Weird times, right? Many of us are under quarantine, some are sick, some are scared, some of us are just bored and I think we’re all ready for this to end. In the meantime, there are lots of things we can do for ourselves to help support our immunity and well-being, decreasing our odds of getting seriously ill.
One of the best (and simplest) ways of boosting our immunity is by managing stress. During stressful times, there is actually a decrease in immune cells (the cells that produce antibodies and protect us from pathogens). When stress levels increase, the body releases large amounts of cortisol (a stress hormone). When macrophages (immune cells) encounter cortisol, they can no longer respond normally to infection.
Increased stress can also lead to changes in sleep and emotional well-being, which in turn, can also impact immune system functioning. Researchers have found that the immune system doesn’t work as well without sleep. Our t-cells are disrupted and our bodies produce less antibodies. All of this means that our bodies are less able to fight illness and infection.
Loss of sleep also disrupts the mood and did you know that our moods and immune systems are linked? Those who study psychoneuroimmunology have found that our immune systems are listening to our mental talk. Pessimistic states, depression, and loneliness decrease our immunity, while humor, laughter, and group support help boost immunity! (exactly why we at IBP are here doing what we’re doing!!)
Research has identified 3 main factors that universally lead to stress: uncertainty, lack of information, and loss of control. Sound familiar? Isn’t this what we are all dealing with right now? If you’re feeling stressed – there is good reason for it! But guess what? There are simple interventions you can take at home right now!
Here are 3 poses and 1 breathing practice you can do at home to help lower stress levels, improve sleep and mood, and help boost that immunity! Each pose can be held for several minutes, or as long as you feel comfortable.
Legs up the Wall Pose
This pose is Ah-mazing and pretty simple! With the legs higher than the heart, we are in a gentle inversion that helps slow our heart rate, balance our nervous systems, reduce swelling of the legs and feet, and it can help with sleep and mood!
To get into it, you just need to find a wall space and stretch your legs up the wall. The easiest way for me to do this is by sitting sideways with one hip touching the wall, then stretch your legs up the wall as you rotate to bring your back down.
Options and variations:
If you don’t have good wall space, put your legs up on a chair, the couch, a few stacked pillows – get creative!
Grab more props! A blanket or pillow under the hips to give you a little stretch on the lower back and a little more inversion. A blanket over the body, folded over the hips, or under the head for neck support. Or you can add a blanket or block on top of the feet. An eye pillow or cloth over the eyes is also a great open to help the muscles of the face rest.
Queen Bee Pose
You will feel like a queen (or king!) in this pose. Gently opening up the chest and ribcage to help induce deeper breathing and a deeper sense of relation. Use lots of support to help yourself completely relax.
To get into you’ll want to grab a few firm pillows and blankets. If you have a bolster and blocks at home, you can use those. First, you’ll create a stack of pillows or blankets to go under your back. Bring your low back/hips right up against your stack and lay back. Bring the soles of the feet together and allow the knees to open wide with lots of support (blankets/pillows) under your knees to allow your legs to completely relax. Allow arms to open wide out to your sides, close the eyes, and rest.
Options and variations:
If it’s not comfortable to have the knees wide and feet together, change the position of the legs – stretch them out long with rolled blankets under your knees, or fold your legs in another way that feels good.
Grab more props! A blanket or pillow over the hips, over the body, an eye pillow or cloth over the face or whatever else feels good – get creative!
Savasana is the best part of yoga. It just is. If you haven’t found that yet – keep practicing, there is so much more to find here. It’s where we journey inward and find ourselves.
To get into it, lie down on your yoga mat. Or anywhere else really. It’s pretty much that simple, but for a more supported variation, grab all the props you want! Blankets or pillows over the body, under the knees, over the hips, under the head, under the feet – prop it up to make it feel good for you!
Hands-Free Nadi Shodhana (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
There is a variation of this pranayama (breath regulation practice) where we use our hands to block off our nostrils, one at a time, but given that we’ve been asked to not touch our faces, I thought this would be appropriate. And, actually, I really like this variation and teach it all the time, corona or no corona. If you’ve never tried it – give it a go!
Come to any comfortable position. If you’re seated, sit up tall and try not to slouch too much (as this impedes deep breaths). As you inhale, imagine that you are only inhaling through the left nostril, then as you exhale, imagine you are only exhaling out the right nostril, then inhale through the right, exhale through the left, inhale through the left, exhale through the right. Continue at your own pace for as long as you’d like. For extra relaxation, try extending the exhales, so they are longer than the inhales, but don’t strain to do so. Make it natural, as if you were singing.