Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Get to it: start boosting your immunity now

As the months get cooler – and the weather in general more unpredictable – our immunity takes a real battering. Add to that poor nutrition choices, a little more mulled wine than we need and the stresses of everyday life and you have a pretty powerful cocktail for getting sick. We can do a lot to boost our immune systems in the lead up to winter though, and the time to start is NOW.
I spoke to Rippan Sandhu, the owner and director of Ponsonby Road oasis Spa Ayurda, about how Ayurvedic medicine can help keep us away from the doctor’s waiting room. She explained that Ayurveda says our body in winter is “a land ripe for virus attack. When your immunity is strong, the ‘beej bhoomi’or ‘body soil’ is infertile - it does not let viruses grow. But when manured with "ama", the body soil becomes fertile and it’s the ideal time for viruses and bacteria to start taking root.” Diet-wise, she advises to “stay away from cold foods like ice-cream and yogurt and eat warm cooked food and drink warm water to keep you hydrated”. Keep your insides warm with warm spices like cumin, which is considered the ace "ama" burner, and stack up your spice rack with "thermogenic" or heat-generating spices like black pepper, ginger, and garlic. And “trust in turmeric, the yellow spice that kills ‘ama’ and builds immunity. All it takes is a quarter teaspoon of turmeric in your lentils and veggies for a real boost.” For a great immunity strengthener for the whole family mix one teaspoon of honey with ¼ teaspoon of black pepper and add 10 drops of fresh ginger juice and pinch of turmeric, then mix well. “Eat this three times a day followed by drink of warm water. It is very good for congestion, sinus, and bronchitis.”
Vincent Bolletta is the Director of Westend Road, Westmere yoga studio Yogashala, where he helps numerous people like me lead happier, less stressful lives through a regular yoga practice.
I asked him how yoga can help fight off the nasties and he said that the key is breathing well, as in “your ability to regulate both the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems of the body”. These autonomic systems dictate the general function of our body. Both are just as important as each other but when we operate only on one level, then imbalances occur. “Due to greater environmental and technological stresses we tend to function at much higher states of stress,” he explains, “it's the equivalent to a car constantly having its choke on. The long term effect of operating at this highly charged rate is a much more compromised immune system.” A conscious approach to controlling the breath can reduce both your heart and respiratory rate to a much lower level, and calm the nervous system reducing physical or mental stress. Vincent adds that this new physical state will assist the the circulatory system to redirect the blood to the internal organs away from the external musculature, improving the likes of digestion, elimination, assimilation of nutrients and greater overall endocrine and hormonal function. “The effect of Yoga and Yogic breathing on a regular basis can restore balance, and practicing 30 - 40 minutes, 3 - 5 times a week can greatly enhance health and vitality,” he says. “It’s important that everything is taken in moderation so that it can easily fit into our already busy lifestyle.”
My acupuncturist Dawn Lucia is a wealth of information when it comes to getting on top of your health and staying there, and stresses the need to keep working at it rather than just using your chosen health professional as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. “The main thing is prevention,” she urges, “like making sure you have plenty of sleep and wash your hands well, always eat well and reduce your stress.” This kind of thing is good to keep up all year round but is especially important around seasonal changes, “because from a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) point of view stress weakens the immune system, and when the weather is changing your body needs all of the help it can get.” She says that the minute you start to get that telltale tickle signalling a bout of sickness, get stuck into some serious herbs. “There are some amazing Chinese herbs that even without acupuncture will get rid of that before it starts to manifest,” she explains, “but if you can get in for a treatment we can knock that out with just a few sessions. Leave it any longer and it goes to the next level, making it harder to get rid of.” Having said this, she adds that she can’t emphasise the need for prevention enough, “and regular acupuncture can really help with that. Even if you just have a treatment when the seasons change you will get a huge boost to your ‘wei ch’i’, which is your body’s defensive ch’i. If you can strengthen that you will never get sick.”

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