In the past few months, we’ve found ourselves devoting our attention to things that aren’t typically at the forefront of our awareness. In a 2015 TED talk, Bill Gates predicted a pandemic — he’s been talking about it for years. But until now, none of us paid much thought. Suddenly, pandemics are all that anyone can talk about.
We’ve all learned an entirely new language. Terms like: cluster – droplet – transmission – personal protective equipment – super-spreader – R-naught – have crept their way into our casual conversations with friends.
It’s undeniable that our brains have been consumed with new subject matter in the past few months. Despite the flurry of new information, please don’t neglect some of the most basic elements of your life that keep you healthy and strong!
Our typical routines for staying healthy probably don’t often require too much brain-space because they’ve been so fully-integrated into our set of daily habits. But now that we’re forced to look at things from a different perspective, it’s important to ensure that some of your regular immune-supportive activities have not fallen to the wayside.
1. Stay active!
Folks who know me are aware that I practice a lot of yoga.
Under normal circumstances, I practice daily with only a few exceptions here and there. Literally. I’ll miss one day of yoga, once every few years. (And sometimes, I count.) I used to qualify consecutive-streak classes only if I showed up to the studio in-person. I’ve obviously had to adjust my standards a bit under pandemic conditions. There were 2 days in March when I wasn’t in the heat but I still practiced at the North Location. (We didn’t use the heat as to avoid overheating the LiveStream equipment.) And every day since, I’ve been cranking up the heat in my tiny bathroom and practicing a full 90 minutes accompanied by one of the many selections available on the PURE YogaTV Video-On-Demand page.
(For more on at-home-hot-yoga from the PROs: check out this instructional video our teachers Ellie and Brooke posted right away in March 2020
Physical activity isn’t only to help you look good. Activity is the tool to help decrease your risk of illness. By moving your body, you are
- improving your mental health
- regulating hormones
- improving immunity
But whether you choose to practice a formal yoga class from home or you’ve got other tricks up your sleeve, it’s agreed that the most important thing is to keep moving!
Even if you’re simply walking from bedroom to kitchen to office to living room. Get up out of your seat periodically; walk up and down the stairs. Even the smallest amount of activity will stimulate the body’s skeletal muscle pump and help to increase circulation to help transport nutrients and oxygen at increased rates.
2. Be smart about nutrition
I’m the type of guy who goes to the grocery store everyday. Heck, even sometimes multiple times per day. In order to conform to stay-at-home protocol, my entire nutrition routine has been flipped upside down. It’s much more difficult for me to keep fresh fruits and veggies in the house these days. So, my shopping trips must be calculated and strategic. But I still do make it a point to ensure that I have fresh raw greens in some capacity. (Sometimes, I’ll just go for cold-pressed green juices because they have a longer shelf-life.)
I’ve never been one to deprive myself of a taco. Ever. But nutritional balance is always important. As with any system of the body, the robust nature of your immunity depends on the fuel that you’re providing. There’s no denying that people who live in poverty and are malnourished are more vulnerable to infectious diseases.
Micronutrients are important.
- Broccoli is packed with vitamins A, C, and E, as well as fiber and many other antioxidants
- Citrus fruits & red bell peppers can provide you with the most Vitamin C
- Spinach is not only another great source of vitamin C but it also contains antioxidants and beta carotene which can increase your ability to fight infection
- Nuts: The vitamin E found in almonds is a powerful antioxidant which is key to a healthy immune system
- Ginger! No list of immune-strengthening foods would be complete without my favorite. Aside from being delicious, ginger can decrease inflammation and help soothe a sore throat
With seemingly infinite material on diet and nutrition out there these days, I’m not going to recommend one particular approach or another. Do what makes you happy. But with our daily schedules gone haywire and emotions running rampant, I would suggest that you simply be aware of what you’re putting into your body.
3. Find ways to reasonably cope with anxiety
It would be beyond the scope of our expertise of anyone at the studio to make a medical claim that all you need to do is practice yoga to reduce your susceptibility to infection. But we can all attest — from personal experience — how effective this yoga is at staving off illness.
I rarely get sick. In the fourteen years that I’ve been teaching Hot Yoga, I’ve never once requested a last-minute substitution due to illness. The last time that I was prescribed antibiotics was in 2007!
In my blog post from last month, I cited some research proving that long-term isolation diminishes the immune system’s response to fighting viruses, making people more susceptible to illness. So now more than ever, it’s important to have some accessible coping methods when you need them most.
The amygdala is a collection of nuclei found deep within the limbic system of the brain which helps to control emotion and behavior. Practicing yoga can help to reduce electrical activity in the amygdala and increase activity in the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for emotional regulation.
Though studies have shown immediate effects of yoga on stimulation of the amygdala, a consistent practice can help to increase your long-term ability to manage your emotions while in a state of duress.
So if you’re feeling alone and uncertain about the future, the importance of continuing your yoga practice is amplified. Now is not the time to lose motivation.
4. Make time for sleep
This past summer, I finished a book which completely changed my perspective on sleep. For my entire adult life, I’ve averaged 4-6 hours of sleep per night. I’m one of those folks who claims that they simply don’t need it. I have lots of energy and I rarely get sick.
Perhaps it was a bit of scare-tactic but the author helped me to completely change my ways. I’ve begun to understand that the machismo attitude toward sleep is ill-advised. Sure, every once in a while, I’ll slip back into my regular short-sleep habits but on the whole, I’m doing a much better job than I have in the past.
Matthew Walker will say that a consistent workout routine and a healthy diet are a complete waste of your time if you’re not getting eight hours of sleep each night. In this cute video, he summarizes some of the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation. Here are some highlights:
- After just one night of only 4-5 hours of sleep, there’s a 70% reduction in critical immune cells called Natural Killer Cells. Short sleep duration increases your risk of a wide variety of illnesses because your body needs the sleep to fight pathogens.
- During sleep, your immune system releases proteins called Cytokines which act as chemical messengers for regulating the innate abilities of the immune system to keep you healthy.
- We’ve all been hearing a lot about antibodies recently; the manufacture of those precious antibodies is also reduced during periods when you don’t get enough sleep.
Walker also points out that heart rate drops and blood pressure decreases during sleep so missing those critical hours of decreased blood pressure can negatively impact your overall cardiovascular health.
“If you’re not getting sufficient sleep, you’re not getting that reboot of the cardiovascular system, so your blood pressure rises.”
This brings us back to Topic #3, tying in the immune benefits of access to effective coping tools to mitigate the damaging effects of anxiety.
Stay focused; stay poised.
It’s the difficult times in life that define who you are and that allow space for improvement. But that growth will occur only if you’re resourceful enough to learn from the difficult times and to respond intelligently. As yogis, we have resolve. Despite hard times and difficult conditions, we have the will to endure. We do our essential work even if it’s hard.
To highligh the work our yoga community has acheived in this regard, and help others along their path of recovery and finding joy, join us on Friday evening 7pm CST for our next installment of YogaTalk for May Mental Health Awareness Month. Our celebrated teacher Monica LeBansky will be hosting a discussion with some other awesome women:
- Research scientist & clinical psychologist, Dr. Kasey Claborn
- NYTimes-featured yoga teacher, Jeanne Heaton
- Studio owner & founder of Sober Yogis, Sara Curry (catch a sneak peak of here in her TEDTalk.
Stay safe and healthy so that you can be available to those in your life who depend on you. Sign up here.