan pranayama is also known as alternate breathing. It recharges body and mind in a very short period, aligns the chakras, and calms the mind from a deep level. It prepares the background for meditation. so, practice this before sitting on any kind of meditation. It is one of the few practices which (almost) everyone can perform.
Breathing is the most basic thing we have been doing. It might sound absurd when someone tries to teach you how to breathe. But, there is a science to breathing too. Breathing is of three types: abdominal, chest, and shoulder breathing. Abdominal breathing is the most crucial among them.
Abdominal breathing is also known as diaphragmatic breathing. It is inhaling and exhaling from the belly. The belly balls up when you breathe in and contracts when you breathe out. It activates diaphragm and massages the internal organs and glands. It also helps better regulates lymph throughout the body. 80% of the immune system lies in the folds of digestive tracts. Thus, an action as simple as breathing from the belly can enhance your immunity. Controlled deep belly breathing strengthens the body’s defense by changing the gene expression of certain immune cells.
Breath-holding during pranayama changes the genetic activity of immune cells. It also increases the amount of those cells in the body.
Researches show that meditation lowers anxiety, stress, and enhances the immune system. A study has shown that 20 minutes a day of meditation increases endorphins, decreases cortisol levels, and maintains a positive state of mind.
The COVID19 pandemic we are facing is making us anxious and fearful. But, if we handle it well we will find a way out from this. Human kinds have been the winners for a long time. This time we can win by making some changes in our daily routine. This is the time we change the pattern of our lives. If we add yoga, meditation, or other similar practices in our lives, we will be able to win any physical or mental problems without being anxious.