As the pandemic rampages through the planet, the age old science of Yoga offers some practical ways to Asana your way to better immunity
Since we stepped into 2020, one of the most frequent questions thrown to every yoga teacher in the world is, “Which asanas and breathing practices can we practice to protect ourselves from coronavirus?” Strangely enough, the inquiry forces me to assume the role of a GP prescribing medicines and their corresponding dosage. We wish it were as easy as “Trikonasana (triangle pose) for ten breaths, Uttanasana (forward fold) for 20 breaths, Bhujangasana (cobra pose) for ten breaths, and wrap up with a few minutes of Anulom-Vilom (alternate nostril breathing) followed by Shavasana (corpse pose).” But the healing nebula of yoga isn’t substantiated in the mere mechanical execution of poses.
THE BREATH OF LIFE
The first of the observances (niyamas) in Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga is Shaucha which translates into ‘cleanliness’. The ritual, however, goes far beyond simple hygiene. The bedrock of our practice is not only a cleansed body but also a clean mind and heart. In one of his online discourses, Shri Prashant Iyengar, the son of Yogacharya BKS Iyengar, speaks about exhalation as a purificatory process. “Exhale more, and more often,” he says. “An unusual volume of exhalation is like an internal excretion, evacuation, and purification.” And so, instead of recommending a platter of pranayamas (an ancient practice of breath control) to my students, I urge them first to learn to breathe. Before we regulate our breath, it’s imperative to observe the normal breath, watch our exhalations microscopically, study their velocity and volume, and the consequent quietude in the cavities of the skull.
Many people do not pay attention to their breathing until it is disturbed by a certain emotion or disorder, and yet the breath is always there, contorting with our actions. Guruji (Yogacharya BKS Iyengar) would say that the gateway to health is a healthy circulatory system and healthy respiratory system; if one of these fails, then disease lays siege to the body.
GUT CHECK TIME!
Our immunity relies heavily on two regions of the body – the belly and the brain. The abdominal organs need to function well to keep bacterial and viral infections at bay. Along with a wholesome, plant-based, and water-rich diet, it is also essential to eliminate toxins from our system with intermittent fasting, enema, and cold wet packs. More often than not, we load our body with a full meal without waiting for the last meal to be completely digested. The proverbial saying is, “You are what you eat,” but you’re also what you ate.
Over the years, undigested, dead food forms a thick coating on the walls of our intestines, thus blocking the smooth functioning of our organs. Giving our stomach a 16-hour break to our stomach every night provides the body with the time it needs to rebuild tissues, fade away old scars, replace old and damaged cells, dissolve stones in the kidney and gall bladder, remove extra fat from the cells, break cysts, and fibroids, regularize hormones, clean intestines, remove mucus, and clear the plaque in the arteries.
HEAD, HEART, AND HOLISTIC HEALING
Now, when waste and toxins become stagnant in our blood, one of the best ways to make them circulate is through a cold wet pack – three pieces of cloth of specific dimensions that are to be dipped in cool water and wrapped around the navel, neck region, and the forehead. This needs to be followed by the use of an enema pot that’ll not only keep you feeling light and clean from within but also boost your energy levels.
As far as yoga is concerned, it’s important to awaken and activate the abdominal segment with exalted bio-mechanical actions such as extending, expanding, elongating, and more. Furthermore, it is vital to connect the mind and breath to the skeletomuscular body to witness the enormous internal communication and social interaction among the three. Speaking of the brain, it’s impossible to bear an unhealthy mind and yet hope for a healthy body; thus, it is important to address the region of the head through supported postures that quieten the frontal brain.
Apart from recycling old red blood cells, storing platelets and white blood cells, the lymph nodes are responsible for the optimum functioning of the immune system. They are particularly concentrated in the neck, armpits, the upper thighs and groin, the abdomen, and between the lungs. The virus is known to settle in the upper and the lower respiratory system, building up mucus in the lungs in more advanced cases. During such times, it’s best to avoid the practice of pranayama, as it’ll only worsen the situation.
It’s important to understand that yoga is a preventative, long-term holistic healing practice. One must not mistake it for a magic pill that will make the virus disappear. Rather, it’s a measure that’ll prevent things from going south.
NAVIGATING YOUR PHYSICAL FORM
In order to maintain a healthy respiratory system, the yoga sequence should include a rejuvenating blend of prone asanas, supported standing asanas, seated asanas, supine asanas, and inverted asanas. When the front trunk is supported in a prone asana, the back body is broadened and lengthened. This makes space for the lungs to work more efficiently. The back of the lungs has a denser network of air sacs (alveoli). Being placed in a prone position leads to an improved uptake of oxygen to the blood.
- Supported standing asanas, on the other hand, can energize physically and mentally, thereby lifting one’s mood. They increase the blood supply to the brain, remove fatigue and tiredness and help to reduce depression.
- Seated asanas help open the front, back, and sides of the chest without expending too much energy. They also bring firmness to the body, steadiness to the mind, and boost circulation in the pelvic and lower spinal regions.
- Supine asanas help to release tension and tightness. Lastly, inversions work on the hormonal system of the body promoting health, while bringing discipline to the mind and calm within. Most importantly, they allow the upper abdomen to drain – a key component in the lymphatic system.
To sum up, immunity is not something that develops overnight. It is ‘built’, one block at a time. Nature’s five elements are of paramount importance, and we must derive our nourishment from all five of them. Apart from food and water, we also need to spend a couple of peaceful hours in the morning under the sun, breathe fresh air and create space within the body with intermittent fasting. Regular practice of yoga and pranayama will release the anxiety and fear contained in the chest and let the circulation happen freely. Most times, it’s important to give our body a chance, have faith in it, and give it the time it needs to heal on its own. It always does.