Modern thinking tends to look at your immune system as a separate entity. In the holistic thinking of oriental medicines, the strength of your immune system reflects the strength of your body. In order to boost your immune system, it is important to keep your body systems in balance and with good vitality.
After diet, the next most important factor for keeping your energy and vitality strong is your lifestyle. Embedded in lifestyle is that a good mental attitude and a healthy body posture are also critical to balanced functioning of the human body and mind.
We take in energy from the food we eat and digest. Good digestion is intricately connected to our choice of foods. In addition, we take in energy from the air; in that oxygen is the catalyst for many body functions. In traditional Chinese oriental medicine the function of the lungs is intimately connected to the immune system.
The metabolism controls the function of the whole body including healthy immunity. There is an energy equation that affects the metabolism. The energy we receive from the air and the food we eat has to match the energy output in our mental and physical activity.
If there is a mismatch, that is not enough energy coming in or too much energy being put out, the body goes into a state of stress. Focusing on easy to digest foods and a diet centered around cooked vegetables and grains with moderate amounts of other natural foods is essential for having adequate energy coming into the fuel the body.
In a state of long term stress, the body makes decisions about how to use energy. Functions that are needed for immediate survival get first choice. The circulatory system and nervous system are high on the list.
Under prolonged stress, functions that are not needed for immediate survival receive less of an allocation of energy. This causes the function of these organs to be lower. If an imbalanced energy equation goes on too long, the body starts to slow the whole metabolism down. The immune system at this point starts to function at a much lower level. Unfortunately, because of modern eating and lifestyle habits, this is a common occurrence among almost everyone. It even can start at a younger age.
What we do in our lifestyle balances the energy equation to keep our immunity strong. The balance between activity and rest is important for maintaining the energy and vitality of the body. It is important that we stay moderately active for both mental and physical health. This includes doing a job or mental activities that are pleasurable and/or satisfying and doing the correct amount and kind of exercise.
Physical exercise gives us energy. Many people experience the difference in their lives with doing daily moderate exercise. If the exercise is too much for the body, the body gets exhausted. If too little exercise is done, the muscles, bones, and circulation get weaker hampering the function of the entire body. Many people feel that doing the most exercise we can is beneficial. Aerobic exercises and weight training are focused on. Although all forms of exercise are beneficial, moderation is the key. I explain in more detail about this in a recent blog post.
Rest is the balance for good activity. Rest includes getting 7-8 hours of deep sleep every night, taking breaks, resting, recreational activities and vacations from work. Disturbed sleep is a sign that the body is operating in a stress mode. It is important to find out the cause and correct this because without sleep the body will stay in a stress mode. Emotional states are disturbed and focus and concentration are reduced when under stress.
One of the aspects of stress is that it distorts over time the body posture. This results in excessive muscle contractions throughout the body. These distortions sap energy when we are walking, sitting and even being still. Some of the postural distortions hamper the function of the digestive tract and lungs. Muscle contractions can hamper the function of all the organs. The result of these postural distortions is that we don’t get energy from our food or the breath. Circulation is hampered. Remember, when the overall vitality of the body is lessened, immunity goes down making us susceptible to viruses and infections.
It is important to release these contracted muscles that distort the body’s posture. Certain types of exercises correct these postural distortions and release overly contracted muscles. High quality Qi Gong, known as Nei Gong exercises and Hanna Somatics can help to correct these imbalances when practiced regularly. The result of releasing these distortions is increased vitality. I teach combinations of these practices to help my clients with their individual conditions. They are very effective with great results when done regularly.
Another activity that can save or use up energy is speech. In Chinese and oriental medicines, economy of speech was considered an important practice for longevity because talking uses up energy.
Regularity in one’s lifestyle creates a harmonious patterning that counters and prevents stress. The most important regularity is in your sleep, eating and work pattern. Work is best in the day and not at night. Irregularity in eating puts the body in a stress mode. Going to bed at an earlier time harmonizes with the cycle of the day. On a physical level, body and mind rebuilds when one’s sleeps when it is dark. Sleeping in the dark activates the parasympathetic nervous system. When active, this system rebuilds the body and engages your immune system.
Pollution creates stress for the body. Dealing with pollution in our environment creates stress and wastes our energy. To create enough vitality to fuel our immune systems, it is beneficial to decrease our exposure to pollutants as much as possible. Use natural body care and house hold products, low VOC paints in your home. Learn how to protect yourself from electromagnetic pollution from electronic devices such as cell phones and other devices. Do some research to learn how to avoid the most polluting elements in your home and work place.
The main components to create health, good vitality and a resultant strong natural immune system in one’s daily life are diet, exercise, adequate rest, relaxation and a good mental attitude. Your mental attitude and understanding plays a crucial role in creating health.
To understand about the role of the mind, we can look to some of the traditional teachings of oriental medicine. In these traditional teachings, the purpose of life is to grow our consciousness. In order to do this, we experience the seven emotions: joy, anger, grief, worry, fear, and melancholy.
It is said in Chinese medical teachings, that when these emotions are appropriate to their stimuli, these are natural subjective experiences which is the purpose of life. Emotions use up energy in order to develop our consciousness. If they become excessive, these are called the 7 thieves. They steal the life force from your body.
Although all the emotions are appropriate in different circumstances, it is important to cultivate mental tranquility. There are several ways to do this.
Meditation and breathing techniques help people to develop an experience that the spirit within us is inviolable, essentially unharmable and indestructible, whether experiences are good or bad. Since our mental states can sap energy, this is an important deep understanding to understand and experience.
A modern version of this traditional wisdom that permeated not only oriental medicines but numerous oriental philosophies was created by an uneducated Scottish welder, named Sydney Banks. Banks had an enlightenment experience about the nature of the mind and consciousness. He went on to share his understanding from his experience around the world. In essence, he discovered that all of us are connected to something greater than ourselves, but the nature of thought is to act in a manner that forgets this fact.
He developed a teaching that helps people to understand what in oriental medicine was called a good mental attitude by understanding that our life experience is a creation of our mind moment to moment. Traditional books from the mystics of the great religions essentially say something similar. These great books can give also give insights into developing mental tranquility.
In both the qigong/nei gong tradition, hatha yoga and modern body work traditions, the condition of the physical body can disturb our mental and emotional responses to life. Correcting body imbalances through diet and the correct therapeutic exercises or massage techniques can help to foster a more tranquil mind.
In our often-modern isolated way of thinking, except for obvious destructive practices such as drug or alcohol abuse, it is not common to be aware of the crucial balancing factors in our lifestyle that boost immunity.
Balancing your energy equation of what you are taking in with healthy food and what goes out with activity and other factors mentioned above is an essential approach to strengthening your immune system to prepare for the coming cold and flu season. In addition, harmonious lifestyle practices can aid in preventing many serious disorders that are linked to weakened immunity.
The Inside-Outside Revolution by Michael Neill (based on the teachings of Sydney Banks)
Somatics: Reawakening the Mind's Control of Movement, Flexibility, And Health by Thomas Hanna
Tao and Longevity by Hua-Chin Nan