Updated: May 5, 2022
Ayurveda and Yoga Workshop; Supporting Immune Health,
Sunday 8th May 2022, 2.30pm-5.30pm, Yogahome, Stoke Newington
"The microbiome and the immune system are critically intertwined…70% of our immune system is located in the gut and so nutrition is a key modulator of immune function”.
Dr David Herber, Professor of Medicine at UCLA Health
When Covid first struck in 2020 and we were in the first lock-down, I was determined to boost my immune system through good rest, meditation, yoga and healthy nutrition. I took the opportunity to explore natural ways of doing so through Ayurveda. On the recommendation of a friend, I attended a few online courses with Dr Sam Watts, of Mind-Body Medical which got me back into foraging for herbs, exploring new healthy recipes and learning about Ayurvedic herbal medicine. I learned so much about balancing nutrition through looking at health through the lense of the Tri-doshic constitutional theory.
You may well have heard of The Doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kapha and how each person is dominant in one or two doshas, or more rarely has a balance of all three. I was so inspired, that I enrolled on the Mind-Body Medical, Clinical Ayurveda Diploma course for Yoga Teachers and I am in the middle of studying this ancient 5,000 year old science from India.
What I love about Ayurveda, is that it is closely intertwined with Yoga, often known as the Sister Science to Ayurveda as they both have their roots in the Ancient texts of the Vedas. At the heart of it's science and philosophy, the three Doshas are derived from Nature's 5 elements of Earth, Water, Fire, Air & Ether. We, and the entire universe are made of these elements that make up all of nature (Prakriti) and we experience them in action through the changing seasons.
Imbalance in the Doshas
We can also experience them in the state of our health and wellbeing. When we are full of cold and mucous or have sinusitis, these are Kapha qualities, exacerbated by Earth and Water elements and which also expresses itself in the season of Spring. This is why we will see the prevalence of ailments such allergies and colds, especially at the turn of the season. A spreading hot, prickly rash across the skin, represents an imbalance in Pitta, characterised by Fire and Water elements. High anxiety, worry, insomnia, and an inability to concentrate, shows up as a Vata imbalance, which is characterised by the elements of Air & Ether.
By understanding how these doshas come out of balance and create disharmony or disease, Ayurveda aims to restore homeostasis by addressing the cause and applying natural tools such as herbal remedies, healthy nutrition, meditation and yoga. Each person is looked at as an individual and time is taken to understand all the factors, eating habits, sleep habits, work and life-style, before applying any treatments.
The Rise in Chronic Diseases
Chronic diseases are now reaching pandemic levels in the West and are the leading cause of death in the UK and most Western countries. Over 15 million people in the UK are currently living with chronic diseases that are not being effectively treated by conventional medicine. The cause of chronic disease is 80% lifestyle versus 20% genetic.
The conventional view of health is, "defined as the absence of pathology and disease". In 1948 WHO (World Health Organisation) defined health with the phrase that is often used today: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, psychological and spiritual balance and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.
As Boris Johnson, stated we are currently in the situation of learning "to live with Covid" - it is paramount that we turn our attention towards active good health and prevention of illness.
Current evidence shows that a healthy immune system is integral to the prevention of chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimers, depression, & Covid-19 to name a few. It’s not just the prevention of these life-altering conditions that’s important, but to raise our resilience to stress, maintain good mood, energy levels and a positive outlook on life that increases contentment.
These are qualities of well-being that Ayurveda aims to maintain. Ayurveda takes a natural approach that cultivates, “ deep immunity”, helping to develop a strong immune system that prevents disease and increases longevity. This is key, and so easy to do!
Taking conscious action and making informed choices means that a healthy immune system is not just down to good luck, genes or blind chance. Ayurveda is an ancient wisdom tradition that has been at the fore-front of natural medicine in India and Sri Lanka for over 5,000 years and is a fast growing area of research in the West, as there seems to be a move to a more integrative approach and mind-set.
Clinical research and study of the herb Andrographis, which has been found to contain effective pharmacological properties that are antibacterial, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and immunostimulating properties, in the treatment of Covid-19. This has been implicated as being a natural solution to dealing with the problem and harmful effects of antibiotic over-prescription.
The Western Approach
In the West, the traditional medical approach to health and disease focuses mainly on treating symptoms. If something is wrong, take medicine, or surgically remove it.
I was listening to an interesting talk on cancer with Robin Daly, Founder of the charity, "Yes to Life". He set up the charity after his daughter Bryony contracted cancer aged 9, dying at 23 after two recurrences. His experience prompted him to set up the charity to help others in similar situations. He had some interesting things to say about the conventional and integrative approaches. "Conventional medicine is about killing or blocking cancer and attacking cancer....integrative medicine is about supporting the body and steering it towards good health. The integrative side needs to be working with conventional approach right from the start".
The Ayurvedic Approach
In Clinical Ayurvedic medicine, there is a reliable framework using healthy organic foods, culinary herbs, herbal medicine, yoga, meditation, massage and cleansing practises, to build a strong immune system. These methods have been shown to prevent disease, optimise health and reverse ageing. Taking an integrative approach, means we are attending to the basic building blocks of health.
1. Good nutrition
2. Sound, quality sleep
3. reducing stress levels
4. physical exercise
5. Cultivating harmonious relationships
6. rest and relaxation
David Herber, Professor of Medicine at UCLA Health says “The microbiome and the immune system are critically intertwined…70% of our immune system is located in the gut and so nutrition is a key modulator of immune function”. What is now known and commonly accepted is that all disease starts here. This knowledge is central to our understanding in how to prevent disease from occurring.
Eating the right foods at consistently regular times in the day is important, as the body is naturally primed to receive food at optimal times of the day. We can see this in the natural Circadian rhythms of the body. Research into chrono-biology and the Noble Prize-winning discovery of “clock genes” that are activated at certain times of the day, regulate cortisol and melatonin levels. This is key to understanding how when we align our waking, sleeping and eating habits to this rhythm, we will experience optimum health and well being.
In Ayurveda, Dinacharya is a regular routine that looks at the cycles of nature and bases daily activities around these cycles. This is foundational to Ayurvedic principles of health and wellbeing. There are optimal times of waking, eating and sleeping that go in line with the clock genes.
We can take a closer look to see how this works. In the chart we can see how cortisol levels start to peak between 6-7am, this is an optimum time to get up.
At this point it is good to drink a cup of warm water, or lemon water (add ginger) to begin to prime the body’s digestion, to get ready to receive food.
Optimal times to eat breakfast is between 7am-8.30am,
Lunch 12pm-1.30pm and dinner 5.30pm-7.30pm.
When we more or less follow these timings, we are going with our natural hormonal cycles, this means we will experience,
Optimum daily routine:
· Enhanced energy and vitality
· Hormonal regulation
· Immune Modulation
· Optimal digestive function
· Balanced moods and harmonic emotions
· Positive outlook towards self and others
When we are out of sync with the natural rhythms, we will experience:-
· Lethargy and fatigue
· Low mood and energy levels
· Suseptibilty to colds and flu’s. & burn-out
· Hormonal Imbalance (skin outbreaks, disrupted moon cycles)
· Digestive Disorders (eg.,constipation, IBS)
3 Simple Top Tips for boosting your Immune System
You can implement them when you first wake up, so you can start the day on a good foot.
1. Stoke your Agni
In Ayurveda and yoga, agni is recognised as the digestive fire that needs to be stoked in order to process the foods we eat. Drinking ice cold drinks will dampen this fire and is not recommended.
When you wake up, drink a warm cup of water plain or add half a lemon and slices of ginger
2. Oil pulling*: Swish the mouth with 1 dessert spoon of sesame or coconut oil for around 10 minutes. Medical research into this has found that oil pulling reduces plaque, gets rid of bad bacteria, reduces S-Mutans, promotes healthy gums.
3. Abyhanga: Self-massage. 5+ minutes of self-massage in the morning before or after bathing or showering has been found to increase white blood cells and healing in the body. You can use a good quality plain oil, or one that is medicated with therapeutic herbal oils.
In his book on Ayurveda "Perfect Health", Deepak Chopra, says, "...our skin is new every five weeks; each year, ninety-eight percent of the total number of atoms in our bodies is replaced. Ayurveda gives us the tools to intervene at this quantum level, where we are being created anew each day".
Ayurveda - Veda in sanskrit means life, Ayur means knowledge. this ancient wisdom is about self-knowledge and self-empowerment and presents as with natural healthy tools to make conscious choices for our health and wellbeing. What I feel is valuable about taking this approach is how well it can work alongside conventional medicine.