The changing season is upon us. The dark nights are beginning to draw in, as the weather starts to get colder, with our bodies and mind under stress, it is a time when we start to feel run-down, when our bodies begin to submit to having 'a cold'. It is important at this time of year to boost our immunity and overall wellbeing to enable us to fight off infection.
We can do this in a number of ways. It is vital that we take control of what we are putting into our bodies, the right fuel can help the body to fight off any potential infection. Key immune boosting ingredients to add to your diet: garlic- anti-viral, ginger - anti-inflammatory, chillies - decongestant, goji berries - support immune system and vitamin C, sweet potatoes - mild anti-inflammatory, prawns - packed with zinc which helps the body improve resilience from infection, coconut - anti-viral, shiitake mushrooms - powerful immune supportive, omega 3 fatty acids - help the body make its own anti-inflammatory compounds, and plenty of water - as colds and flu often dehydrate the body. (source: The Medicinal Chef)
Our bodies are unable to fight infections if we are feeling stressed, over-tired and generally run-down. Try and find ways to relax, perhaps take up a new hobby to enable you to take your mind off day to day matters. Include moderate exercise in order to get your body moving, circulation flowing and to avoid stiffness. Learn to breath properly, this may sound silly, but often people are so stressed that they don't realise they are breathing only into the upper chest areas. Try and become aware of your breath, slow it down, breath deeper - this will automatically calm you down. If you can develop this ability to slow and deepen your breath you can start to become aware of it when you are stressed and your breath has become shallow and fast, you will have the knowledge of how to moderate that breath and stress.
Finally you can help boost the bodies defences by including good quality supplements into your daily routine Be careful not to buy supplements which are laden with fillers and other non-essential ingredients. Here are a couple of supplements/herbs which may help you: (source: NYR training)
Vitamin C helps your immune cells mature, improves the performance of antibodies and macrophages and is antiviral.
Elderberries are high in vitamin C and Iron. They can be used as a prevention and also for treatment of a cold as they have anti-viral and immune boosting properties.
Echinacea enhances the immune system by boosting white blood cells. It has a powerful lymphatic action that clears congestion and swollen lymph nodes. It is great taken at the first sign of a cold to shorten its duration.
Olive Leaf helps to inhibit the growth of viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites.
Thyme has a warming quality which aids the circulation and helps to throw off chills. It is great to drink as a tea through the winter if you are susceptible to colds, coughs and infections.
We can also use essential oils in a burner or mixed with a carrier oil and either massaged onto the skin or added to the bath. Oils such as:
Eucalyptus which is antiseptic and antiviral. A few drops can be put onto a hankie or added to a steaming bowl of water, breathing it will help to decongest blocked sinuses.
Ravensara is distilled from the leaves and twigs of the tree in Madagascar. It can be used at the initial signs of chills, shivers and tiredness as it has antimicrobial and immunomodulant actions (amplifies the immune system).
These essential oils, herbs and supplements can help to boost your immune system, but don't forget the power of the mind on your health. Stress, grief and depression all have negative effects on our health. Stress produces corticosteroids which cause the adrenal glands to push excess sugar into the blood stream initiating our fight or flight response = more stress, and this in turn depresses immune function. Too much exercise can have the same effect. Moderate exercise like Yoga, Tai chi, or walking outdoors can boost your immunity, research suggests by up to 40%. These moderate exercises also help to improve your quality of sleep, as poor sleep can deplete our natural resources and our bodies ability to fight infection. Massage can also help by relaxing your body and mind and improving sleep.
Get ready for winter - what will you do to boost your immunity this year?
Disclaimer: Non of these suggestions are a substitute for medical examination, diagnosis and treatment. Do not discontinue any medication without consultation with your own doctor. If in doubt please check with your doctor.
I was invited to work in a Women's Refuge, teaching Yoga once a week. I was exited, inspired by the work of The Trauma Centre in Brookline who use yoga as a somatic therapy to help people who have suffered from trauma to reclaim their bodies. I felt that yoga would be of great benefit to the women in the refuge to help them cope with what they are going through.
The Wellbeing Officer at the Refuge was also hopeful that it could help, telling me she would be happy even if one person attended the class. At this time of crisis in their lives, many women are trying not to stop, not to think, not to have a moment of silence or to reflect. Yoga then, is very difficult as it requires us to stop, tune into the body, quieten the mind. In her opinion, any activity she could provide to give some relief, relaxation, a moment of tranquillity, that might help even one women was a success and worth a try. I had to agree.
As you might expect the population of refuges is always fluctuating as women move in and out of the flats depending on their current circumstances and needs, this obviously creates a difficult environment, as the women's lives are in a state of flux. Yoga however aims to help us all deal with the many fluxes and changes in our daily lives by giving us the opportunity to find space to be calm and relaxed even if only for an hour.
Why Yoga? How can it help the women in a Refuge?
Reclaiming Your Body after Trauma
Yoga is an age old practice whose aim is to unify the mind, body, breath and spirit, balancing mind and strengthening the body, aiming to keep people in the present moment through movement, breath and stillness of the mind. Yoga enables people to reconnect with their bodies, to regain control of them and the sensations they feel. The asana begin to allow the person to open, starting by physically opening the body. This helps to create the change from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.
Yoga can have effects by inviting change, adaptation and growth on all levels – motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological. It helps to reach a parasympathetic state. This state helps to activate coping hormones, improve sleep, reduce anxiety, enable the immune system to function better, enable digestion to improve, reset the nervous system; reducing stress and reactivity. As new research is constantly done on the benefits of yoga and exercise in general, researchers are finding what people feel naturally - that movement in general is great for the body, mind and spirit helping people to cope better with daily stress.
"Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.
Although all exercise stimulates serotonin, what makes yoga different is the added element of keeping the mind quiet and focused, connecting the breath to movement. In fact, yoga can be thought of as a state, a state of union where everything is connected - mind, body, breath, spirit, so a 'state of yoga' can be achieved in many ways. The yoga that we practice today uses these particular postures to get us into that state. But these postures also help us to open the body, to free the restrictions within it, develop flexibility and strength and reconnect us to ourselves.
Finally yoga can help to develop a sense of community, strength and solidarity through practising together as a group, so for people who may have lost their sense of community this can be a great aid.
I feel privileged to be able to work with this group of women and look forward to my next session with them. It will be interesting to see how many of the same people turn up and if they attend regularly, whilst they stay at the refuge, what benefits they notice.