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Yoga immune boosters in the time of Covid-19

By SHAMEEM AKTHAR
March 18, 2020 08:28 IST
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Shameem Akthar digs into her sadhana kit for an immunity-boosting sequence.

Photograph: Amit Dave/Reuters

I am an avid yoga practitioner, but the Covid-19 rampage sent me rummaging into my sadhana kit to refocus on those practices that will help me tide over the crisis by creating a strong immunity.

This is too small a kit, more in the sense of giving you a direction.

  • Ideally, your practice duration should be 30 minutes at least for it to be effective.
  • Focus on chest-openers because they strengthen the lungs (this is a virus that plays havoc with the respiratory system).
  • Chest-openers and backbends power the thymus gland also. It is involved with your immunity.
  • Use a few forward bends as break or recovery poses in between.
  • Pranayama is very important to remove stress, prevent and repair.
  • Meditation. Meditation. Meditation. It is known to boost T-cell production. Lots of research show that meditation is not just mumbo-jumbo but creates a positive biological impact to protects you from wear and tear, revives your body's parasympathetic system.
 

So, here are the few I rediscovered as powerful immunity boosters.

1. Jal neti/Nasal cleansing (with pot)

This is a powerful way to keep your sinus cavities clean. This is the entry point for most diseases.

Intriguingly, this practice also helps eyes. As such the current news is that the virus enters the body even through the eyes. This practice is best done under the guidance of a yoga teacher.

Half a litre of lukewarm (distilled water), one teaspoonful salt, a jal neti pot with a proper noozle (not too wide since for a beginner this can be daunting).

Done morning, at the time of tooth-brushing. In the evening, after returning home (but not immediately before sleep, since it will wake you up).

Benefits: The salt in the water is anti-germ and can prevent overgrowth of virus, bacteria, fungus and protozoa. It also calms the nerves.

 

2. Kapalabhati (skull cleansing breathing practice)

This is a mild hyperventilation. Sit in a meditative posture. Hands in mudras on the knees, eyes shut.

Inhale and exhale, as preparation. Gently exhale continuously for 10 to 15 times. Stop. Do thrice.

Over a few days, if you feel comfortable, you may increase the hyper ventilation in each round to 60.

Avoid: If having extremely high BP or a heart condition.

Benefits: This is the most immune-boosting of all pranayamas. Umpteen researches have shown that organised breathing impacts not just the lungs but the brain as well.

Calming or engaged breathing techniques impact the brain's soft pulse against the dura mater (the leathery membrane underneath of the skull and which is said to be thick with lymphatic drainage vessels); causes powerful pulse in the flow of the cerebro-spinal fluid.

And when is relaxed, it switches on the parasympathetic nervous system of the body.

Personally, I have found that this mild hyperventilation, by mimicking stress, actually helps the body find an outlet for extreme anxiety.

 

3. Kandharasana (Shoulder pose)

Lie on your back, legs folded at knees. Ensure knees do not drop the side.

You may hold a cushion or a foam yoga block between the knees to ensure this.

Arms are alongside the body. Palms reach out to hold the ankles. If not possible, keep them flat on the ground, close to the hips.

Inhale, raising your hips up. Exhale, drop them down. Do this 5 to 10 times. Take a short break. Do another set.

You may also, after sufficient practice, progress towards holding the pose statically.

Benefits: This softly impacts the thymus gland, involved with producing T cells, or immune cells that is your body's defence mechanism.

The thymus begins to shrink with age, and by puberty it has shrunk substantially.

This explains why the elderly are most susceptible to infections and less agile with recovery.

Scientists have known for long that thymus can regenerate itself back to original glory.

Though there is a lot of work happening at a medical/lab level, in yoga this thymus-regeneration is believed to be initiated through chest-opening poses.

Benefits: This is the simplest of the chest openers and is an inbetween pose between inversions and their recovery.

It is also the least contraindicated and used to heal heart patients as well. This works the entire chest region powerfully.

 

4. Hasta uttanasana (Raised hands pose)

Stand with hands loosely along the hips. Cross the arms, right arm overlapping the left, hands hanging loosely this way across the thighs.

Raise arms to shoulder level, as you inhale. Exhale. Inhaling raise arms overhead, to cross them above the head.

Tilt your head up lightly, to look at palms. Exhaling drop them back towards the thighs. Do this 5 times. Switch the arms, so left arm is over the right, and repeat.

Benefits: One of the easiest of the poses, good for overall health and is even said to cool the brain.

It enhances blood flow to the upper body, and is said to power the lungs. It will help the lungs stay strong under attack.

 

5. Meditation in supta baddhakonasana (Lying locked angle pose)

Lie down on your back. Bring the soles of the feet together. Keep the palms facing up, beside the body. Or flat on the belly. Shut your eyes. Lie in this posture for 5 minutes at least.

Focus on your belly's soft up and down movement. If you have spiritual chant you may mentally repeat it. (Set your timer for 5 minutes. And resolve not to budge for this entire period).

Benefits:During sleep, the microglia which boost the immune functions of the brain (yes, it is very intimately involved with your immunity) are said to be activated.

Meditation replicates the effects of sleep, and potentially has a similar impact. I say this with confidence because several researches have proven that meditation boosts the level of T cells/immune cells in your body.


Shameem Akthar, health columnist, author of yoga books and yoga instructor, is a keen fitness enthusiast.
Rediff.com and Shameem recommend that the suggestions made in this column must always be followed in consultation with your medical practitioner.

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