By Caroline Shaw.
Our immune systems are quite amazing. We each have our own army of cells and organs designed to operate a formidable defence system against invaders like bacteria, pollen and viruses. This internal fighting force is intimately linked to everything else that goes on in our body, for example in our nervous, digestive and hormonal systems. As a result, a lot of the processes that go on inside us have a say in our ability to keep viruses at bay.
So as I left the Community Centre in the fading March light, having, it turned out, taught my last in-person yoga class for a while, I knew that one of my tasks over the coming weeks was to aim at (virtually) supporting the Primrose Hill yoga groups’ immune health.
Reducing stress and anxiety levels had to be a key part of this. Stress tends to result in the release of hormones that help us stay focused under pressure. This is useful in the short term, but if the stress continues it can cause our immune system to become suppressed as the body saves energy for tackling the stress-related task or threat.
Happily, there are many simple and accessible practices we can access to stimulate the ‘parasympathetic’ side of our nervous system, the part we need for rest, digestion and staying calm under stress.
One of the most important of these practices is nasal breathing. All this means is simply breathing in and out through your nose. This helps to filters out dust, bacteria and other microbes and calms the nervous system, taking breath into the lower lungs where there are more soothing ‘parasympathetic’ receptor sites.
The short nasal breathing practice described below is just one example of a simple technique to support your immune and respiratory health. It can be done for as long and as often as you would like.
- Find a safe, comfortable space to lie down. Try to relax the skin on your face, especially around the jaw.
- Gently place your bands on your lower belly just below your navel.
- Expel a couple of big sighs, yawns or any other noise you fancy out through your mouth.
- Lightly close your lips and take 10 easy breaths (count them if you can!), breathing in and out through your nose. You should sense your belly rising and falling under the palms of your hands. Focus on your exhalation and try to make it at least as long, possibly longer, than your inhalation.
- To finish, give your arms and legs a nice big stretch, roll over onto one side and slowly come up to a seated position before continuing with your day.
It is important that this practice feels easy and natural. If things feel tense at any point, take a few extra breaths through your mouth.
Nasal breathing is of course just one of the many ways we can support our immune health. There are many other breathing and movement practices to try, and with around 70% of our immune cells found in our gut, a healthy and delicious diet is important too!
Anyone interested in learning more accessible, yoga-related practices to look after their immune and respiratory health is welcome to come to my 90-minute workshop (£4 to £14 – pay just what you can) on Saturday 12 September – not back in the Community Centre yet sadly, but live on Zoom.
Primrose Hill Yoga every Tuesday and Thursday 5.30 – 6.30pm. Live on Zoom at present. First class £4.